Friday, June 29, 2012

Happy Dance Friday #104 - SYTYCD Top 20 and Anna Finally Gets to Watch Bunheads

Robot Dance Party GIF - Robot Dance Party
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TV's summer cornucopia of dance programming continues with SYTYCD's top twenty reveal, and I finally get to watch the first two episodes of Bunheads. Let's take them one at a time.

SYTYCD: Oh the pretty. Where to start, where to start? The Top Twenty episode can be a mixed bag. There's the excitement of finding out who made the cut and who we hope will try again next year. It's an emotional time for everyone, but since there are only twenty spots and thousands of applicants, as it were, not everybody is going to get the nod. Not sure what dance credentials Zooey Deschanel has, apart from the New Girl interactive video, blogged about here, but if someone can educate me, that would be appreciated. Still, she's fun and enthusiastic, so I won't complain. We get two winners this year, one male and one female.

I'm happy with this year's top twenty. Very excited to see ballroom dancers Witney, Nick and Lindsey, as well as the classically trained Eliana, Daniel and Chehon (aka "that guy who was really really good," as my DH calls him.) Amelia has been a favorite of mine ever since her first audition, and I'm thrilled to see Cyrus from Dragon House will be getting a chance to compete. With these two as finely tuned as they are in their preferred styles, it's going to be interesting to see how they tackle the wide variety of choreography inherent in the show. Season nine brings, IIRC, the first belly dancer and the first stepper to make the top twenty, and even a gent who likes to blend dance with martial arts. Best of all, the group as a whole marked the return of Mia Michaels' choreography, which made me a very, very happy camper:

Did your favorites make the cut?

Bunheads: This went in a direction I definitely didn't expect. Not as much dance content as I'd thought there would be, though I've only seen up to episode two, and it's a lot of worldbuilding, as it were, getting us used to the people and places. Lead character Michelle is a dancer, working as a showgirl when we meet her, though I'm guessing she'd class her preferred style as Broadway. Even so when she ends up in the tiny town of Paradise, sans the only person she kindasorta knew there, she gets dropped into a ballet studio filled with teen girls (and a couple of guys; would love to see more there)and a former ballerina mother-in-law, Fanny, whose career ended with her first pregnancy. Tragedy strikes, the girls rally, there's a lovely spur of the moment ballet performance, and...the jury's still out. This may be more about fish out of water Michelle than anybody's drive to dance, but time will tell.

In the meantime, we are less than a month from National Day of Dance. How will you be observing? This clip of 200 SYTYCD moves in 200 second should give some good ideas.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Less You Know...?

P1011390 When I first seriously put my mind towards writing historical romance fiction, I was in college. Every spare minute after classes or nanny job, I'd race to the typewriter (it was that long ago) and start pounding keys. Often, I'd have dormmates standing directly behind the chair (they'd always ask first) so they could read the page as they were written. Can't get much more immediate on the feedback than that. I lived, ate, and slept Beau and Ivy' romance, though my historical accuracy left a few things to be desired, and the page count continued to soar, even though I was shooting for a nice round five hundred. Beau and Ivy now nestle comfortably in the back of my closet, in the leather briefcase I'd recieved as a high school graduation present from a family friend (still need to update the initials on that, come to think of it.) At the time, they consumed all my creativity and the thought of what I'd write next after sending them off into the sunset (linked book were not yet the norm at this time) stymied me. I remember making a note somewhere of a heroine's name I liked, maybe a combination of hair and eye color and a rough guesstimate of what historical period I might like to explore.

The second attempt came when I was out of college, Beau and Ivy reluctantly snoozing in the briefcase. I'd read somewhere that some author, whose name I do not recall and thus will term Author X for the sake of this entry, wrote twenty pages per day. When she got to twenty, she stopped, no matter where she was. Well okay, then. Twenty pages I would do. As soon as I was alone for the day, I made a makeshift U-shaped desk out of three tv trays. Typewriter went on the tray in front of me, clean paper and reference books or notes on my right, finished pages on my left. Maybe it was Author X or her buddy, Author Y, who said she always read the last three pages she'd written the day before, prior to starting on the new day's batch, so I'd do that, too. Don't ask me where I got the idea that chapters should be twenty page long; maybe because round numbers are easier for me to handle. Whatever the cause, I stuck the appropriate record on the player (feeling rather mature here, ahem) and off I'd go. I had only so long until there would be other sentient beings breathing my air, and there was still the house, cat and two dogs that needed tending.

