GIRL TALK: Interview With In The Dance Fitness’ Yendi Phillipps [Video]

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Last week I got to engage in one of my first loves, and something I haven’t had the energy to do throughout the early part of my pregnancy – DANCE! I was one of the lucky few who grabbed a ticket to the sold-out In The Dance Fitness class with Jamaican dynamo Yendi Phillipps at Toronto’s City Dance Corps, and I’m SO glad I did.

First off – if Yendi Phillipps‘ name isn’t one you’re used to hearing, get familiar. I first “met” Yendi through her pageant life, serving as Miss Jamaica World 2007, and Miss Jamaica Universe 2010 (as 1st runner up, she made history by being the highest-placing Jamaican ever in the pageant). Since then, she’s parlayed her beauty, smarts, and charisma into a complex career: brand spokesperson (Air Jamaica, Digicel), Smile Jamaica TV host, foundation creator, model, actress, dancer, and much more. With her educational background (a BFA in Dance and a Master’s degree in Recreation & Leisure Management), Yendi returned to her first love – dance – for her latest project, In The Dance Fitness.

The recipe for ITDF? Mix one part love of dance with one part love of Jamaican culture, and substitute the need for a gym with the comfort of working out at home to a DVD. Using dancehall dance moves like the Butterfly, Body Basics, and One Drop, Yendi has created a fun and challenging workout that incorporates cardio and aerobic activity, core work, body toning, and fat burning all in one. I went not once, but twice to her live classes here in Toronto for the Canadian launch, and adored every minute. Yendi’s energy was the best blend of motivation, positivity, and fun, so we all got into it. Y’all also know I’m not a gym girl, so In The Dance Fitness is perfect for me – give me some good music, some dance moves, and a guaranteed full-body workout, and I’m happy – plus, my Jamaican heritage loves all the good things yaad has to offer!

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After Thursday’s media class, I got to kick it with Yendi and talk a bit about this new project and more. Here’s a taste of our hilarious and open chat:

On In The Dance Fitness…

Bee: What was the idea for this project, and where did In The Dance come from?

Yendi: So, outside of what people know me for, which is you know, Miss Jamaica and Miss Universe and so on,  I actually am a dancer. So I’ve been dancing since I was 3 years old, and I’m a trained dancer – I have a bachelor of fine arts in dance where I completed my degree in New York, and this is what I’ve done my whole life. This is what I know, right?! And then, in training for the competitions and to get ready for those competitions, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the gym – but body is a big part of it. You know, when you have the swimsuit competition and you’re only walking in front of 3 billion people [laughs] no big deal, no pressure, right? So, I have to get fit and I have to get ready! My method was dance, so what I wanted to do was merge Jamaican culture – which is the culture I know best, which is what I do – and merge it with my passion, which is dance. And so, here came the idea of putting it together, putting it in a product, and the birth of In The Dance Fitness came.

On Motherhood…

Bee: How has your daughter’s [16-month old cutie, Israel] presence shifted things in your life?

Yendi: Oh – it’s shifted things tremendously. I feel like I had a mission before, and now there’s a bit more purpose to my journey. It’s not just about trying to get to a goal, but it’s about enjoying the experience and the journey towards that goal [...] it’s actually made me more determined to leave an indelible mark, because I want her to look at me as her inspiration and no external factors. And yes, there’s a part of me that wants to make my mother proud and my parents proud, but I want to make my daughter proud to say “That’s my mom.”

On Natural Hair…

Bee: I know you recently did your big chop, and you’re still wearing your hair naturally – what was the impetus behind that decision, and did you feel anything around redefining what beauty means to you?

Yendi: You know what it was for me – and I’m SO glad you asked that question! No one has asked that question at all, so thank you for that! This world of pageantry puts out this image of what beauty is ‘supposed’ to be [...] and it was so much of not who we naturally are – it’s almost like it was a big façade. In retrospect, I kind of felt like, why is it that we as women are made to feel as though we have to do a particular thing to be a particular thing, and I wanted to almost redefine for myself what my projection of beauty was. My personal journey is that I wanted to go back to what I was created to be.

Check the video for Yendi’s additional thoughts on bouncing back after baby, motherhood, natural hair choices, being a big dreamer, work-life balance, and the top 3 famous folks she’d handpick for her dream In The Dance Fitness class! Plus – if you pay attention, you might just catch footage of yours truly balancing pon head top in the studio!

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Did you catch her face when I said I was hitching a ride in her luggage?! Lol!

Yendi’s In The Dance Fitness DVD is available at Walmart locations across Canada, and more details can be found at the In The Dance Fitness website. Make sure you keep up with her via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and search the #inthedanceTO hashtag to see some of the real-time reviews on social media!

Special thanks to Krystal of Chris Smith Management, iShotYa Media, and Potential Films!

