Back in the studio: Tales of a ballet-obsessed reporter

Another year, another stint with the Missouri Contemporary Ballet. What can I say? I’m obsessed. 

With every story assignment I find myself thinking “Hmm. How can I possibly fit ballet into that context?” 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. This latest piece for Professor Moen’s Intermediate Writing class is a vignette. It focuses on a slice of time in the life of a professional dancer: a single ballet class.

Peer critiques start tomorrow, but why not open the floodgates? Give it a read and tell me what you think. 

The air is tropical-rainforest thick; so hot that the wall-to-wall mirrors are smeared with a thin fog. A sheen of sweat covers everyone and everything in the room. As they move across the floor, the dancers glisten.

“Hot, isn’t it?” asks Emily Baker, grinning.

She’s come to rest against the long wooden barre that runs along the walls at waist height.  She leans on it and her arm forms a right angle, elbow jutting out over hip. Her earrings jangle as she tilts her head back and laughs.

Brown sweat-curls have escaped her bun and are plastered to her forehead and the back of her neck. A quick adjustment of her olive-green leotard and she’s off across the floor again, arms held aloft and legs extending above her ears. Her face betrays no hint of the effort it takes to get them there.

Baker, 23, is the newest member of Columbia’s Missouri Contemporary Ballet. For Baker and other MCB dancers, hours of classes and rehearsals are the norm. To pursue the craft they love, professional dancers restrict their diets, devote their days, and push their bodies to their physical limit.

Baker has been injured what sounds like a dozen times. She taps each body part as she names it, starting from the top and working her way down.

“I dislocated my shoulder once in rehearsal,” she says nonchalantly. “I’ve sprained my lower back a bunch, I’ve had tendonitis in both my hips and strained both my hips, I’ve sprained my knee, I’ve had Achilles tendonitis, I’ve had flexor hallucis tendonitis.”

But you’d never know watching her dance. She and the rest of the class have moved on to jumps. The Ballet Mistress, Julie, sets a combination. She says it once, expects it to be memorized, and it is.

Baker stares Julie down, moving her hands as though they were feet to memorize the steps. The music starts and she’s off. Every time her pointe shoes leave the marley floor there’s a sticking sound, like scotch tape peeled away from plastic wrap.

She goes through pointe shoes at a varied pace, depending on their make. Some pairs last months, others are busted in a single week. None are comfortable.

“I have a lot of toenail issues: losing them, bruising them, all that jazz,” she says.

“How do you work through that?”

A pause, then, “Motrin.”

Baker has more serious problems than toenails. She has asthma, and her attacks are induced by activity and humidity.

One summer when she was 18, Baker was the lead in five out of seven pieces for Atlanta Ballet’s summer intensive performance. The air conditioning broke the day of the show, and she suffered an asthma attack halfway through one of the pieces.

“It was in-studio, so everyone could hear me wheezing,” she says. “It sucked, but I danced through it.”

Today, class ends without incident. The final exercise, fouette turns in the center, is optional. Baker opts in, spinning in tight, centered circles. Her head whips around in time to the music. One leg rotates and comes into passe at a perfect 90-degree angle; the other leaps from pointe to flat to pointe as the knee straightens and bends and straightens again. She is perfectly balanced. She defies gravity, and it’s all in a day’s sweaty work.

Back in the studio: Tales of a ballet-obsessed reporter

The young and the pantsless

The office of the Columbia Missourian at the University of Missouri is a serious newsroom. It is full of serious reporters and serious editors who take their work seriously. Not that they shouldn’t — the Missourian is, after all, the training ground for a future generation of serious journalists.

The newsroom hums, as any good newsroom is apt to do. It buzzes, it rumbles, it thrives. No one is stationary. People weave between desks, make calls, take notes, talk in low voices to editors over black coffees. Everyone is sharp, focused, clear-eyed and limber-minded. Everyone is wearing pants.

Everyone except me.

It’s late in the afternoon, and I’ve ducked into the newsroom to borrow a roll of tape and some scissors: necessary supplies to repair a slight spiral notebook mishap. I look around, notice that I’m sorely out of place. My outfit consists, as it does every day, of a large-ish T-shirt, chacos with raspberry-colored straps, and Nike shorts (read: not pants).