Since Beau and Ivy had been moved to the briefcase so that I could see if writing something else were even possible, and I had some new inspiration, I dove headlong into this new stuff. This was about the same time I'd discovered fanfiction, and that's where most of my early fanfiction came from; that chair in the living rom with the tv trays. At the same time, I knew my heart belonged to historical romance, and I started with another couple, another time and place. A couple of variations on that, actually, as I wrote myself into a corner when two neat historical things I wanted to do were mutually exclusive. (For those who are curious, I could not have Thing happen at Place because Place did not exist at time of Thing and that story needed both to work.) This one is complicated, so I'll move on along, but it never occurred to me at the time that I could not move forward, and so I did.

Fast forward to now. With computers, there's no need to have two different tables to hold clean and typed pages (printer stand holds both) and thanks to the internet, I can be alone and with other writers and readers at the same time. Standard issue spiral notebooks are a thing of the past, since I can get or make those like the picture above. I have a supportive family and friends who understand writing is work, and I understand POV, pacing, genre conventions and yet somehow the doubt creeps in now in a way it didn't when I was banging typewriter keys in my dorm or my dad's living room. Where does it come from? I'm not sure, but if the doubt monster could get in, then that means it can get back out.

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever heard was to write the story I wanted to read but couldn't find. I didn't overthink in the dorm of the living room; I went for it, I loved it like crazy and was proud of doing so. As I've had trusted writer and reader friends confirm, overthinking is my downfall, and thus my self imposed challenge to overcome for this season. What about you, faithful readers? Ever found the "shoulds" getting in the way of your writing or reading? What's your favorite weapon to slay those dragons?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Reading Rituals

mah TBR pile, let me show you it.

When I first started going to used bookstores as a real, grown up adult, I had a ritual. First, go to store, trade in old books, comb shelves for undiscovered treasures. Note, this was before the internet, so that meant one had to subscribe to author newsletters by snail mail, keep track of Romantic Times magazine (before it was RT Book Reviews) as well as word of mouth, and keeping written lists. Yeah. Old school. I get the niggle that I might have blogged about this before, but it's a Monday after an odd weekend after an odd week, so I'm not going to stress over that.

Once books were selected and purchased, that was time for the frozen yogurt place and the next stage of my ritual. I would lay out all the books on the table, and arrange them in chronological order, from closest to ancient times to closest to modern day. So, if I’d purchased an Edwardian, a Tudor, a Georgian and a Medieval, I would read them as such: Medieval, Tudor, Georgian, Edwardian. Knowing the order of my reading was Very Important, so this step of the ritual could not be skipped. (Picture above is thumbnail of random, unsorted TBR shelf. Click to embiggen.)

After determining order, then the reading could begin, free of the “what do I read first” question. That’s already decided, and the others would come in time. When I’d read through everything in that haul, I’d get to come back to the bookstore. Less complicated times, for sure.

I haven’t done the arrange-by-time-period thing lately. The above ritual was from a time when connected books were not the norm, and finding a variety of settings could be an easier task. Stacking three or four books with the same setting doesn’t provide the same sort of satisfaction and my ereader can sort books by author or by title, but not by setting. Maybe a fancier model could do that, so I’ll have hope for the future.

It’s different choosing books now. I’ve been reading in the historical romance genre for some time, and no plans to change that. Genre-wise, I’m home, and I’m happy. Genres, though, are always in flux. Ebooks did not exist in those days, linked books were not yet the norm, and the abovementioned Edwardian, Tudor, Georgian and Medieval? They might all be on the backlist of the same author. I didn’t attend RWA chapter meetings or conferences, so the chance of coming home from such outings with free books was less than nil, I knew a grand total of one author personally, and though I was working on a historical romance manuscript, I had not finished or sold.

Thinking of all this today, since it’s been an odd week, heat wave requiring much time hopping from air conditioned place to air conditioned place, and thinking wistfully of a quiet place to read, uninterrupted. Did I mention that these UBS trips were always done solo? When it’s me, the books and the frozen yogurt, it’s serious business.

