This Dance Is For Me + My Favorite Improv Songs

The first time I was asked to improvise was in a ballet class freshman year of college. I was already out of my element, a communications major in my second semester in a room filled with sophomore musical theater and acting majors. Sometimes remembering a barre warmup in front of them was more than I could handle.

My dance background in ballet, jazz and tap didn’t include any improv, so this request to just move with new music was scary. Terrifying even.

I always loved moving around to the music on the radio. I have a hard time listening to music at work because I’m constantly bobbing up and down, choreographing in my head to whatever song is on. That choreography got in the way when I tried to improv. Instead of letting go, I tried to remember every move I made, in case it turned out “good.”

By the next time I was asked to improv, I had declared my dance minor, was a junior, was used to dancing without the mirrors and even liked end-of-class partner massages. It turns out I really enjoyed improvising once the awkward factor was out of the way.

Improv Playlist | Succulents and Sunnies

The ability to move without caring what you look like or what other people think is a true skill, one that took a long time for me to develop. These days, the ease of improv – you don’t need a ballet barre or big space or the perfect song – makes it the form of dance I do most. Sneaking into the group exercise room between spin class and kickboxing at the gym for a little movement is my happy time in my post-college world. Who cares about the woman doing core or the guys jumping rope? This dance is for me.

If you’re looking for a few songs to get up and move around to, these are some of my favorites:

9 Must Haves for a Day at the Beach

Summer is short in Buffalo, so when sunny days come your way, you take advantage of them. This means always being ready to throw a few essentials into your backpack and head to the beach! These are my 9 favorite beach day essentials:

1. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen: This is my favorite sunscreen. It works, it doesn’t feel slimy and it doesn’t bother my skin. It is more expensive than your average Coppertone, but worth it! The bottles are also small enough to be TSA carry-on approved.

2. Old Navy Flip Flops: These flip flops are perfect for hot sand, rocky beaches, rinsing feet off, running to the bathroom and just about every other beach day errand. Plus, you can buy a pair for $2.50, or stock up during the $1 flip flop sale mid-summer.
Summer Beach Day Essentials | Succulents and Sunnies
3. Black Sea Followband: Wearing jewelry at the beach is dangerous – you’re asking for earrings lost to the waves and funky tan lines. However, I like accessorize just a little bit by adding this bracelet to my beach day outfit.

4. Lush Breath of Fresh Air Toner: I included this toner in my winner essentials list as well. It’s perfect for refreshing sun-drenched skin and wiping off layers of sunscreen before heading to the ice cream stand once the sun goes down.

5. Nalgene Water Bottle: Staying hydrated on the beach is hard, so a giant water bottle is a must-have. I love that plastic doesn’t sweat as much as metal water bottles and the top is big enough to fit ice cubes in.

6. Bubbles: Mom got me bubbles for Easter, and they’re a fun addition to beach day activities. Plus, they look great in pictures.
Beach Day Summer Essentials | Succulents and Sunnies
7. Knockaround Mai Tais: Knockarounds are just about everyone’s favorite beach accessory. They’re tough to break, cheap and available with polarized lenses. Plus, their new frame designs are flattering for smaller faces (like mine ✋) so you don’t have to sacrifice fashion for function.

8. Not Your Mother’s Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray: Buffalo might not have any salt water nearby, but that doesn’t mean you can’t rock surfer girl hair. This makes wet hair look textured and helps it dry into a uniform wave.

9. A Good Magazine: If I’m spending a week on the beach (and a few hours in a plane to get there), a new book is a great accessory. If I’m visiting the local lake for an afternoon, a magazine is a better bet. I love Real Simple, Cosmo and Magnolia Journal!

Nothing Better than the Outside of a Horse

“I’ve often said there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.” – Ronald Reagan

These words are incredibly true, and have been since my first horseback riding lesson at age 9. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed a recent increase in the number of horse pictures. There’s kind of a lot of them. The last year, I’ve been back at the barn and it feels good.

There’s nothing quite as therapeutic as a couple of hours at the barn; not necessarily riding – sometimes that goes pretty badly – but brushing, bathing, grazing and feeding endless carrots. These hours are special and after 4 horseless years, I’m still feeling extra thankful I get to have them.

This year, I’m spending those hours with Johny. He’s possibly the happiest, sweetest, cuddliest lesson horse on the planet. Johny was the first horse I showed, and while we were never going to win a class, we both learned a lot about working as a team.

Nothing Better than the Outside of a Horse | Succulents and Sunnies | Niagara County 4H Show

Nothing Better than the Outside of a Horse | Succulents and Sunnies | Niagara County 4H Show

Last weekend, Johny and I broke out the hoof polish and saddle soap for an open show. After we both got over a little bit of nerves, we had so much fun! Horse shows are kind of like dance recitals. Practice is fun, but also hard. When you get to a show, all dolled up, you do your best, but it’s not the place to make any big changes. You just get to ride and hope nothing too terrible happens. And nothing did – we couldn’t ask for anything more!