LUCK OR CHOICE? Thoughts On Supportive Partners & Relationships

HomieLuva behind the camera, supporting me at the #RNBSEX Show

HomieLuva behind the camera, supporting me at the #RNBSEX Show

A few months ago, I wrote a blog piece here that was cross-posted on BlogHer entitled, “I Stopped Resenting My Husband Dream & Became His Biggest Cheerleader.” In the piece, I talked about feeling somewhat resentful in the past about my husband’s dreams and work around launching his own business, and how we worked through those issues. Consider this a bit of an update – things have been incredibly eye-opening since then.

HomieLuva has always encouraged me to go after what I wanted to achieve and accomplish, and I finally recognized that I sabotaged myself a lot in that respect. How is it so easy for him to work his day job and his entrepreneurial stuff, AND have time to play basketball with his boys and spend time with me? I couldn’t fathom how he was able to do all of that, and resented him for it even though I knew I was merely frustrated with the box I put myself in. I’ve gotta focus on bills! My work is too demanding! There’s only enough room for one of us to have fun and go after our dreams! When I finally decided to break free from the shackles I put on myself, it was like day and night – it gave him more of an opportunity to not only see me flourish in my goals and passions, but to support me in them as well.

Somebody once told me I was “lucky” to have a supportive partner. I graciously accepted the notion and after hearing about that person’s less-than-stellar partnership, thought “Wow. Maybe I am really lucky.” It was during a recent Twitter chat with writer Ashley Ford (@iSmashFizzle) that I started to wonder, “What’s luck got to do with it?” Having a partner who supports and encourages me is a must. I chose my partner based on his ability to provide that for me, and he chose me for the same. Had there been red flags that he wouldn’t have been able to maintain that quality – as I’ve experienced in past relationships – that would need to be addressed. I understand and accept that all relationships are varied – but far too often I hear “luck” thrown around by those who lament the lack of support they receive from their partners while stating how important that quality is to them. Perhaps changing the language from “Yes, I am lucky!” to “Yes, that’s why I chose him/her!” might encourage people to reflect on the choices they’ve made and the things they’ve accepted in their relationships.

Me supporting him at one of his company events

Me supporting him at one of his company events

At any rate, HomieLuva and I have reached a new level in our relationship, methinks. His hard work is paying off, and now that I’m truly investing more in myself and taking my goals more seriously, I see my work paying off as well. It’s amazing to watch him excel at his “thing,” and it feels fresh and new and exciting to have him watch me excel at my “thing.” Now, when I sing along to ‘***Flawless’ with Bey’s “But don’t think I’m just his little wife/don’t get it twisted/get it twisted/dis mah shit!” line, I feel it. I really do. And it feels so good.

ASSIGNING BLACKNESS: Paul Mooney Said It Best

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I have a conundrum that I’m currently trying to work through. When did being dysfunctional become synonymous with being Black?

By now, many have heard of the latest incident involving one of Hollywood’s stars. Justin Bieber was arrested in Miami on Thursday morning and charged with DUI, drag racing, and resisting arrest, after admitting to police that he drank alcohol, smoked marijuana, and took prescription drugs before getting behind the wheel.

As I usually do in the morning, I fired up my Twitter app today and delved into my social media world. Being the current trend, I found out about La Beiba’s arrest there before I could even find my remote to turn on the news. Informational tweets, amusing tweets, concern-filled tweets, “If he were Black…” tweets – Beibermania took over my timeline in a variety of ways. What really got me going were the amount of tweets insinuating that La Beiba had finally crossed the threshold into his impending Blackness with this latest brush with the law. I had to stop for a moment. What?

Equating particular behaviours with Blackness isn’t new. Though Bill Clinton has no direct political relevance to me as a non-American, I still remember the confusion I felt about Black folk calling him “the first Black president” seemingly because he played the sax on Arsenio and cheated on Hillary. Navigating your Blackness in a country so near yet still so far from the U.S. is difficult enough – I couldn’t navigate this White man’s Blackness too, so I left it alone.

More recently, similar adoption papers have been signed and sent to my fellow Canadians La Beiba and Rob Ford. The former’s affinity for hanging out with Black celebs, his recent legal struggles, and his absorption of what he believes to be Black culture seem to have earned him some kind of honourary “Congrats! You’re Black!” medal. The latter’s drug habit and recent display of ‘diversity’ with drunken rants in Jamaican chat have earned him the same. I know some commentary is based in satire – but this week especially, I seem to be coming across more and more folk who are earnest in their bestowing of Blackness on actin’-up assed non-Blacks.

A Facebook status I wrote on Thursday was the inspiration for this post. As I wrote on my page (in part):

The behaviours that La Beiba and Rob Ford exhibit are common across all kinds of people, yet some Black folk seem quick to take sole ownership of these pathologies like it’s all we have to offer.