What about you, dear readers? Do you have any rituals for reading newly acquired books? Print before electronic? The other way around? All genre X and then genre Y? Reach into shopping bag with eyes closed? Know of a good place for frozen yogurt? Soft serve is also acceptable.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday at the Movies #94 - Beauty and the Beast 2.0

In the interests of full disclosure, no, I did not see the original Beauty and the Beast tv series. Love the fairy tale, love the concept of the series, but meh on Linda Hamilton, so gave the original a pass. I know, I know. Underground society of outcasts, in (or under) NYC, tortured romance, but if one of the leads doesn't do it for me, I'm going to have a hard time following. Plus I know what happened to one half of the couple and what the powers that be tried to stick in after that happened, and uh uh, ain't having that. No substitutions when it comes to romance h/hs, thanks.

Still an intriguing concept, though, and so my ears perked when I hear that the CW (also doing an adaptation of Green Arrow, though that's for another post) was doing a new version of the series for the upcoming season, I had to do a little poking around.

Maybe it's that I'm in the middle of a Moonlight rewatch - previously rhapsodized upon here, but I'm getting a similar feel for this; otherwordly hero who used to be human, has been watching over heroine from afar for some time, heroine is in a profession where she gets to investigate suspicious doings, etc, etc. Maybe it's that the background music happens to be "New York," by Snow Patrol, one of my current earworms and a story seed burrowing itself into my brain.

Or maybe it's that I flat out love the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. :shrug: Whatever it is, I'll be tuning in at least to the pilot and see how things go from there. Will you be watching? Fans of the original series, what do you think of the remake?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Happy Dance Friday #103 - SYTYCD Vegas Week, Breaking Pointe and Where The H*ll Is Matt 2012

One of the reasons I love historical and time travel romance is that, no matter where or when we are, people are people and have the same needs. Matt Harding, of the viral "Where the Hell is Matt?" videos, understands this. Traversing the world to do his own happy dance, first solo, and then roping in volunteers of all ages and abilities, Matt reminds us that dance is a universal language that comes from the heart. My favorite locations from this 2012 version? Have to say a tie between Vienna, Austria and Edinburgh, Scotland. Honorable mention to San Diego, USA, because come on, dancing seal.

SYTYCD Vegas Week

Vegas week is one of my favorite parts of the competition, because that's when the dancers get worked over, hard. Sure, they're great in their own style, with their own music and choreography, but now they get tossed into the fire. They're up against a rapidly shrinking cadre of other fabulous dancers, have to learn a new style every day, and then let's jump in the deep end of the group round. Random music, may have to work with complete strangers, and that's after a full day of competition...and then compete first thing in the morning.

It's no wonder the mighty fall, and even before the first round, hip hop, was over, we started to lose such amazing dancers as Hampton "the Exorcist" Williams. Two of the Dragon House guys departed, one without even trying the choreography, though Cyrus "Glitch" Spencer gets my nod for A) doing his best to convince a friend not to drop out, B) responding to Sonya Tayeh's critique with respect and class, and C) his calm reply of "I would love to dance for my life" when asked to do so. Plus this:

DH will always claim not to want to watch SYTYCD, but then he does, and has already dubbed Chehon Wespi-Tschopp "that guy who was really good." Then admitted he mentally adds in the sound of ripping fabric during the leaps.

Breaking Pointe In "Tempo Tantrums," we have rehearsal angst, conductor vs ballerina issues, and relationship drama between dancers Rex and Allison, who aren't on the same side of the friends/more than friends dividing line. Plus costume fittings (gorgeous) and prop hassles (fifty-foot silks, big fancy dresses on wheels) and three ballets that have to be ready at the same time, with first and second casts for both. No idle moments here, that's for sure?

What about you, dance fans? Did you have any favorites in Vegas Week? Watching Breaking Pointe? Pull up a chair and tell me all about it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer 2012 Default Read - Marsha Canham

The idea of a summer default read started a couple years back for me, in the midst of yet another reading slump. Despite having enough books, both to read and to re-read (and this was before I had an ereader, mind you) to keep me quite busy during that three month stretch of chasing air conditioning and surrendering the diurnal norm (aka too hot to do anything in the daytime) but once again, water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink (er, read.)

Something had to change. I'd come into posession, thanks to UBS and library sales, of the entirety of Mary Jo Putney's Fallen Angels book and figured reading through those would solve the what do I read next problem, so I dove in. That worked well enough, so I set the same goal of a default read for the next year, choosing Hannah Howell's Murray family historicals. As luck would have it, I didn't need to go to default much, so still have several of those yet to read.