I despise pants.

Pants are a symbol of power. To say someone “wears the pants” is to give him or her the upper hand. Pants lend weight and importance to the wearer. When women first donned trousers it was revolutionary; a right formerly reserved for the male race. Then, pants were a symbol of liberation. Now, they are oppressive.

I survived the Argentinian winter in leggings and tights. For the past month I’ve existed in Nike shorts, skirts, and dresses. Come fall it will be leggings and tights again, sometimes thin and sometimes opaque. The day I’m forced to button a button and zip a zipper is the day contentment dies.

Pants are not freeing. They squeeze and squish and prohibit a breeze or a tan or the occasional high kick. They limit your creativity. They turn you into a real, working journalist — the serious kind.

One day I’ll join the ranks of the pants-wearers. I will buy a pair made with as much polyester as possible (mustn’t restrict those high kicks), I’ll suck it up and I’ll act like an adult.

For now, though, my childish desires to frolic in pantsless liberation knows no bounds. I run, I dance, I lounge, I dream, all with my thighs exposed. Adulthood is on the horizon, but it hasn’t engulfed me yet.

The young and the pantsless

There and back again: Three days in Uruguay

Well, more like a half-day, a day, and another half-day. That’s two days, for those as mathematically challenged as myself. Why spend two days in another seemingly-random South American country? Why not.

We left for the airport at 1 p.m. Buenos Aires time and, after waiting longer to board the flight than the flight actually lasted (two hours vs. 45 minutes), touched down in Uruguay around 6 p.m. Here’s a synopsis-by-category of what I observed in Montevideo, the capital city.

The landscape

Breathtaking. Beachy. Strangely reminiscent of Los Angeles (at least according to one member of our group, who kept up a rousing chorus of “I’m in Miami, bitch!” during our drive into the city). I can’t imagine the sort of tropical paradise the coastline becomes during the summer.

Sadly it was a) not summer, b) windy and c) freezing. We piled out of the van for a photo op at Plaza de la Armada — cue touristy sunset pictures.

Plaza de la Armada, overlooking the bay. Montevideo, Uruguay. July 8, 2013.
A view of Montevideo across the water. July 8, 2013.

The food

Sad to say, our first dinner was at a McDonalds. But It was a McDonalds in Uruguay… a unique cultural experience. Upon arrival we discovered a wonderful Montevideo-an invention: the Toblerone McFlurry. I highly suggest bringing this creation to the states. The McFlurry itself cost $75 Uruguayan pesos, since inflation there is actually ridiculous. Factor in the bright colors of each bill and we felt like players in an extended game of Monopoly.

Ice cream in Uruguay (real ice cream, not McDonalds’) is much like ice cream in Argentina, since ice cream comparison is a huge concern to the general population. The italian food is delicious. Hotel breakfast? A-plus. And that’s all I have to say about that.

The people

don’t stare as much. At least, that was the main difference noted by myself and by my two redheaded companions at said first-night McDonalds dinner. The few I actually spoke with were painfully nice. Go-out-of-their-way-to-help-you nice. Here-take-my-first-born-I-don’t-need-him nice.

The lodging

Hotel, sweet hotel. After some months in Argentinian apartments with questionable mattresses (mine is filled with a strange foam substance and has a gash down the center), a feather bed with multiple pillows and extra blankets was oh, so welcome. I know, first world pains. Get over it.

Aside from the beds, the “Four Points by Sheraton” was a lovely place — multi-storied, marble-bar’ed, with aforementioned delightful breakfast, swimming pool, sauna, and a small selection of TV channels in English. Heaven.

The media

Okay, so “why not” wasn’t the sole purpose of our trip to Uruguay. While there we toured three different media outlets: Radio Montecarlo, Canal 10 and El Pais — a radio station, TV station and newspaper, respectively.