Unlike some of the interviewees featured this week on G 98.7FM (a local radio station), I don’t view Rob Ford as my first “Black” mayor. His struggles with drugs are not unique to Blacks, so him smoking crack didn’t make him any more “down” to me. Additionally, I don’t see him as my first “Jamaican” mayor either, even in jest. I value my Jamaican heritage entirely too much to grant citizenship to someone who spews out some careless “bumboclaats” and “rassclaats” in a drunken stupor.

How are we granting honourary Blackness to people who have the privilege to avoid the repercussions that actual Blacks would receive in their position? With both La Beiba and Ford, the convenience of having Black bodies nearby to take varying amounts of the fall isn’t at all lost on me. Remember when comedian Paul Mooney said “Everybody wants to be a nigga, but nobody wants to be a nigga” on Chappelle’s Show? Just call me Tag Team, because Whoomp! There it is.

There are so many layers to these issues and the ways we absorb and emit commentary on them. Media hypocrisy. Discussion around legal slaps on the wrist for many White celebs. Discrepancies in the American legal system as a whole. Thoughts on deportation processes and the who’s who of artists who get banned at the Canadian border. Society’s ability to blame Trayvon Martin for his own death because “he should have known better”, but to then turn around and shield La Bieba from controversy because “he’s just a kid.” I could go down the rabbit hole on any one of these points, but my head already hurts enough.

As with everything on this blog, I can only speak for what I’ve seen and heard, and can only represent my thoughts and feelings on the matter. I almost didn’t follow through with posting this, until I saw Ian Andre Espinet’s tweet and knew I wasn’t completely off the mark:

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As far as thoughts and feelings go, mine can be best summed up at this moment with another portion of my Facebook status:

La Beiba and Rob Ford ain’t no kin to me. My Blackness amounts to much more flyness than they could ever hope to adopt.

P.S. – check out Britni Danielle’s post on Clutch Magazine for another great perspective.

PLOT TWIST: When Things Just Work Out

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This is a little story about serendipity.

Months ago, a friend emailed me with details on an upcoming project being run by one of Canada’s largest companies. The company sought proposals for events to be run during Black History Month 2014, and would grant funding to the successful applicants. “Get on it,” my friend wrote. “You don’t have much time, but I’m sure you’ll come up something dope!”

I had exactly 1.5 days to conceptualize an idea, come up with a funding proposal, and complete the specifics of the registration, but I thought to myself, “Shoot – I work well under pressure!” I took a day off of work, holed myself up in a downtown workspace to get through the process, and got to it.

Luckily for me, I already had an event idea bubbling in my mind. Even luckier, I had a bit of experience with submitting funding proposals. I was still somewhat stumped at certain points in the registration process, and the hours seemed to taunt me by speeding up faster and faster as I worked. The butterflies in my tummy weren’t quelled until I did my last proof-read, said a prayer, kissed my fingers and touched them to the computer screen – then hit SEND. In the months that followed it seemed like my proposal made it through various checks and balances, so I waited with bated breath for the day that the final acceptance or rejection notice would be sent.

Finally, the day came. I checked my email like a fiend, alternating between refreshing my inbox incessantly and logging out completely in attempts to not lose my mind. I checked back in one last time, and there it was: THE EMAIL. I said another prayer, opened it up…and read my rejection letter. For one reason or another, my proposal didn’t make the cut, and I won’t lie – I was crushed.

I wish I could say that I didn’t take no for an answer and convinced the company to accept my proposal, or that I was motivated to push forward with my event idea anyways. I did neither. I allowed myself a moment to sulk, then simply moved on with life.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. 

Long story short, I was contacted by two different parties who were indirectly associated with the same project I had applied to. They both requested my services in various ways, and after some back and forth and careful consideration, I agreed to work with both. Talking to HomieLuva about the turn of events, I realized something. It’s likely that if all current circumstances in my life were the same and I was approved for the project, it may have been WAY too much for me to manage. Considering all circumstances in my life now, taking on these two projects and still being affiliated with the project is a much better look. There are benefits in place now that wouldn’t have been there had my project been approved – and it took me being rejected then being given these opportunities to see that.

Moral of the story? Quite simply, sometimes things just work themselves out. I admittedly did nothing after receiving my rejection letter, which isn’t really my modus operandi. Normally, I would have been driven to make my dreams become a reality, but this time I kind of felt like I had to take my lumps, get comfy with the feeling of rejection, and move on to something different. For whatever reason, life decided to bring this opportunity back around, albeit dressed in a new outfit – and I surely jumped at it. Just a reminder that sometimes we’re not ready for things or things aren’t ready for us – however, once the stars align, we may be gifted with another chance to receive what we hoped for in the first place. I’m grateful to whoever/whatever it was that looked out for me and said “Babygirl, you won’t want THAT. Give me a minute and I’ll give you something even better.” All I can say is thank you, and now I’m ready to put my best foot forward and make the most of what’s been given to me. I’m glad it all worked out.

