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06 November 2014

Ballroom milestones

The ultimate milestone would be to dance like these two!

Competitive ballroom dancing, being quite a structured activity, has a natural progression about it. Dancers getting into this hobby experience many of the same breakthroughs or turning points in their careers. I was thinking about some of my own recent milestones and remembered all the steps that came before, and how they each gave me a sense of accomplishment that I was actually progressing and improving. Here are some big ones that most collegiate dancers will have to look forward to, in the rough order that I experienced them:

1. Your first pair of shoes
You most likely don't really know what you're looking for and without some able guidance, you might pick something weird or ill fitting, but yes! It's your first pair of real dance shoes! They're so shiny! (One practice later...) Omg they are all dirty already. =(
*Newcomers, please note: It is a BAD idea to buy 3" Latin sandals as your first pair of shoes, even if you are used to walking in high heels. Trust me, proper Latin technique is not quite the same as walking. Stick to 2-2.5"! 

2. Your first competition
Chances are that you're not 100% sure of what you're doing or what's going on, and you are a bundle of nerves and excitement. Nothing quite like the thrill of competition! You're in awe of all the higher level dancers and motivated to improve.

3. Your first final 
Some lucky people make finals very early on, and for some other dancers it takes a bit longer to get the hang of this whole ballroom dancing thing. Have no fear - in ballroom dancing, discipline and hard work can often trump natural talent. One of my favorite aspects of ballroom is that anyone can learn how to dance, and dance well. Hard work makes that first ribbon all the more glorious.

4. Breaking into silver
When you advance into the silver category, you are officially not a beginner anymore. You have an understanding of basic timing and how figures go together. You begin to focus on improving technique and exploring more complicated figures.

5. Your first private lesson
You're ready to move from figure-based group classes to more personalized and focused training. (Hold onto your hats, people, it only gets more expensive from here.) But with the help of your coach, you'll improve quickly and with a sound structure.

6. Your first costume
Time to kick it up a notch for competition and feel all legit and stuff in those snazzy Latin pants or shiny dress. Gone are the days of trying to find something off the rack that will be appropriate. Once you start competing in a costume, you pretty much don't go back. Feel like a real dancer yet?

7. Breaking up with your first real partner
...and the subsequent partner search. Breaking up is hard to do, but partners who stay together for more than a couple years tend to be the exception, not the rule. Life happens. If you've considered options thoroughly and it's not gonna work, it's better off for both parties to end it and move on. Cherish your first real partnership and the things you achieved together, and make sure to go forward with the lessons you learned from your partner. Coming out of each partnership, you learn a lot about what works for you, what you're willing to put up with, and what you're not willing to compromise on.

8. Breaking into open 
This is the big one. Finishing syllabus and starting to dance in the open categories signifies that you've made it to the major leagues. Now you get to explore your dance 'personality' through unique choreography and styling. The gap between gold and novice/pre-champ is usually pretty big, so you'll need to work that much harder to make those callbacks and wrangle a spot in the final. Getting to open comes along with a whole host of other little milestones too - more about that in a later post.

There are a couple little milestones along the way too, like getting your first tan or maybe getting your hair/makeup professionally for the first time. Or maybe stoning your own dress (and having it come out badly...that might just be me.) Another good one might be feeling comfortable social dancing for the first time. Oh! and starting to follow the professional circuit, i.e. learning all the pros' names. I also just had a dress made for myself for the first time so I'm excited to write about that soon.

What are your favorite ballroom milestones?

28 October 2014

If I could redo college

I've spent a lot of time recently reflecting on my college experience and how it's affected my life in the couple of years since I've graduated. I went to NYU, so from the beginning it was always going to be a less conventional path. The lack of a campus contributes to the lack of school spirit and fuzzy feelings of connectedness. At a school like that, you really have to make an effort to make friends because everyone is pretty scattered and off doing their own cool New York-y things.

Deciding to attend NYU, to my high school senior self, was basically deciding to focus my entire college career on professional development. I think I figured since I wasn't going to have the typical college experience anyway, I might as well put my all into getting internships so I could get a jumpstart on my career and land a perfect job in the film industry after graduation. So that's what I did. I prioritized getting as many different internships as possible, switching to a new company nearly every semester. I also took a full course load and had a work study job for 8-10 hours/week. As you can imagine, I was left with very little free time. And for all the emphasis I placed on internships, I didn't really know how to network (which at the time I equated with 'small talk' - I am horrible at that). So while I learned a bit about how to do 'intern work', I never really took advantage of the most valuable aspect of interning, which is connecting with professionals who are already working in the field. Now that I'm out of school and have some perspective from the workforce, I realize how much your network matters. I always figured that I could work hard and get recognized for it, which did happen sometimes, but I didn't realize that you then have to follow up with those people and create a further connection.