Radio Montecarlo was my favorite. The offices were on the fourth level of a building in downtown Montevideo. They were small, wood-paneled, and in some ways right out of the 1970s. Radio Montecarlo has been around for 89 years and attracts an older audience, though its new FM station is an attempt to capture younger folks.

An operating room at Radio Montecarlo. I asked, and the record player still works. July 9, 2013

We ended up spending too much time at the radio station and showed up late for our tour at Canal 10. Our guide, Rossana Angelone, took us through the enormous, warehouse-like building. We toured studios, sets and even the break room.

We watched part of the filming of this show, “Con Sentidas.” Apparently it’s quite popular in Uruguay. Canal 10 studios, July 9, 2013.
We were allowed to pose for pictures on the newscast set. Here’s two of our number hamming it up. July 9, 2013.

Then came El Pais, the largest newspaper in Uruguay. The newsroom consists of row upon row of desks atop parquet flooring, but our meeting with the paper’s director took place in an upper-level office. There the director told us his plans for social media and digital outlets and showed us physical archives of El Pais dating back to 1824 or something ridiculous like that (actual date may vary). It was wonderful and I know there’s always a paper in Uruguay to try for, should U.S. publications fail to satisfy.

The end

ImageUntil next time, Uruguay.

Literary reference for the title of this post brought to you by J.R.R. Tolkien.

There and back again: Three days in Uruguay

The dark side of El Sol

So many El Sol de San Telmo puns, so little time remaining… Okay, a month. Plenty of time for additional ridiculous blog titles.

But working for El Sol differs from working for Vox in more ways than clever titular options (have you ever tried to make a pun with Vox? No easy feat). Reporting for Vox and for The Missourian was nowhere near easy, but reporting for El Sol carries a whole new set of challenges.

For a start, no matter how you spin it, there’s a language barrier. I count myself lucky that I’m pretty proficient in Spanish. In Texas they start you young; I’ve had a Spanish teacher since kindergarten and have continued lessons to this day. As such I can understand about 90% of what my sources are saying, but sometimes it’s that extra (missing) 10% that gives a story its depth. As a reporter, one of the worst feelings is reading over interview notes and hearing a voice in the back of your head that hints you’ve fallen short. Sigh.

Then there’s the cultural gulf — the difference between how reporters are recieved in the states and how we’re recieved in Buenos Aires. Here’s how it works in Columbia:

  • You send an email and leave a voicemail.
  • You wait 1-2 days, max.
  • You recieve a reply to your email or a phonecall.
  • The potential interviewee clearly expresses whether he/she wishes to speak to you or not.
  • You make a date or try again.
  • If a date is made, it is kept, barring exceptional circumstances.

Here’s how it works in Buenos Aires:

  • You send an email and leave a voicemail.
  • You wait, sometimes for a week or more.
  • Perhaps the person or persons will get back to you. Perhaps you’ll never hear from him/her/them. Perhaps they will contact you three months later. It’s all up in the air.
  • You make a date or try again.
  • If a date is made, it may or may not be kept. Variations include showing up on time, showing up hours later, not showing up at all.

I discovered these differences, to my displeasure, working on my first story for El Sol about cultural centers in San Telmo. The first interview was a sinch — I showed up at El Centro de Difusión Cultural de Rosa de Luxemburgo on a Wednesday afternoon. The director was sitting at a desk in the front. We talked for a good 30 minutes, I got all the information I needed, and she was delighted to discuss a subject about which she was passionate.

The second interview, though scheduled, never actually happened. I showed up at El Centro Cultural de la Plaza Defensa on Saturday, after calling down to make sure it was opened. I walked in and ask to speak to a director. He came out, introduced himself (cooly), and told me to come back the next day. We scheduled an interview for 3 p.m. and I departed.

On Sunday I returned at 2:45 and was told the director wasn’t expected until circa 5 p.m. I waited in the area for two hours (luckily there was a lively market in San Telmo that day) and came back. The director pulled up on a bike, greeted me, and went inside to complete some task or other… I told him I’d wait out front. Fifteen minutes later I went looking for him. “Oh, him?” replied one woman when I inquired after his location, “He left.” “When will he be back?” “No idea.” 

Late to Spanish class, I left.