OUT AH ROAD: NYC & Toronto Events Not To Be Missed + I Need Your Help!

I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, but some awesome events are coming up, and I had to spread the word!

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First up, for my NYC folk: my homegirl Keya Maeesha has curated another one of her dope-ass shows – tomorrow night’s event is called Just A Taste. Featuring incredible artists like Gwen Bunn, Jennah Bell, Jamie Woods, and Sah Ril, Just A Taste is part of Keya Maeesha Entertainment’s Acoustic Soul Series. If you’re a music lover and have $15 in your pocket, head down to DROM NYC and get what your heart and ears are looking for! Or, head here —> http://www.ticketfly.com/event/459757 and see if you can grab $10 advance tickets. Either way, get in where you fit in and keep up with Keya Maeesha Entertainment for more amazing musical programming!

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This Saturday, I’ll be co-hosting the second live R&B: Relationships & Bullsh!t Show with my homie Lincoln Anthony Blades! After discussing dating in Toronto at the last R&B Show in October, this evening will be a conversation party focused on S-E-X. Is great sex a necessary part of a great relationship? We’ll be choppin’ it up on that topic all night, complete with live music, great food and drinks, and a jammin’ afterparty – all at the lovely Trio Lounge! Get your advance tickets online here —> http://www.eventbrite.com/e/rb-the-relationships-bullsht-show-tickets-9051129171 and get ready for an enlightening and entertaining night!

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On February 1st, one of my favourite parties of the year goes down at Aura Lounge – it’s Blue Bash! This is HomieLuva’s annual birthday bashment, and it’s been a stand-out party for the last 5 years. This year will be bigger and better, with music by DJ Smooth B (also co-producer of the event), DJ Niterider, and DJ Soca Sweetness - this is a party where you need comfy shoes, because you won’t be sitting down AT ALL. Jay Martin and Mr. Presto are the evening’s hosts, and Jay will be performing a comedy show to get the night kicked off right at 10:30pm. Advance tickets are $15 each, or 3 for $30 and you can get ‘em here —>  http://www.bluebash2014.eventbrite.ca so round up your people and your blue outfits, and help me celebrate HLF’s birthday!

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And coming soon…I’m working on a project with some special partners here in Toronto, and I’m hoping some of my Toronto folk, especially ladies who wear their hair naturally, can help me out. I’m looking for some info from you: what, if any, are your biggest hair challenges, and what pieces of information do you think could help you with your hair? Do you have issues with growth? Breakage? Styling? Do you want info on choosing/using the right product? Knowledge on detangling techniques? Something/anything else? Please comment here or send me an email at bee@83toinfinity.com and let me know what would help YOU. Hopefully, I’ll have more details for you soon!

GOAL GAME PLAN: Forget The To-Dos – How Do You Want To Feel?

bee2014feelingsIt’s 10 days into the new year, and I feel like I’m just starting to rev my engine. The flu met me at the tail end of 2013 and walked confidently into 2014 by my side, so I really haven’t started feeling like myself until, well – yesterday.

This is so unlike me. My vision board isn’t done. I’m still scribbling on Post-It notes and sticking them in the back of my 2013 day planner. I need a new journal, and haven’t made my way out to pick one up. I feel like I’ve slumped my way into 2014 and haven’t been present in the moment, and it sucks. I should be still feeling that sparkly excitement of the new year; should be clicking on all cylinders with my goals, plans and dreams; but instead I feel overwhelmed with the fact that I’m not functioning the way I’d like to be. An email I read recently has helped me to readjust my perspective with its novel idea.

I don’t pay attention to many of the mailing lists I’m on, but one I faithfully look forward to each week is writer/author/all-around dope chick Britni Danielle’s. I e-met Britni on Twitter and was among the first people to join her Facebook group The #GOALDiggers Project. Britni has been instrumental in helping me with my blogging and freelance writing moves, and offered me a series of writing coaching sessions, which were amazing. Britni’s email this week was especially timely, in that she simply asked the question: How do you want to feel?

She stated that figuring out how you want to feel throughout life and making decisions with those feelings in mind will hopefully lead you to make moves that will illicit those good feelings. Instead of asking “What do I need to accomplish?” or “What goal do I need to set?” she changed her mentality to instead take inventory of how she wanted to feel. From there, it was clearer (and more motivation-driven) to go after the things that will make her feel the way she wants to about herself. (Make sense? Hope so. If not, hit me at bee@83toinfinity.com and I’ll forward you Britni’s email.)

Now. When I started thinking of how I wanted to feel, I came up with some of the following:

  • full of purpose
  • loved and able to love
  • unique
  • redefined
  • energetic
  • confident
  • less anxious
  • happy

After I identified how I wanted to feel, I started to visualize what that might look like, and what sorts of things would get me there. All of a sudden, a new kind of gameplan started to fall into place. When I changed my perspective to think of the end result being me feeling like a fuller person vs. the end result being me getting/earning/possessing something, I felt a bit renewed. I’m now looking forward to working backwards and setting myself up to do and experience the things that will have me feeling whole.