Thanks to our personal show photographer Katheryn Krawczyk for the pictures!

Love Ya Like a Sister

My sister and I are close, bonded by our love of cute coffee shops, affinity for new adventures and the misery of both not understanding what your parents are talking about and simultaneously becoming them. Despite this, Paige and I haven’t lived under the same roof in years. Some of that time, we were both in Ithaca, meeting up for Saturday morning coffee dates when we were both free. Others, we were hours apart, one of us home and the other in Ithaca.

Cody and his siblings are incredibly close, and when Cody’s brother moved to Rochester last month, we knew that we’d be gathering often, thankfully only a few Thruway exits apart. This weekend we celebrated the first of many “Siblings’ Weekend,” full of family updates, breweries, boating and ice cream sundaes.

Love Ya Like a Sister | Siblings Weekend | Succulents and Sunnies

Love Ya Like a Sister | Siblings Weekend | Succulents and Sunnies

Love Ya Like a Sister | Siblings Weekend | Succulents and Sunnies

While Cody’s sister and his brother’s girlfriend aren’t my sisters, they do a pretty good job of filling in when Paige hasn’t been home in a while. This weekend, my heart was so full of love and laughter, fueled by a sunset boat ride, flatbread pizzas on the patio, trail mix and Impractical Jokers. Many thanks to Patrick and Shannon for making this weekend happen. Can’t wait for next time!

Staying Informed

In today’s world, riddled with political battles, religious extremism and frequent natural disasters, it’s incredibly important to find news sources that present facts and challenge “truths.” In the past year, so much has changed the way I find and digest news. Most obviously, the election of President Trump, and the questionable statements and decisions he has made in his months as our country’s leader. Secondly, moving from the liberal oasis of Ithaca and the Ithaca College campus to rural upstate New York.

This year, I have more time to devote to finding news stories and comparing different sides of the story. Thank goodness, because news is more complicated and time consuming than ever.

My top news source is probably Twitter. I like how immediate both the original message and the feedback are. For current events and updates directly from politicans’ offices, this is a good source. Of course, anyone can say anything on Twitter (or any other social media), so vetting this information is important.

I recently subscribed to TheSkimm, another source for quick news. Everything is very easy to read and understand, which is good in a lot of cases. Sometimes though, I’m left wanting (a lot) more.

My household still subscribes to The Buffalo News’ print edition 7 days a week. Crazy, I know. This is how we keep up on local news. There’s also a varied collection of New York Times and Washington Post articles I wouldn’t otherwise read. Despite Buffalo being the second largest city in the state, it often feels like a small town, and sometimes The Buffalo News treads lightly so as not to step on any WNY toes, at the expense of in depth news coverage.

I also love NPR. Not necessarily for the factual news, but for the human interest they add to the headlines. On air interviews with activists, journalists, immigrants and witnesses are not only informative, but touching.

Where are you finding informative, balanced and factual news coverage? How has this year’s political climate changed the way you view news? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Inspiration Straight from Big Magic

I am not a genius. I have a genius.

This is a distinction that took me by storm when I was first introduced to Elizabeth Gilbert‘s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Pieces of this book were required reading in Dance Composition, a class that demanded more creativity than any business course could even imagine. One thing about business classes is that they indulged my perfectionist nature. You can ace a marketing exam or put together a well-researched media strategy that will knock your professor’s socks off. Creating a work of art with your body and the landscape around you can never be “perfect.” And this scares me.

Being able to separate myself from my creative ideas was a relief. And this separation of self and “genius” was only one of the ideas that I found helpful as I created performance art throughout the semester.

Because I aim to be a lifelong creator, maybe not in dance, but in writing and photography and other pursuits I have not yet discovered, I added Big Magic to my Christmas list this year. My grandpa (who I always ask for all the books I want, because he gives the list to his local bookkeeper who will order everything on the list if it’s not already in stock) delivered, and I’ve been working on this book most days at lunch. I first mentioned the book when I named it one the things that was getting me through winter.

The differentiation between being a genius and having a genius is just the beginning. Elizabeth Gilbert is a writer, and a successful one at that as author of the smashing success Eat Pray Love. After this success, she gave two TED talks on what led to her critical and commercial acclaim. This book is a continuation of those TED talks, and it remains just as casual and mind blowing as TED talks tend to be. Big Magic reads like a conversation, delivering thought-provoking and reassuring passages throughout.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert Review | Succulents and Sunnies

I have passages starred from beginning to end, and I find myself introducing ideas from it everywhere from Instagram to Bible Study. Just 40 pages in, Gilbert reaffirms that “You can support other people in their creative efforts, acknowledging the truth that there’s plenty of room for everyone. You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” The first piece of this statement is something that I’m finding especially true here in Buffalo. The support and collaboration in the blogging and entrepreneur communities here is something I love to see both in my social media feeds and at networking events. The second is more personal, and possibly more important. While a growing readership is always nice, I’m focusing on making my goals for this blog about regular blog posts that are me. And that’s important.