Thus, to all aspiring reporters in foreign countries: beware. Standards are different, people are different, and “timeliness” carries a loose interpretation.

The dark side of El Sol

El Sol also rises

It was dark, and I was lost.

The bus had dropped me at the edge of San Telmo, and all the streets looked the same. I was looking for Carlos Calvo 578 — a nameless, faceless bookstore. (Addresses are written backwards in Argentina, by the way.)

I asked a fruit vendor which street I was on. “Calvo,” he said, and smiled when I answered with “¡Gracias a Dios!” Three more blocks and I was there. I opened the door, and fell in love.

Literary love is a powerful thing. I’m obsessed with bookstores of all shapes and sizes, particularly those independently-owned, paperbacks-piled-higgldy-piggldy types. This one, Fedro Libros, was divine: yellow painted walls, two stories, a rickety spiral stair and an enormous section of classics.

Oh, and there was a cat.

I pet the cat, Maurice, while I browsed the bottom floor and waited for my first meeting with the staff of El Sol de San Telmo to start. Isabel, Diana and Clara were expecting us (Evan and Nick, two other students on the trip, are also working at El Sol), but we didn’t find them until we climbed the stairs.

There were kisses all around, murmurs of “Chau” and “Mucho gusto,” and we settled into chairs. Isabel outlined our jobs for us. I will be published twice this summer, since El Sol is a monthly magazine. Deadlines are strict, and topics pertain to the neighborhood of San Telmo.

The point, said Isabel, is to get to the heart of the neighborhood — to write about issues in a compelling way, but also to cover the neighborhood beyond its surface. Hands flapping emphatically, eyebrows raised, she spoke in earnest about the publication’s role in the community. It serves the neighbors — the vecinos. It gives them a voice and an insider’s look at what’s going on in their unique barrio.

The meeting ended soon after and we made our way back to Recoleta, with instructions to return at the same time on Friday for a meeting of the vecinos. Of course I gave Maurice a goodbye pat.

Friday rolled around and we were upstairs again, this time with cookies and Mate, an herbal, tea-like drink. The vecinos assembled. Most were older. I sat between Norah, a pixie-like woman in her 30s with cropped purple hair, and Diana, one of El Sol‘s staff.

Issues were discussed and pitches assigned. I was surprised at the heated disputes over gates on a local park, uneven paving stones and untimely trash pickup. Voices were raised, arms flailed, and one man even stood up to make his point.

These issues may seem small to us foreigners, but they matter to these people. The vecinos come because they live in San Telmo, and they want to see a change.

When all was said and done (which took a couple hours, what with the shouting), I ended up with an assignment about “Eco-Cuadras,” a green organization that plants trees and flowers in public spaces. I’ll start work on it this week and will turn in the final draft on June 26.

On the 28th there will be another meeting of El Sol. I’ll get to re-visit my one true love: Carlos Calvo 578. Let’s hear it for the books.

The glorious, glorious view at Fedro Libros from the second floor.
Second floor browsings. (Evan is to the left and Nick on the right.)
Yellow walls, artsy collages, plush chairs and Clara with her nose in a book.
Couldn’t snag a pictures of Maurice, but here’s what he looks like! This is one of Fedro’s “tarjetas de regalo,” or gift cards.
El Sol also rises

Becoming “Clarita:” A week in the life of an intern

Celeste (Moretti, my boss) told me on Friday that they’d had no idea what I would be like. 

The received my “profile” via email along with those of three other students — a profile that (incorrectly) listed my specialty as strategic communication. Hah.

It didn’t list my age, likes/dislikes, Spanish level, or past projects. There was no photo. For all the ladies in the Observatorio de Género office knew, I was a greying, 45-year-old married woman with two kids, a stuffy wardrobe and a nervous tick in one eye. “You walked through the door,” Celeste said, “and you were this big mystery!”

Soon to be resolved… I’ve filled Celeste, Veronica, Diana, Cynthia and the rest in on my studies, where I go to school, my hometown, and my caffeine addiction. (When they found out, Veronica ran out to buy me more coffee, bless her.) Now they call me “Clarita” — little Claire.