Have you ever set up a list of feelings as opposed to a list of to-dos? If you find yourself struggling to get in gear, or if you fear you may lose steam along the way, try thinking about what it would feel like to be your most whole self, and act accordingly. Go forth and prosper, y’all – I know I will be!

TO YOU: A Letter To My Child, The Littlest Magician

via rosiesandz.com

via rosiesandz.com

January 2, 2014

Dear ___________,

Properly addressing this letter is a bit difficult, because I still haven’t met you.

You’ve definitely made your presence known – but until I see your face, feel you take your first breath, and hear you release your first cry, I’ll have no idea what to call you. I’m sure you’ll understand. I imagine that our first meeting will be overwhelming and filled with emotions that I have yet to experience and attempt to define, so while I’m clear of mind, let me just say thank you.

Thank you for choosing me. I’ve always pictured you as a little spirit already in existence on another plane, floating through time and space looking for the perfect home to call your own. For the longest time, I felt like others of your kind wandered down and peered through nooks and crannies, assessing me before deciding that I wasn’t right. I started to wonder: what was I lacking? Finally, you chose me. You chose us. We’re so quick to discredit and criticize ourselves here – I see now that I wasn’t lacking, but that no other little spirits were right for me until you, at this time and in this form. Once I accepted that your kind comes to my kind in a multitude of ways, you showed up.  I’m honoured and blessed and I thank you.

Thank you for protecting me. In efforts to protect you, I’ve actually been able to create a forcefield around my entire self like never before. You were the catalyst that told me I had to change. I can’t stress the way I used to. I can’t fly off the handle the way I used to. I can’t worry the way I used to (still working on this one – you’ve given me new neuroses I never expected to have). Does this mean that the last few months have been nothing but smiles and sunshine? Not at all. However, your presence has forced me to add a layer of self-assessment when I’m about to fall into one of my old patterns. Because of you, I check myself before I wreck myself. I’m not perfect, but you’ve started a process of change within me that I wasn’t able to do on my own. Thank you.

Thank you for being my reason why. I’m sure you’ll learn as you grow, but people can be fickle. Friends come and go. They betray you. They hurt you the most when they’re hurting themselves. When these things happen to me, I’ll admit – I spend a lot of time (maybe too much) wondering why. Especially when there is no closure, it’s hard to decipher and even harder to move on. Before I found out about you, I was stuck in a tough place, asking myself those questions. Why did people leave my life the way they did? Why did some fade away like smoke in the wind? Why did others exit in an explosion of fury? I couldn’t figure it out – until you. The answer that gives me solace is that I needed to remove those who don’t mean well for me or my family; those who wouldn’t be a source of love and light; those who don’t have the energy or capacity to reciprocate true friendship; those who frankly don’t deserve to be in your presence. Before you’ve even looked me in the eye, you’ve answered questions and given me comfort that seemed eternally elusive. Thank you.

Thank you for the challenges you’ve given, and the challenges to come. So far, you’ve shown me that I possess a level of strength and tenacity that I didn’t realize I had. You’ve made me truly able to take things day-by-day, and I have new discussions with God each night. I feel a different kind of fear these days, but also a new kind of fearlessness. I wonder how my body will change, how my mind will react, how your pebble will ripple the waves of connection between your daddy and I. After being sick, having surgery, undergoing treatment, then getting sick again, I didn’t know if I could fight my way through to get to you – but here we are. Nothing has made me want to get my shit act (I’m working on cutting down my cussin’. Sorry!) together more than you, and I thank you for pushing me.

Now, I hope you don’t feel any sort of pressure when you read this. My gratitude to you doesn’t come with an extended list of expectations. You owe me nothing more in this life than to live it to the limit and love it a lot (I’ll be teaching you about Jay Z – don’t worry). You have done so much for me already, and I can’t wait to see what lessons you impart in the months and years to come. I hope you’ll love me as much as I love you; I hope you look back on memories of me with warmth; I hope you feel as blessed to have us as we do you. You remind me that I’m magic. I can’t wait to teach you to recognize the same in yourself.

I can’t wait to meet you – that’s when this insane amount love I have inside will start to make sense.

Mommy

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD: Recap 2013, Ready for 2014 [BWB Blog Carnival]

via www.freepik.com

via www.freepik.com

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

 

There are two times of the year that this Zora Neale Hurston quote comes to mind: once on my birthday, and again at the delicate crux between Old Year’s Night and New Year’s Day. I always assess the year that is culminating – did it ask or answer? Then I wonder about the year to come – will I receive more questions or responses? I’m a sucker for the reflection and anticipation that comes with wrapping up another rotation around the sun or completion of another dog-eared, marked-up calendar – so, here we are.