Do you struggle being “original” enough to stand out? If not, please let me know how you do it. For the rest of us, Gilbert reassures us, saying “Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.” If being yourself is good enough for her, it’s definitely good enough for me. I also love Big Magic‘s focus on creating for your own reasons. I write this blog for me, and that’s okay, because “Your own reasons to create are reason enough.”

Gilbert offers such practical advice for fighting those periods of time when you just don’t feel creative. She talks about the practicality of working through these times doing something, anything. This is beyond helpful, as my real job becomes more and more writing-focused. Add freelance social media content and creative partnerships, and sometimes I’m just not feeling it by the time I go to write here.

This leads to another great point; creative pursuits aren’t likely to be your full time job. Even Gilbert had a full time job until after Eat Pray Love. It would be great to be an Instagram influencer who lived off freelance content creation and affiliate marketing. But my personal digital footprint is a labor of love, one that takes time and doesn’t pay. “People don’t do this kind of thing because they have all kinds of extra time and energy for it; they do this kind of thing because their creativity matters to them enough that they are willing to make all kinds of extra sacrifices for it.”

Putting in the time, writing regularly and sharing photos that are reflective of my thoughts and actions, is important, because that is all that is under my control. My success, as Gilbert points out rather directly, “[depends] upon three factors – talent, luck, and discipline – and I knew two of those three things would never be under my control.”

All of these gems, which are pushing me to work diligently on my creative pursuits, are sprinkled among personal anecdotes from the creative life Elizabeth Gilbert is living. She touches on the very real issue of depression among artists. She talks about how no work to too special to edit. There are times where writing could never describe real life, and times when writing is exactly what she needs to makes sense of reality.

While we should work and work and work towards exactly what we want, there are times when we are swept into furies of creativity. Those moments when you can’t write fast enough to get it all down, those huge waves of inspiration that come to you out of nowhere. They’re because of, Gilbert says, Big Magic. For those of us striving to live creatively, without fear or darkness, we must accept Big Magic when it comes to us, because we are not geniuses. We have geniuses.

27 Thoughts You Have While Watching Gilmore Girls for the First Time in 2017

I somehow escaped the first decade of the 2000s without watching a single episode of Gilmore Girls. With all the hype about Netflix’s revival this fall, I wanted to see what all the buzz was about, which meant I had to watch the seven seasons of the original series first. It was as good as everyone made it out to be, but watching the show in 2017 prompted some thoughts that definitely wouldn’t have occurred to me in 2005:

  1. Were bell sleeves really this popular? I haven’t seen a bell sleeve in a very long time.
  2. Same goes for sling back kitten heels.
  3. I almost forgot George W. was a president, until Rory’s “Give Bush a Wedgie” t-shirt. That brought back memories.
  4. How are alllll of Rory’s boyfriends so attractive? I probably would have had this thought in 2007 also, but still worth mentioning.
  5. On that note, watching both Gilmore Girls and This Is Us at the same time is weird. In the best way.
  6. I wish I could tell the high school Paris and Rory that Hillary Clinton is the powerhouse you look up to and more.
  7. A Drop it Like a it’s Hot reference. Wow.
  8. Oh, and a Wisteria Lane reference for Luke’s dramatics.
  9. The amount of food these people eat is incredible. I love it.
  10. How did people watch this one week at a time? Or wait between seasons?
  11. The 90s neon swishy suit disappeared for a reason.
  12. A skinny scarf for every outfit!
  13. If Rory knew she was supporting the future campaign of Donald Trump, she would never have went to his casino for her 21st birthday.
  14. Mental health jokes were wayyy more socially acceptable 10 years ago.
  15. Product placement was in its infancy 10 years ago.
  16. How do you survive college without social media?!
  17. Hurricane Katrina was a real doozy.
  18. Everyone had a Pontiac Sunfire, in Gilmore Girls and in real life.
  19. Also bangs. They’re everywhere in 2006.
  20. Melissa McCarthy is an absolute gem.
  21. A gem who wears Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker. You can’t get any better.
  22. Logan’s new website is like MySpace – that’s no longer a good thing.
  23. So many Britney Spears as a troubled mom references. She turns out okay guys!
  24. Snakes on a Plane was a movie people saw on dates. Why?
  25. Why are legwarmers part of Loreli’s outfit? That never should have been a thing.
  26. Logan’s belt is buckled on the side. I forgot we all did that, for years.
  27. Rory’s job on the campaign trail will take a while. Obama turns out pretty awesome.

The bonus of watching Gilmore Girls in 2017? I didn’t have to wait to watch A Year in the Life. Season 7, Episode 22 and all four episodes of the revival all in one night. And now:

Image courtesy of Spoiler TV.