They, in turn, are the nicest people in the world. We work in a small, bright office on one end of a larger floor. There are about six desks in the room — I have one to myself where I store my very own Observatorio notebook. Celeste, Veronica and Diana Maffía, the director, are always there, but on any given day someone new walks in, kisses me on the cheek (always the right) and introduces him or herself. 

It’s a chat-and-work atmosphere: laid back (Celeste jokes about her bright sweaters and jeans) and open. The ladies gossip in rapid-fire Spanish and I catch most of what they’re saying… Suzanna, who used to work with them, gave one of them the cold shoulder the other day, for instance.

The back cabinets are a coffee-and-cookie junkie’s dream. Stacks of styrofoam cups, a new box of coffee (gracias, Veronica!), chocolate galletitas, creamer, sugars, etc. etc. On Monday I was given a piece of chocolate chip poundcake, on Tuesday a chocolate-and-dulce de leche alfahor and a cappuccino, and on Friday a fresh nectarine. I think they’re trying to fatten me up. Not mad about it.

My work there is fairly straightforward: design a Facebook profile and a Twitter profile. Once the cover pages and logos are ready to be posted, I’ll get the pages up and running and post from them often. 

I’ve been designing the pages (I finished both cover photos on Friday), but Celeste and I had a meeting about what I could do beyond social media. This is when I read my profile. “Specializes in strategic communication, i.e. social media, designing campaigns, designing power points,” it read. I almost laughed out loud.

I explained to Celeste that this wasn’t exactly the case. “Soy una escritora,” I said, “I’m a writer.” I described my articles for The Maneater, Move, Vox and The Missourian. She listened, bemused. 

Then she offered to let me write for the company. “I want to give you something to do that will benefit you as well,” she said, smiling. “Whatever you do is guaranteed to help us.”

Have I mentioned I love the people I work with?

For now I’m to brainstorm what I’d like to do writing-wise after the social media pages are up and running. I’ll present my ideas at a Tuesday meeting some weeks from now.

And so the saga of Clarita continues. 

Becoming “Clarita:” A week in the life of an intern

When life hands you a second internship…

…smile, say thank-you, and try to mask your internal freak-out.

It wasn’t the omnipotent voice of the Universe that informed me of my second internship, but that of our program director, Carolina Escudero.

Blithely unaware of my mounting panic, she casually informed me that I would, in addition to interning at El Sol de San Telmo, also work for the “Poder Judicial de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.” In other words, the judiciary branch of the Argentinian government — no big.

Last year, under the direction of Dra. Diana Maffía, the judicial branch established the “Observatorio de Género,” or the “Gender Observatory.” The purpose of this office is to work to eliminate gender bias in the judiciary, in the administration of justice in Argentina, and in the city/country at large.

Where do I fit into all this? Good question. From what Carolina told me, the Observatorio wants to up its social media presence — Twitter and Facebook and the like. Since it’s a government operation there are certain rules and regulations to follow concerning social media… rules and regulations I’ll no doubt have a blast learning inside and out.

The Observatorio also wants to publish a weekly bulletin to email to subscribers, and needs someone to write press releases to send to news publications.

Confession time: I’m a writer. A magazine writer, to be exact. I have little to no experience moderating social media for a company, much less for a branch of a national government. If they want witty tweets about reading Game of Thrones and crying in public, I’m the one for the job. Beyond that I feel slightly out of my depth.

“Oh, and you’re the first student we’ve ever sent there,” Carolina added. “We want to work with them for years to come, so we want to make a really good impression.” No pressure.

I start work for the Argentinian government on Monday. After Spanish class I’ll try desperately not to get lost on my way to their office on Tacuarí. After that, the real fun begins.

Three cheers for life, and for its little hurdles. Stay tuned for a report on my foray into the field of strategic communications.

When life hands you a second internship…


The goodbye

It’s happened. It’s here. The. final. week. of. the. semester.

Sitting in the Missourian newsroom during my last GA shift, reminiscing about all the life stories I’ve written here (and one news brief but that doesn’t count), one, and only one, feeling washes over me: relief.