Special shout-out to Blogging While Brown for giving me the opportunity to host their December blog carnival – stay tuned for links from some other awesome bloggers who took on the same theme and ran with it. 

In my assessment of Miss Zora’s quote – 2013 definitely answered questions. Questions like “Can I do it?” and “Is it time to take a risk?” and “Who am I?” and “What do I want?” permeated my mind over the last 12 months, and I received answers to all of them and more.

This year saw me do a major job of overcoming my fear of public speaking – from hosting award shows and fashion shows, to being on TV (three times!), to speaking at 2 conferences, I’ve learned to get comfy with the Bee that stands up in front of 5-500 people and speaks her mind. Whodathunkit? Not me.

I continued to develop my writing voice and skill, which is a continual work in process. I’m still having fun with ’83 To Infinity, and I’m blessed to write for some awesome publications that trust me and support me. Little Bee always wanted to be a multi-hyphenate model/actress/writer/doctor, but only one of those options seemed truly possible as I got older (hence my work in health care – I still fell short of the ‘doctor’ title, much to my father’s chagrin). To be able to say that I am now able to sustain an alternate stream of income through my words AND that so many new people have gotten to read my writing AND the fact that I giggle every time someone thinks that I do this (blog/write/events etc.) full-time…all I can say is I feel blessed.

On a more personal level, I made some huge strides this year. One thing I’ve never written about before is my diagnosis with depression in 2012 (shortly after my cervical cancer issue), and my struggles coming to terms with it. 2012 broke me in many ways, but I was determined to rebuild myself in 2013. I think I threw myself into blogging and writing and events to distract myself – which helped a bit, but eventually I learned that rebuilding myself wouldn’t happen if I was hiding from myself. I chose to face things head-on, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done on myself. Sometimes I slip and fall and need someone to catch me. Sometimes I don’t allow anyone to catch me. Sometimes sliding to the bottom is the most saddening yet comfortable thing. I’m learning how to work with myself and my brain and my heart, and I’m utterly thankful for the people who (whether they know it or not) have helped to save me from myself.

2013 allowed me to build some amazing new friendships and strengthen existing ones at a point in my life where it felt like everyone had their besties already. I turned 30 and started turning my Don’t Give a F*ck meter all the way up. I learned a lot and expanded my mind about themes like sexuality, feminism, womanism, and entrepreneurship. I’ve come out of 2013 so confident, so strong, more loved, more in love, and ready to jump into 2014 with both feet.

So. 2014. There’s so much newness and change underway that I can’t even reference my usual Zora Neal Hurston-assisted formula. All I know is that 2014 is going to do more than ask questions or answer them. It’s already given me a few teasers to show me that I’m headed in the right direction. I’m nominated for a national award and will be attending an award show in March. An amazing publication has offered me a contributor position. A community agency has tapped me to facilitate a series of workshops on social media. I’m determined to run with all of these confirmations that I’m most definitely on to something, and I can’t wait. A move, more travel, continuing to improve my health, continuing to come into my own…next year will surely be incredible. 2014 will be a redefinition, and I’m excited to take it on.

There’s actually a pretty big project on the go for 2014, but I can’t give out the details just yet – you’ll have to stay tuned! Overall, I haven’t been this excited for a new year in a long time. I so looked forward to 2013 because I was desperate to escape the grasp of 2012, but heading into 2014 feels different. I’m not running away from anything – I’m ready for everything.

Now that I’ve said my piece – check out the posts from my awesome contributors:

Claire of Claire She Goes talks about a year of finding her voice, navigating religion, and presenting her most authentic self in 2014.

Melissa of My Creative Connection relied on faith and learned that “you are what you attract.”

Telisha of Goddess Intellect discusses how her challenges in 2013 have prepared her for her “Year of Mastery” in the year to come.

These Fierce women wrote their manifesto for 2014.

Rae of From Rae With Love tells us about trusting her intuition, the importance of therapy, defining her identity, and other things learned in 2013.

Amy of Now – For A Word Or Two gives us a breakdown of some of the highlights and challenges of her year (breastfeeding, social media, the NFL and more!) and lets us know her resolutions plans for 2014.

Jason of The Social Media Samurai tells us how the right connections and self-determination helped him to make major blogging strides in 2013.

Christina of Belleview Beauty gives us her 3 lessons of 2013 and her 3 guiding principles for 2014, complete with some awesome resources.

Join myself and the contributors for a live Twitter chat on Thursday, December 19th at 8pm EST! We’ll be discussing some of the highlights in our posts, and our thoughts on 2013 and 2014! Follow me at @BeeSince83 and check out the hashtag #BWB1314 to chime in! 