When I look back on what my life was like in college, it was basically a lot of running around between engagements, busting my butt doing unpaid internships, and finishing papers at all hours of the day and night. Those times were a world away from my favorite parts of college, which were study abroad and ballroom - i.e. when I was actually interacting with peers. So if I could redo college, here are the things I would consider:

1. I would seriously think about attending a different school. 
And that's not to say I blame NYU (though it has its share of issues), I just mean that putting myself in a more traditional college environment might have given me some of the things I now wish I had.

2. I would take my liberal arts education more seriously, 
either by majoring, double-majoring, or minoring in something like history or East Asian studies, etc. My media/communications major was more engaging and academic than I thought it would be, but ultimately a strong liberal arts education is the foundation for being an educated, thoughtful citizen of the world. I wish I understood more about politics and economics, things like that. (Though it's never too late to learn!)

3. I would get involved with more kinds of campus activities. 
I focused a lot of my 'extracurricular' time on professional interests, but I wish I had started competing with the ballroom team earlier, or joined a more tight-knit cultural club. College is such an amazing and important opportunity to make friends...it's pretty hard to meet people in the same way after college.

4. I would do fewer internships, and focus on longer stays at smaller companies.
This goes back to the networking thing. For an introvert like me who was hoping to forge my way forward with a good work ethic, the best environment I could have done that in would be a small company where each person has more responsibility and more visibility. Having one or two big/well-known companies on your resume is important, too, but I think getting to know colleagues and supervisors at smaller organizations would have been more helpful to my career.

Those are pretty much the big things that have been on my mind. For better or worse though, things have shaken out as they have shaken out..now it's up to me to forge onward with the lessons I've learned.

26 September 2014

Movie Review: Hector and the Search for Happiness


I have never laughed harder at a trailer than I did for Hector and the Search for Happiness. The trailer popped up before Boyhood at the movie theater, and I immediately knew I had to see it. Come on, that China gong/platter bit? At first I was all, "....are they really doing this...?" then I could not stop cracking up when I realized what had happened.

Undeterred by its mediocre-to-bad reviews from its UK release that resulted in a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, we headed to the movie theater on Saturday afternoon. There's no way that movie could be that bad from such a funny trailer. Granted, with a logline like this, it is pretty easy to stray into Clicheland - specifically in the Eat, Pray, Love neighborhood (which, for the record, I don't hate). The premise of the movie, based on a French book, is that Hector (the amazing Simon Pegg, who gets to show some of his dramatic acting chops) leads a ho-hum life as a psychiatrist in London with his gorgeous girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike). One day he realizes he's not actually helping his patients or contributing anything to their lives, and sets out to 'find out what makes people happy' by traveling around the world. Perhaps a particularly relevant subject matter for me as I'm in a minor quarter life crisis at the moment, but that's a topic for another day.

And I would, indeed, be more generous than a review aggregator for this movie, and score in the 65% range. It's not completely life-changing in the, "oh my god, I have to go to volunteer at a medical clinic in Africa" way, but it was a nice way to spend an afternoon. It got a few laughs out of me, and even almost some tears - two pretty uncommon reactions from me.

The movie benefits from a great cast with the likes of Stellan Skarsgard, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer, and the inherent visual interest of a hand full of exotic locales like Shanghai, Tibet, and Africa. Two of the standout scenes both took place on planes. The first is when Hector first meets Stellan Skarsgard's character (I am a big fan of the Skarsgard family), a filthy rich banker named Edward. The second is when Hector helps a terminal cancer patient become more comfortable on her last plane ride. The 'China gong moment', as I've dubbed it, unfortunately works a lot better in the trailer, but maybe it was because I was already expecting it.

Hector gets bogged down at some crucial moments in its heavy-handedness though. His realization that his young Chinese lady companion was actually a prostitute was so disappointingly overdone. Did she really need to be dragged away kicking and screaming by her pimp? Skipping ahead to the ending, another way overdone scene is when Hector is on the phone with Clara while Christopher Plummer and Toni Collette are observing his emotions on the brain monitor thing. It kind of felt like the director figured he had two great actors in the room so he should just give them a couple more lines to shout out, even though they were completely unnecessary. Overall I feel like the film, and especially moments like these, could have used a more gentle narrative touch. You don't always need to spell everything out for the audience - especially in a movie all about introspection and self-discovery. Hector also is constantly asking all of his new friends what makes them happy, in just about as many words, and while the movie does try to back up the statements, I wish he didn't literally have to pull out his notebook and say, "So, what makes you happy?" to everyone. Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels plugged in, like he's filling out a school assignment.

