Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mom in the Spotlight: Leonie Roessler

Leonie Roessler was born in the Ruhrgebiet area in Germany and grew up there playing the recorder and the piano.  She relocated suburban Southern California when she was 16 years old, moved a couple of times, and ended up in Los Angeles soon thereafter.  Leonie studied classical guitar at Los Angeles City College, where she was awarded several scholarships, and earned her Associates Degree in Music there, along with Commercial Certificates for Guitar and Piano Performance. 

After an intermission of several months in San Jose, Costa Rica, Leonie returned to Los Angeles to study composition at California State University Northridge with Dr. Liviu Marinescu, as well as modern dance with Paula Thomson and Donna Krasnow.  She received her Bachelor Degree in Composition along with a minor in dance performance in May 2010. 

In 2013 Leonie earned her Master's Degree in Composition at the Royal Conservatoire in Den Haag, where she studied with Calliope Tsoupaki and Peter Adriaansz.  During her time as a master student she was also enrolled in the "Contemporary Music through Non-Western Techniques" Program at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, where she studied Karnatic Music and composition with Rafael Reina. 

Apart from working as a an assistant photographer and model, Leonie is composing for a commission for UNEVEN dance festival, preparing concerts for the coming season, and studying --among other things-- electronic music technology and algorithmic programming as part of the one-year course in Sonology at the Royal Conservatory in Den Haag, Netherlands. 

To visit more with Leonie, check her out on her website, on Facebook and on Soundcloud.  

How old are your children?  Boys? Girls?
My son is two-and-a-half years old.

How do you stay viable as an artist?  How do you stay true to what you need and what feeds you?
My insane discipline coupled with a fear of failure allow me to complete any project even if I totally burn out.  I am a perfectionist and give everything once I have started something. That's great for the product, but not so great for me as a human at times.  I love music and art so much that it always seems worth the sacrifice, but I also know that I have to still learn to be just a bit kinder and gentler to myself. I have not found the right balance yet.

What do you see as some of the main differences parenting in the U.S., as opposed to Europe and Costa Rica?
I have actually not lived in the United States with my son, even though he was conceived in LA.  However, I observed the way people deal with kids when I lived there.  One of the biggest differences I noticed is the way gender roles are imposed very strictly on children from birth on, with the way they dress them, princess-themed parties, gender-restricted activities and so on.  

Things are more open here, and homosexuality, gender-diversity, religions, and different cultures are taught as part of "diversity-studies" in elementary schools already. My son is crazy about anything pink, and I am glad that that is not a big deal to anyone.  I can allow him to pick the things he likes, to let him develop his own taste without worrying that he'll be made fun of or mobbed by kids or parents at the daycare or on the playground.
When living in Costa Rica (also without a child yet), I noticed how extremely gentle and loving people are towards children.  Family is incredibly important there, and I could not get over the fact that in all the months I spent in San Jose, I did not once hear an annoyed parent raise their voice at a child.  It was wonderful.

What do you hope to have figured out in 10 years?
How to keep my career going with two lovely kids?  I hope...

How does your work as an artist play into how you parent?
On the one hand I need a good amount of time away from my family to be productive, so I have to operate on a very tight schedule to make sure I get everything done without neglecting my family. 

On the other hand my husband (who is singer-songwriter and bandleader) and I try to integrate Miles and let him see lots of music and art.  At times we schedule rehearsals at home during the daytime.  Then he grabs his little chair and his ukelele and just plays along to whatever is being rehearsed.  Music and dance are just naturally part of his life.

You are starting a personal training business, I understand.  What is it like starting a business with the extra pull of being a parent?  
It's just another thing that I somehow have to fit into my schedule.  I have so much freelance work at the moment that I am simply preparing everything to launch this business in case I face a time where projects and money run out.  A safe plan B you might say.

What is your best why-me, hold-my-head-in-my-hands parenting tale?
To be honest, I don't think I have ever had a "Why-me"- moment in my life.  Things go wrong in life, and that is already the answer to that question.  Why not me?  Why anyone else?  My life has not been easy, but I have always appreciated the fact, that even as severely broke artists in the Western World, I was still among the richest 5 percent of people on the planet.  We have everything, even much more than we need and should have.  

Of course I have incredibly tiring days, weeks, months with my kid.  After yet another tantrum, I think of those moms with autistic kids who are facing these situations not as part of a phase, but for years and years to come.  Do I still lose my patience?  Of course, but I really don't like myself when I do. 