Not that I haven’t learned loads — I have. It’s the way in which I’ve learned that’s exhausted, depleted and mentally unhinged me.

This semester has taught me how to talk to grieving families, how to write a news brief on highway closures, how to respond when threatened with a lawsuit, how to juggle five stories at once, and how to mop up tears/snot and present a respectable face to the public after a breakdown in my editor’s office.

But it also taught me how to connect with sources on a personal level, to relax when making phone calls, to write a clean first draft, how to find my voice, and that writing is, in fact, what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Pros and cons but, in the end, it’s over and I can breathe…

The hello 

…until May 20. This summer is goodbye to one publication, hello (hola) to another. In 10 days I’ll be traveling to Buenos Aires, Argentina to intern at El Sol de San Telmo, a community-oriented magazine. Daily life? In Spanish. Articles? In Spanish. Dreams? In Spanish. Probably.

Yes, the anticipation is killing me. On Thursday morning I pack up my room in Columbia, speed to St. Louis, drop off excess possessions there and jet off to Texas. Three days at home and I fly from Houston to Buenos Aires, arriving in time for the shuttle from the airport on May 20. Whew.

Then begins two months of classes, interning, and finding my way around the city.

My friends Kari and Brandon hung out there all semester (the internship program is through the j-school and includes perks like apartments and cultural orientation) and are obsessed. They rant, they rave, and they build up my expectations almost endlessly.

Here’s hoping Argentina lives up to the hype.

And yes, the title is another band reference. A good one. Check them out, folks.


How this chicken kept her head

One reporter. Five stories. Three days.

Well okay, the deadline on the fifth (a piece for the Missourian on Central Missouri Honor Flight), was a bit flexible. But you get the gist.

Three days, and not a moment to lose. The to-do list was as follows:

And, when all is said and done..

  • Transcribe every interview ever. Die a little bit inside.
  • Write the two stories on Anderson
  • Write the review
  • Write the blurbs for book recommendations
  • Write about Honor Flight, and make it compelling, dammit.

Right. No sweat. I could already see myself keeling over in public from exhaustion or running in front of a moving vehicle to get to an interview on time or, worst of all, presenting my editor with unfinished stories, wheedling about there only being 24 hours in a day. The nerve.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time at Vox and at the Missourian, it’s how to manage time. This past week, these stories, were there to test my abilities. The eyes of the staff was upon me, and I scheduled, micro-managed and used every available minute.

My planner was color-coded, my laptop by my side at all times. I was Claire Landsbaum, Super Reporter.

In the end I finished everything by the dreaded “Thursday at two” deadline. I even, come to think of it, got five or more hours of sleep every night.

Tl;dr: When faced with an assignment that seems impossible, play at the top of your game. You’re up to the task and your editors know it, even if you might not know it yourself.

Self portrait, week of April 15, 2013
How this chicken kept her head

Take a look; I’m in with books

Yes that’s a Reading Rainbow reference, a.k.a. blatant shout-out to my fellow 90’s children.

It’s relevant, I promise. Today during the oh-so-lovely Vox staff meeting, us reporters were assigned homes for the rest of the semester! That is to say, we’ve now been assigned specific sections to write (and, more importantly, pitch) for on a consistent basis.

You’ll never guess where I ended up. That’s right: books.

In case you weren’t aware, I’m actually obsessed with all things bookish. I wrote a literary column for Move Magazine last spring, and spottily maintain a separate blog on all things book-related.

Needless to say I’m stoked to start work in the books department! The focus is all forms of the written word, from e-books to classic lit to fresh authors to trends in the publishing world.

My first assignment is to cover MU’s 2013 Un(COVER) competition, in which local artists design new covers for classics. This year’s candidates are:

  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  • The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
  • Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Side note: I’ve read all but one of these books. Commence geeking out. 

It seems like a cool concept, with gorgeous art and terrific titles to boot. Here’s a look at last year’s Un(COVER) winners, for a rough idea of the results.

I can’t wait to get started! Let’s hear it for the bookworms, y’all.

Take a look; I’m in with books