Since it’s always a good idea to have a Plan B, the default read continues. This year’s choice was easy. Last year, when catsitting for two friends who live a longish walk apart when one is sun and heat sensitive, as I am, I was the proud new owner of a Sony ereader and Marsha Canham’s Robin Hood Trilogy. You can see where this is going. I devoured all three books, largely over the course of the walks at sunrise and sunset. Same catsitting gigs happened at the same time of year this year, so of course it was time for the tradition to continue. I inhaled a reread of Pale Moon Rider, and then moved on to begin a reread of Across A Moonlit Sea, the first installment of the Pirate Wolf duet, which is now a trilogy and growing. Only natural that after that, I plan on a reread of The Iron Rose, and then first time read of The Following Sea.

Which reminds me that I've only read the first two of her Scottish trilogy, A Pride of Lions and Blood of Roses...or did I manage to get to Blood of Roses, because it was at one time harder than hard to get? Not to mention her lone western, Under the Desert Moon, or her riverboat book Straight For the Heart and of course rereads of classic favorites like The Wind and The Sea and then there are still more to come. Will this be the year I don't get out of default mode?

Then again, there are so many other good books coming out from Cecilia Grant, Elizabeth Hoyt, and others, maybe the question should be, do I really need sleep?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy Dance Friday # 102 - Breaking Pointe and SYTYCD Utah Auditions

The summer of 2012 seems to be downright terpsichorian (terpsichorean?) and I am not complaining one bit. Breaking Pointe follows the dancers of the troupe Ballet West as they do their jobs. I stumbled onto an episode of this last night while catsitting, and even though my brain is pretty much fried from too much sun (I'm sun sensitive, so I should know better, but the sun was stronger than my protective wear and I can now be the Red Lobster mascot without needing a costume) I found this look at the nuts and bolts of a dancer's life enthralling. From mythbusting popular assumptions/stereotypes to pedicures for much-abused feet and the ramifications of casting for each new ballet, there's a lot to take in, so I will definitely be back.

SYTYC winds up auditions in Salt Lake City, which means tons o'ballroom. Tons o'ballroom makes for a happy Anna, and Witney Carson's performance put me in mind of my dancer heroine from the current ms, so extra happy points there.

One doesn't see a krumper like Mariah Spears every day, but I love how she owns what she does.

Usually, the kooky auditions aren't necessarily memorable for the best reasons, but Gene Lonardo's praying mantis routine earned him a ticket home...good thing he lives in Vegas already. He's through to the next round.

Who are you hoping to see in Vegas?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Unusual Historicals: Forgotten Cities: Centralia, PA - Fire Down Below

I'm at Unusual historicals today, blogging about the real life town that inspired both Silent Hill and Dean Koontz' Strange Highways. What stories still walk the empty streets of Centralia, PA?

Unusual Historicals: Forgotten Cities: Centralia, PA - Fire Down Below

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Saturday at the Movies #93 - Bel Ami

Okay, this one has Anna bait smeared all over it. It's a historical drama which is not a fictionalized biography, we have Belle Epoque Paris, gorgeous sets and costumes, and the original story is by Guy de Maupassant. Then we have a cast including Colm Meany (who can play anything, seriously)along with Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Christina Ricci, and though I'm not a Twilight fan, Robert Pattinson impressed me in Water For Elephants, so I'm very excited to see what he can do here.

For a fan of the gritty historical romance, this is a natural. Handsome young man back from the wars, impoverished, but when he learns that his looks are a valuable currency, then our story gets started. Some movies, I like going into blind, and for others, I like to do some research first. In this case, I'm not sure, but for those interested in becoming familiar with the original story, it's available as a free e-book at Project Gutenberg here:

The trope of a scoundrel making his way in high society is a common one in historical romance these days, though usually in the Regency period rather than later Victorian era, but the chance to see such a story, set in the era in which it was written, is a rare treat for historical fans. Not looking for a happily ever after here, though there will be encounters and at least one wedding, (two, if it hews to the original) and it's sure to be a feast for the eyes.

I'm sold. How about you?