PLEASURE PRINCIPLE: Female Dancehall Artists, Sexuality, & Satisfaction

via www.marcoonthebass.blogspot.ca/

via www.marcoonthebass.blogspot.ca/

Dancehall music.

Slack.

Explicit.

Sex-positive?

While both defenders and decriers of dancehall (a segment of reggae music) will likely agree with the first two descriptors, I’d like to make an argument in support of the third.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a home with Jamaican parents, including a dad who, back in his hey day, was the selector (DJ) of a sound system (DJ crew). Coming to Canada didn’t stop his flow, so I came up in the game thinking it was normal to have club speakers, turntables, mixers, microphones, and crates upon crates of records in our basement.

My mom liked the smooth sounds of artists like Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, and Luciano. My dad ventured between rootsman (Bob Marley and Peter Tosh) and gunman (Bounty Killa and Burro Banton). I grew to love them all. Mom would make noise if Dad started playing his “slackness” – but I loved listening to all those songs that I probably shouldn’t have been.

Sex is not a taboo topic in dancehall music. It surely isn’t today (hello, Vybz Kartel!), and it wasn’t when I was growing up. Male artists did not shy away from discussing their sexual prowess, what they will and won’t do, and the wonders of women’s anatomy, but they rarely spoke about women’s sexual satisfaction. Red Rat chided his bwoy Dwayne about the fact that “yuh caan have a girl and every night she complain” – but I found the male discussion of female sexual satisfaction separate from their own to be lacking. That’s OK though, because in the mode of sistas doin’ it for themselves, women like Tanya Stephens, Lady Saw, and Patra came through.

via www.mixupyaad.com

via www.mixupyaad.com

Lady Saw was just…raw. Nothing I recall about her image during my childhood was anything but. Her outfits, her dance moves, her song lyrics – she was the Queen of Slackness and held her court well. In her track “Hardcore/It’s Raining“, she held no punches about how she wanted pleasure from her partner, and discussing sexuality from a woman’s perspective became her trademark. On the business front, she made waves by fighting gender discrimination – while she would get banned from performing on certain stages, her male contemporaries (who were just as slack, if not moreso) routinely booked stages all over the island. Lady Saw fought for her right to perform and make money just as easily and successfully as men, and in doing so paved the way for other female artists.

via www.earthcultureroots.com

via www.earthcultureroots.com

One of those artists was Tanya Stephens. There was something about the way Tanya Stephens sang her records about sexuality and satisfaction. “Yuh Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet” and “Goggle” were open letters to so-called “bedroom bullies” whose boastful mouths did more work than their penises when it came to sexual finesse. Tanya let these dudes know that they a) weren’t going to chat big without delivering on their promises; b) were going to please her to her level of satisfaction; and c) were going to respect her own sexual power. Tanya wasn’t any man’s sexual prop – her songs turned that idea on its head and put men in that role.

via www.hotminutemag.co.uk

via www.hotminutemag.co.uk

For me, no one really brought feminine sexual energy in dancehall like Patra. In all fairness, I acknowledge that she probably stands out for two particular reasons. One being that she came out at a particularly vulnerable time in my life (that point where you’re an open sponge, soaking up all the different ways to carry yourself in this world), and two being that her introduction to an international audience meant more available visuals than other artists. Patra’s videos were like nothing I had seen – slick and sexy, with enough rawness to tantalize new audiences, but enough authentic winery to satisfy born and bred Yardies. I was mesmerized by Patra’s body-confidence – the catsuits, batty rider shorts, waist-length braids – nothing was dainty on her. Everything was bam/pow/in your face, and I soaked it all up. The way she commanded attention was fresh to me – instead of it coming across in a kind of pandering, please-accept-me way, it was more of a this-is-me-like-it-or-leave-it-but-I-bet-you-love-it way. I took Patra’s boldness, folded it up, and packed it away for a time when I’d be ready to navigate my own sexuality and self-expression.

YouTube Preview Image

One of my faves from Patra – come test mi, nuh!

Patra didn’t just tell you how she liked it, she showed you. Thanks to the videos I’d record on MuchMusic’s X-Tendamix (or BET’s Caribbean Rhythms when we were lucky enough to have it), I saw how she’d sing her lyrics and bite her lip, or stroke her body, or wine her hips. It was all part of a package for me – a package that represented a unique kind of feminine sexual power resting more on the woman’s terms, not merely seeking to please the male gaze.

Now, no genre is perfect. I acknowledge the fact that dancehall has staunchly planted itself in cis/heteronormativity, and there’s much more room and opportunity for discussion around these limitations – even with the above-named artists. Homophobia, paranoia, and irrational shunning of certain sexual practices run rampant in the genre, and that is no secret. [On a side note, take it from me. If you’re in a dance and any song about bunnin’ out bowcat (shunning oral sex) comes on, keep an eye on how many men fling their gunfinga in the air. I guarantee you that a good chunk are lying. Guar. An. Tee.]