What is a guilty pleasure of yours?  Something seemingly out of character that you can't do without?
One secret cigarette right before bed-time.  

If you could have a real heart-to-heart conversation with yourself at any age, what age would that be?  What would you say or ask?
I think I would have talked to myself at about age 12 or 13.  I would have told myself that I could make it as a musician and artist, that I have enough talent, enough drive.  It took me a long time to figure that out, and to develop any sort of confidence as an artist.

Can you share a favorite memory with your kid(s) and/or one of their fabulously clever statements?  
I was trying to get us out of the house a couple of mornings ago, having to meet a producer and choreographer for a large commission I received. My husband told my son to get ready because "Mommy is under a lot of pressure today".  His reply, suddenly excited "I also want to go to the pressure, I also want to go to the pressure!!!"  Well, it did get us out of the house and onto the bicycle...

Advice for moms in the arts? 
You can totally have a career in the arts and be a mom or dad, but you might have to live outside the box to deal with the situation financially.  We share our small apartment with a roommate (we are renting our son's room out and have him basically still with us in the bedroom) and my husband has hit the streets with his guitar for extra cash here and there.  You have to be bold and inventive and not tied to society's expectations of how you should live at a given age or stage in your life.  As long as your kids are safe and happy, all is well.   

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Idiot Who Tried to Give Up Coffee

I have several food habits that fall on the scale between "should only be enjoyed in moderation" and "Girrrlll, do you value your teeth/health/body at all?"

My nightly G&T or glass of wine was totally under control.  One and done. 

Gummy bears, Twizzlers, and jelly beans, however, were a huge problem.  

A carton? A barrel?  A boxcar full? I'd eat every sugary little morsel, no problem.

In the morning, I needed a small dose of coffee, about a half cup.  It was less about the taste than that little burst of energy and avoiding an afternoon headache resembling having been slammed in the head with a skillet.

Several cups a day?  A venti anything? Blech! Never.  

Truth be told, I hated having to drink coffee. It was a habit I wanted to drop like a vomiting toddler. 

And I'd get my chance to try.  

I had my bajillionth root canal the Friday before Father's Day.  I don't fear them as much as I once did. Parenthood has taken me to the point where I dig things like root canals and waxing.  Being stabbed with needles and having hair ripped out of my skin can be way less painful than wrangling preschool-aged children. 

At this point, who cares what's happening if you get to lie down?

After the procedure I felt fine. 

The next day, Saturday, I had a dull toothache. 

And on Sunday I woke up with a bong-bong-bong THROBBING pain in my just-worked-on tooth.  Couldn't go more than two hours without at least two Advil.  And like a martyr moron, I didn't call the doctor because I didn't want to bother him on Father's Day!

Monday it began to swell and still hurt like hell.  I went back to the endodontist, who prescribed an antibiotic and some sweet, merciful Vicodin.  I was told the antibiotic would reduce the swelling in 24 hours or so.  

By Tuesday it looked like this:

A face to scare your own kids.

"Mommy, I don't like your face," my son said. I wanted a mask or a bag on my head. I returned to the endodontist.  We discussed draining it, which would hurt even more, and would not necessarily stop my cheek from looking like I was auditioning for the all-black production of The Elephant Man.

Anything in my mouth felt awful. I was barely eating, and was surviving on water.  At least I lost a few pounds.  As for the coffee headache, it came, conspired with the pain in my face to make me long for death, and then disappeared.  

And by Wednesday, when the swelling was by no means gone, but wasn't going to make people cross the street to avoid me, I was off coffee.

For two weeks I survived with a sip here and there, maybe a black tea, maybe a few ounces of diet coke.

On several days not a single caffeinated beverage crossed my lips.  

Then I hit the wall.

I could barely get out of bed.  I didn't want to dance.  I didn't want to write.  Like an angsty teen, I was manufacturing slights, digs and issues with friends.  I hated my life -- every choice I had made up until this point had led me to the existential equivalent of a life in a Civil War prison camp latrine.  

I cried on the phone with my bestie in New York.  I screamed at my children.  I fought with the Hubs.  I got all assy on the phone with customer service reps. 

And then it hit me.

I wasn't depressed.  I didn't need a lobotomy.  And I wasn't having a mid-life crisis at almost 41.  

I just needed some effing coffee.  I was suffering from severe coffee withdrawal.

I made some and felt better within minutes.  

Like that 80s commercial, I am a coffee achiever.  