One device Hector could have made more use of was the illustrations. I personally love little narrative tools like this sprinkled in once in a while. In the first third of the movie, the audience is treated to little animations of the doodles that Hector draws in his notebook, as well as handwritten notes on his observations/learnings about happiness. The illustrations mostly disappear as we get into the meat of the film, but I think using them more with an editorial touch would have enhanced the whimsical and slightly dreamy qualities of the film, and showed us Hector's unique perspective more artfully.

In sum, please don't be put off by the low ratings and do check out Hector and the Search for Happiness, especially if you're into travel, or even just the idea of travel. It's a nice film and will certainly get you itching to pack your bags for a big adventure.

04 September 2014

Drama Review: Heartstrings


I had been meaning to watch this drama for a while now, especially after watching Jung Yong Hwa be a little bit boring in Marry Him If You Dare. I had heard mostly mediocre (verging on bad) things about Heartstrings (the Korean title is You've Fallen for Me) but I wanted something simple and not too involved to watch at night for fluff, and Heartstrings basically delivered all of that.

I'll preface the body of this review by saying I think I observe and care about very weird things in dramas/other shows/movies, but hey, if I didn't have anything different to say than everyone else, why write it right? Also, it has now been a few months since I've actually watched the drama so I have probably forgotten a lot of what I was going to say by now. #irresponsibleblogging

Anyway. Heartstrings. For those who are not familiar, it's set in a performing arts college. Park Shin Hye plays Lee Gyu Won, a traditional Korean music major specializing in the gayageum, which is a Korean string instrument. Gyu Won's grandfather is a renowned traditional Korean singer, so she has a lot to live up to. Jung Yong Hwa, who I always like despite his sometimes-subdued acting, plays Lee Shin, the campus rock star who actually has his own fangirls. But really, does that actually happen anywhere? Actually...I guess every campus does have that one really hot guy all the girls ogle a little bit. But not to the extent that the girls do in this drama.

There are a couple of side plots, including the romance of the hotshot record producer/guest school musical producer Kim Suk Hyun (Song Chang Eui) and dance professor Jung Yoon Soo (Yi Hyun), and dorky Yeo Joon Hee's (the hilarious Kang Min Hyuk) crush on campus star Han Hee Joo (Kim yoon Hye), but the main storyline is the school's big anniversary show, and how the characters all pull together to make it happen. And Gyu Won and Shin fall in love and stuff, giving a bit of closure to second-lead diehards from You're Beautiful.

I think the negative reviews I heard about this drama stem from the fact that it employs tons of cliches. As much as I don't want to just compare anything musical- and school-related to Glee... it's kind of like Glee, minus any gay characters and outcast humor. Instead, it does include Hee Joo's struggle with an eating disorder, and colors her story a bit to elevate her beyond just the school bully. (Instead, her mom is.)

Not sure if anyone is still dying to see this drama, so I won't go into too many more plot details I suppose, but basically it fulfilled my mood at the time for a fluffy, emotionally low commitment drama. I loved the overall look/style of the show, and the fact that it had a more realistic storyline in relation to many other dramas. No eyeball cancer or amnesia here. Not many dramas are set in college, either, and since I'm not really interested in high school dramas anymore (with Answer Me 1997 being the exception), it was nice to see the actors playing characters their actual age.

I always want to like Park Shin Hye more than I do. She's cute, and she always has such nice hair (see: this drama and Heirs). She also has really cute outfits in Heartstrings, and basically I just want to look like that all the time. But I feel like her acting is mostly a touch removed from the present, and she's kind of just smiling prettily, crying loudly, or pouting childishly. Honestly, for me, she was at her best in You're Beautiful, and her work after that has just been not that great. Jung Yong Hwa is also not the best actor there ever was, but he makes it work, and I find him pretty likable anyway. The chemistry between these two didn't gel all the way for me, though those coffee scenes were pretty cute. And of course, Yong Hwa gets to be a rock star in this drama, so he's on his home turf.

For those in the mood for some light, attractive entertainment, go ahead and check this out if you have the time. If you're looking for something that will really grab you and ignite them ~feels, you'll do better to turn elsewhere. Meanwhile, I'm just finishing up I Need Romance 3, so look out for a recap of that once I'm through!

Roommate: Because life is better with annotations by some Korean motion graphics editor

Those who have been following my recaps on Kaedejun know that I am really pulling for Roommate, SBS's variety show following 11 10 7 celebrities as they live together and get to know each other.