Friday, June 08, 2012

Saturday at the Movies #92 - Take This Waltz

First, some confessions. One: I initially clicked on the trailer for this while scouting YouTube for dance clips. I have no idea if there is any dancing at all in this film. Two: I do not care. Three: I normally don't care for Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams or Sarah Silverman, but I aboslutely love when comedic actors can wow me with their dramatic chops (Adam Sandler, I am looking at you. Spanglish. That is all.) Four: I have watched the trailer for this film about elbenty billion times, because I cannot look away. I was a goner from the second the voiceover started.

The visuals are gorgeous, the music draws me in, and as for the plot, that of a happily married woman falling for her across the street neighbor...there are places that can go. Happy ending or not? Love triangle? End of a family? Is somebody going to end up sadder but wiser?

Should be available On Demand now, and in theaters June 29. See for more details. Definitely catching this one ASAP, so stay tuned for review.

Happy Dance Friday #101 - Dragon House and TWO new dance shows on tv

It's a dance cornucopia this week. Not only did the Atlanta auditions for SYTYCD turn out some amazing talent, like the three gents from Dragon House -let's take a peek at Boris here, and learn a bit about the group:

Hip hop to piano original is that? I love when a dancer can impress me with something I've never seen before, and the Dragon House guys definitely did that. I love that they have a dance floor instead of a dining room and a whole bunch of dancers together in one house - can you imagine the energy? If I bring a portapotty, can I come over for dinner to observe and interview?

ABC Family's new Bunheads is headed our way on June 11th, starring Sutton Foster as a down on her luck showgirl who marries and moves to what looks like a small town. Looks like she's teaching ballet from what I've seen here. Say no more. I'm there.

Then, confirming that it must be Dancemas this week, Travis Wall has his own TV show. Do not adjust your screen; you read that right. Emmy-winning choreographer and SYTYCD alum Travis Wall has his own TV show, with SYTYCD season one winner Nick Lazzarini and friends. All The Right Moves debuts on Oxygen on July 31st. Feast your eyes on an intro here:

Loads more talent in the Atlanta auditions; all three gents from Dragon House will be making it through to Vegas, where they'll get a chance to strut their stuff along with some of these people:

Who are your favorites from the Atlanta auditions? Will you be watching Bunheads and/or All The Right Moves? For those who are having issues with the comment function, thanks for your patience; I'm looking into it.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Happy Dance Friday #100 - SYTYCD LA Auditions and One Hundredth Post

When I first started the Happy Dance Friday posts, it was as a challenge to myself to post at least once a week. Common wisdom is to write about something that's already interesting, and since I've always been interested in dance, and was and am writing (now rewriting) a dancer heroine, dance seemed an easy topic.

After all, who can't say "hey, look at this clip" once a week? It's become more than that, and I have to thank the readers, old and new, who stop by and double thanks to those who comment. Mushy hugs, much love and all that good stuff, because it's time to move on to the cornucopia of the LA auditions. I know I'm going to leave out some favorites because there was so much good stuff and only so much space here, so let's get to it.

Stephen Jacobsen's audition again reminded me of the similarities between dancing and writing, especially in light of recent manuscript issues and finally finding the right voice. A former member of the Cincinnati Ballet, his first audition must be seen to be believed (and not in the good way) but there was definitely something there. When given a chance to do what he does best (yes, ballet-ballet) jaws drop. Lesson? In words of judge Jesse Tyler Ferguson, "Trust yourself; you're so good."

With Joffrey Ballet, Alvin Ailey and Cirque de Soliel on her resume, I have a feeling Eliana Girard could have had a ticket to Vegas on experience alone, but I'm glad we got the chance to see her in action. Clip may be NSFW, as it involves arial pole work. SFW audition only clip here.

I crazy love the entire audition process, and one of my favorite aspects of SYTYCD is seeing the dancers who get cut and come back...and back and back and back. Ultimate example this year is Marshea Kidd. Declared dead at the scene of an auto accident six weeks ago, declared okay to dance, now going through to Vegas, along with his sister. And what excuse do we have for not following our own creative passions? Yeah, didn't think so. Bonus choreography round in this clip, which shows some of my other favorites, but that's another post.

See you next year, Johnny Waacks and Caley Carr. See you in Vegas, Sam Lenarz. Oh, and can the Ninja Twins please come on as guest performers?

Okay, dance fans? Who are your favorites?