And never in my life will I attempt such a stunt again.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Not Another Gunman

I had been talking -- explaining everything -- way too much.  We only had twenty minutes left of class, and we were just on tendus - basic foot exercises.  I desperately needed to get these kids moving -- get them across the floor.

A siren-style light on the ceiling began flashing, spraying its rays around around the room.  It was the yellow emergency notification system.  Our brows furrowed, my students and I looked at each other in confusion. 

Was it a fire drill?  It was 30 degrees outside and snowing.  We were in leotards and tights or leggings. Some of us in booty shorts.  We'd freeze our asses off.  I stepped into the hallway to check.  

No one.  

I re-entered the studio and shrugged.  "Let's go acro...,"

The emergency light flashed again. Then an announcement.  "This is the emergency notification system.  There is a violent intruder on the premises." *

Everyone gasped.  Oh God.

Then our lights shut off.  Our only light was what came from the hallway and underneath the doors.  The studio had no windows.

Was this really happening?  Our studio doors, equipped with keypads, locked automatically when closed.  I ran to shut them.  Then to the piano.  "Move it in front of the doors!"  I shouted.  Using all our weight, Nick** (my percussionist), Bee (a student), and I shoved the piano across the room to barricade the back door before slumping down behind it.  

Convinced that some armed student -- some madman -- was overtaking the building, every noise, every shadow in hallway the sent a wave of terror through us.  

How was I -- the woman who froze and panicked in the face of danger -- the adult in charge?  

"Oh my God, Oh my God," I said over and over again.  I was panting and my heart was pounding.  Although we were acquaintances, our relationships no more than teacher/student and accompanist/teacher, collective fear removed all polite physical boundaries.  We huddled together for comfort. 

Some of my students sobbed softly.  Was this it?  Was I going to see my children tonight? My husband? Would my children grow up without a mother?  

Hunker down.  Calm down.  I stared at the exit sign,  as if the word itself could deliver me.

What was happening in our country?  Columbine, Aurora, Arizona, Newtown. Countless others, and now in the heart of downtown Chicago?  What happened to our country? 

And for the first time, I felt a visceral need to have a gun, to have something with which to protect myself and my students.  Rationally and intellectually I knew that guns only lead to more violence and more killing.  

I was not about to change my stance on the gun issue, but for the first time, I somewhat understood the other side.  In addition to everything else, those thoughts pained me.  

Voices in the hall.  Men speaking in lighthearted tones.  Maybe they were securing the building, and making sure everything was okay? 

A stairwell door closed. Then silence.

"Should I call the police?"  Nick whispered. 

"Why? Wouldn't they already know?"  I whispered back.

He picked up his phone and dialed.  "Hello, I'm calling from . . ."

"Shhhhhhhhh!" everyone hissed.  

Nick shrugged and lowered his voice.  

I could hear both ends of the conversation.  Apparently, they had no clue what he was talking about.  

Bee, the student huddled next to me, began checking her phone for texts from the college and news sites. Nothing.  My phone was across the room in my bag.  I was not about to separate from the pack and risk making myself into a target.

Whom could I call? Oh, God! I didn't know anyone's phone number.  I would have to learn people's numbers. Effing technology - I knew my best friend's number from when I was seven and now couldn't tell you my husband's line at work?!  My Hubs didn't always answer his cell at work.  I had my student text a girlfriend, one who kept her phone close, to have her get word to J.  

The studio cross the hall burst into song.  Then they started tap dancing -- a full blown gospel/musical theater number.  What the fuck was going on?  Were these people so dedicated to their art that they literally wanted to meet their maker a singin' and a dancin'?

"Call Henry!"  I whispered to the percussionist. Henry was the receptionist at the main dance center.  He was the eyes and ears of the place.  If someone farted on the third floor, Henry would know about it.  

"What?  A false alarm?" Nick said.  Just then we heard voices and footsteps in the hall - the sound of the changeover between class.  Someone knocked on the door.  It all made sense.  I ran to open it. It was Paul, our department sound engineer, who had been sent over to deliver us.  

Paul described the short lived chaos at our main building, and the SWAT team in front of the building just south of us.  He also let us know that while we were fearing for our lives, it was business as usual in the lobby, one floor below.  

Oh, and by the way, did we know that the college would be closing at 3 pm because of snow?

So that's all it was.  A misplaced signal.  We cried and hugged each other.  Some of us laughed hysterically -- the raucous laughter of people who had been the butt of a practical joke, people whose brief trip to hell was the stuff of black comedy.  