Back to the main topic. For all its negativity, its “slackness,” its overt and sometimes crass lyrics, I was able to find a special sweet spot in dancehall, a genre that isn’t above reproach, but one that I dearly love. I’m grateful for the women I’ve named, who’ve shown me a new space in dancehall – an area for women to manage and for men to respect. Listening solely to many of their male counterparts, it’s easy to see why so many view women’s default role as that of passive partner for male sexual satisfaction, only allowed to tun up di ting as much as the man found suitable. Women like Lady Saw, Tanya Stephens, and Patra presented a different possibility – the possibility that women in dancehall could access their agency and not only control but call the shots when it comes to their pleasure. For that, I’m thankful.

Big up di gyal dem.

ARTSY FARTSY: Black Nativity Toronto Screening Recap

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Though us Canadians celebrated our Thanksgiving 6 weeks ago, it’s not hard to get caught up in the festivities with my American homies as they prepare for feasts of gratitude this weekend. I know that as soon as the food has settled and the tryptophan has taken hold, it’ll be time to look forward to the Christmas season – and thanks to the good folks at Fox Searchlight, I got a dose of the holiday warm and fuzzies at a Toronto screening of Black Nativity on Monday night!

Starring Jennifer Hudson, Jacob Latimore, Tyrese Gibson, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker, Black Nativity is a modern film adaptation of the classic play by Langston Hughes. Filled with themes of family, struggle, forgiveness, and love, the film centres around the traditional Christian Nativity story. I won’t give away any more, but I will tell you my 5 favourite things about Black Nativity!

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1. Harlem

This summer, I spent a weekend in Harlem for the Blogging While Brown Conference, and fell ALL the way in love. I know there’s nothing new about New York City serving as the backdrop for cinema, but I was giddy as the camera shots panned past spots I ate at, shopped at, hung out at…you get the point. I don’t remember how many times I grabbed HomieLuva’s arm and said, “I went there!” He rolled his eyes, but you know he allowed me my moment. The Harlem shots in the film (and the brownstone where a chunk of the movie took place) were gorgeous.

2. Angela Bassett

I’ve always been a fervent worshipper at the altar of Angela, but my standom exploded this year with her amazing turn as Marie Laveau on American Horror Story: Coven. It was a shift to see her playing a prim and proper preacher’s wife and grandmother in Black Nativity, but she was fierce all the same. I love the diversity of her work, and thought she played this role with the perfect amount of emotion without tipping into ‘corny’ country. She even sang a little bit, and I was surprised to hear that she can carry a note! G’on then, Auntie Angela!

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3. Jacob Latimore

Now, I didn’t know much about this young whippersnapper before coming into the movie, except for the random fact that he’s supposedly the newest member of Mindless Behaviour (don’t ask me how I know this). I admittedly don’t have other work to compare him to, but I really enjoyed his role as Langston, the star of the film. The tough-shelled teen with an immense love for his mother and a desire for more out of life…he did that. His voice is amazing, and he has the makings of a wonderful actor, so it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.

4. The Church

Now, I’m not the most church-going person in the world. I wasn’t raised in the church, and only started going when I fell in love with a boy who was. Church still often feels like a foreign place where everyone is speaking a language that I don’t understand, but I’d be lying if I said that my symbolism- and ceremony-loving self didn’t see beauty in it. Given that the film is called Black Nativity, I knew there would be an indelible religious overtone. Sometimes that can be intimidating to me, but the film’s presentation was actually quite lovely. Forest Whitaker played a great preacher (even if his pseudo-Brit accent seemed a bit off for a preacher in Harlem), and I could tell that the majority of the audience was really into it.

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5. The Music

Black Nativity trailers let me know early on that this was going to be more of a musical than anything else. I’ll be honest – I wasn’t that keen on watching people skip from dialogue to musical solos on the big screen, but thought I’d give it a chance. The voices in the film – Jennifer, Jacob, Tyrese, Mary J. Blige, and guest spots by Luke James and Grace Gibson (Lynn Whitfield’s daughter!) were very well-chosen. Nas also had a couple of prime pieces in the film, threading hip hop throughout in a cool way. My boo, Raphael Saadiq, was the musical director, so as the credits rolled in the first few minutes of the film, I got excited. The music is definitely the star of Black Nativity, and I was pleasantly surprised!

Black Nativity opens in theatres everywhere today, so if you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie that you can see with the family (I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie with HomieLuva and our goddaughter that we all enjoyed), check it out! Major shout-outs to Fox Searchlight for providing me with passes for a few lucky winners – we had a wonderful discussion after the film, and many people are bringing their families back for another viewing this week!

This was a sponsored post, but y’all know I give only the real deal. If you were at the screening, or if you happen to see the film on opening weekend – let me know what you think!

P.S.: The Syndicate. This Saturday. Be there! 

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