I've followed the show from when it first started airing this past spring, and gotten more invested as it went on. Even though the ratings haven't been too strong for this show (or SBS's Good Sunday line up in general...How could you not love Running Man though??), I've stuck with it. I've really come to be attached to all the roommates - even Min Woo has grown on me. I really do get a sense of warmth and friendship from this show - it kind of reminds me of summer camp, or study abroad, where you get randomly placed with a group of people and you end up becoming such great friends through a shared experience. Of course, a lot of the content on Roommate is contrived, but hey, it's TV after all.

Like a lot of viewers, I was initially interested because Park Bom was part of the cast. She was pretty much the only one I knew, besides having seen Lee Dong Wook in My Girl eons ago (his hair is much better now). Sure, the show started out with a somewhat awkward vibe, but I thought it reflected the initially awkward interactions between the roommates, who were strangers at that point. After a few episodes though, once they had gotten a little bit closer, I really began to look forward to catching up with the roommates every week. I'm one of those people who will stick with a TV show for a few episodes before deciding whether or not to continue on. Hell, Game of Thrones took me a whole season to really get hooked, but it's definitely been worth it. I feel like the beauty of television shows is that you get to see characters/people over a span of time, and see their journeys.

If I were to be really picky, I would say maybe eleven cast members might have been a bit much. Turns out to have been a good choice in hindsight, with so many people leaving now, though. The many cast members were balanced out by having group storylines though, and of course busier stars like Chan Yeol, Bom, and Dong Wook frequently busy. Makes me wonder why they and the PDs decided it was even a good idea to sign people to the show who would be missing so many episodes. I guess it does add name value and attract fans. Also we do get a glimpse of their busy lifestyles. I always did find 2ne1 TV really interesting.

The show has lately benefited from a shortened runtime, and more consolidated storylines. The producers are probably going to do a format change with the 'second season' starting on September 21. Not sure if they'll be able to get any top stars since the ratings are low, but maybe the producers will come up with some good ideas for a new format?

Anyway, even if the rumors about Roommate being a filler show until K-Pop Star are true, I'm going to stick with it until it ends, or gets quite bad. Or if any potential new roommates are boring. I still really enjoy watching it, and am a sucker for their little heartwarming moments.

Anyone else still watching?

05 August 2014

I'm alive!

There are a few new eyeballs coming in from Kaedejun! I have just started writing there about some k-variety, and I haven't updated this little blog in a while so I thought I would write a quick note to say I am here! I'm alive!

Yes, Big Bang said it best.

Lots has been going on lately and I still haven't managed to get into the regular habit of writing (clearly) but I am trying my best. More than halfway through the year and I still haven't made headway into those original new years resolutions =( I will work harder to finish off 2014 strong!! Meanwhile, welcome Kaedejun readers, and I hope to grace this page with more on dramas, variety, ballroom, beauty, and other such topics soon! Please check back =)

30 May 2014

Emergency Couple Final Thoughts

Credit: DramaFever

I know I am shamefully late with this post, but even though it's been almost two months I do want to finally throw a quick post up to wrap my Emergency Couple viewing experience. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this drama and I was sad to see it end (partially because the ending was kind of unsatisfying). To be fair, it would have taken a lot for me to not like this drama, considering I love both the leads. They both filled their roles very well and I thought they had pretty good chemistry. It was great to see both Song Ji Hyo and Choi Jin Hyuk play lighthearted characters for a change. The supporting characters were pretty good too - even Chang Min's mom grew on me by the end. Well, ok, she didn't actually grow on me, but she was less awful. I especially liked Professor Shin, and the most important side character in the drama, all the actresses' creamy orange lipstick...more about my crazy beauty products hoarding spree in a later post.

This drama did fizzle out a bit for me by the end, and I felt like they could have upped the dramatic stakes in the last two episodes especially. I guess the more realistic approach they took was much better than adding the typical drama ending with some crazy ailment befalling one of the leads, or a random and sudden study abroad trip that causes the leads to separate for three years and then reunite with slightly different hair styles to denote time lapse. Bah. Still, Emergency Couple was easy to watch, even if it lacked much of the heart-stopping ~feels typically associated with kdramas. I don't know if I'll be re-watching this one with so many other good ones out there, but I am glad I watched it as it aired and had the experience of writing for the DF Drama Club. (Check out all of the DramaFever Drama Club's posts at DF News.)

One more personal Emergency Couple-related note: I loved Ji Hyo's hair color in the drama so I decided to dye my hair a nice cool red shade too. It's been a bit of a journey to arrive at the proper care for my new color so I'll do a post a bit further down the line when I've actually figured it out for myself!

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