I feel unfathomably lucky that my terror was based nothing more than an incorrect button being pushed. 

That I was not the adult in charge in the face of unspeakable insanity and cruelty.  

That I am not a statistic.   

That my ordeal earned me no more than 20 minutes of sheer terror, and a captivating anecdote.

That I got to go home that night and hug my children and my husband.  To continue being a daughter, a teacher and friend.  To keep dancing. 

I am so fortunate. 

Today it happened again.  Another mass shooting, this time at a Navy Yard in our nation's capital.  More innocent lives snuffed out by madness and guns.  More people whose last moments were filled with terror.  Who never got to say goodbye to children, spouses, partners and relatives.  

Which means it is my great misfortune to live in a nation where this kind of thing is becoming commonplace.  It happens again. 

And again. 

And again. 

And again. 

And we do nothing about it.  

*The post above describes events that happened on March 5, 2013.   
**All names have been changed.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Slut Shamer Shaming

Everyone's in a tizzy about it right now.  Again.


First it was Miley's VMA tragic travesty with its twerking gone wrong, sleaze, and mocking black women. In the last couple of weeks, Miley has probably received more letters than Santa Claus. 

Then, a Mrs. Hall went viral, scolding those lascivious girls who post scantily-clad photos of themselves on social media.  How dare those harlots flaunt their wares in front of her wholesome sons! Sons who, were photographed in the same shirtless, smiling and seductive poses she condemned.

Her detractors, rightfully so, unleashed hell upon her. 

Enter the second wave.


Women who disapprove of teenage girls posting photos of themselves braless must be fearful ladies, threatened by a teenager’s sexuality. 

Wrong.  Mrs. Hall’s post was outrageous, but the above ain’t necessarily so.

I don’t fear a young girl’s sexuality. I just think broadcasting it to the world online is a horrible idea.

I’m a dancer and dance teacher.  I have taught hundreds of teenagers and choreographed scores of hot little numbers on them.  It’s my job to help dancers find and develop their artistry and individuality, in which sexuality plays a definite part.  Dancing without sensuality, without sexuality, is flat and boring – like watching paint dry.   

What I fear is that girls are getting the idea that being dazzlingly, traffic-stoppingly sexy is the only thing that matters. I hate that secretaries of state, presidential candidates, professors, artists, heads of corporations – brilliant women are praised or dismissed based on their physiques and hairstyles. 

It enrages me.

Surely there are some badass-I-don’t-take-shit-from-guys-I-post-these-photos-‘cuz-I-like-to girls out there. I'm willing to bet however, that many girls show these photos because they think Maxim-style photos are the best way, if not the only way, to get a man’s stamp of approval.

Their brains don’t matter.  Their strength doesn’t matter.  Their power is a function of how sexy, how available, they can make themselves for a man.

I never want my daughter to believe that. 

A woman's relationship to her sexuality is a journey; my daughter will have to find her own way.  As much as I want her to have fun with her appearance, I want her to know that she never has to be untrue to herself – to make herself into something she’s not – for any man. 


I want her to feel free enough to discover and experiment, while knowing that I'm there to talk. If she doesn't want my wisdom, I hope she has another trusted and older woman friend there for her. 

I want her to be free – it’s her body after all. But I want her to be smart too.

We Gen Xers are getting older.  We are now shaking our heads saying, "These kids today!" and longing for the good ol’ days of “Darling Nikki” and “Like a Virgin”. We think the Millennials are the way they are because they were never told "no".  Everybody told them everything was okay.

Let's be parents. Let's guide our children.  Let's help them make good choices.  Let’s show them how to be responsible citizens, drivers, friends, students, employees, and Internet users.

Let’s be there for them when things don’t go their way. 

But also let’s tell them when they are wrong.  Let’s tell them when we think their choice is the b word.  Bad.  Without shaming. Through dialogue.

Shaming conjures up images of scarlet letters and being pilloried in the town square. A humiliating form of punishment that now seems archaic and cruel. 

Not something we want to return to.  

A healthy sense of shame, however, is an integral part of one’s sense of self-worth. Our girls can enjoy their bodies and clothes and sex while staying true to themselves.  

A sense of dignity and sexiness are not mutually exclusive, and where they intersect depends on the individual. One woman's act of confidence and defiance is another's act of self-betrayal.
And without question, it's not "asking for it".  A woman can and should be able to post sexy photographs of herself online if she so chooses.   

But why does she need to?

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