20 February 2010

Grand Torino-or if your are White, look down and keep going

I'm on a Clint Eastwood jag. I watched Grand Torino recently and I had a memory of growing up in Daly City, CA.
There is a scene in the beginning of Grand Torino, where a couple of African American guys have a beef with an Asian girl. Her Caucasian friend attempts to step in and is advised to move on.

These days, that's the politically correct way of saying it. Here's how it would have gone in 1974;
Black-hey Yellow, we want to talk to you.
Yellow-yeah, what do you want?
White-Hey! Yellow is with me, leave her alone!
Black-Whitey, if you want to get out of here in one piece just look down and keep going.
White-implied silence.

And that's the way it was in the multi-colored neighborhood where I grew up. Black and Brown and Yellow where always at war and if you were White the best thing you could do was look down and keep going.
This tactic worked well for me at Serramonte High School until I graduated in 1979.
But then, I had to get job.

I was lucky enough to land a job at Another Roadside Attraction, at Serramonte Shopping Center just down the hill from the high school. It was one of the first cafes to grace the scene in what is now an common place occurrence. We served Capricorn Coffee and Just Deserts in a world of MJB and doughnuts. I was hired as a counter clerk. I arrived at 7AM everyday to brew designer coffee and serve "natural (today if would be 'organic')" pastries. But I was frustrated at the fact that I couldn't get a better shift. Eventually, I confronted my boss and asked why I had the lousy shift. He paused and said, "Because you don't smile at the customers."

Oh! My safety mechanism for survival in Daly City wasn't going to work in the real world. I decided to heed the generous advice of my boss and give smiling a try. Within weeks I was promoted to waitress and had a great lunch-time shift with lots of tips. I even learned to be the one to smile first (perish the thought!) and keep smiling even when I had a cranky customer...tips! Or the "Smile honey" customer...no problem pal... tips!

Remember my story from SF Beledi when my teacher, Masha, told me to smile or get off the stage? That was actually before I worked as a waitress. But even with my real-world-waitress-smile-honey training, as I entered the world of teaching and performing on my own, I would often fall prey to "concentration face." I simply would forget to smile because I wasn't yet in the flow of letting the music move me. I was still thinking. Time for more strategy, if I wanted to attract and keep students and audiences...you guessed it...smile! It wasn't hard. The tip was still tied to the sale and I could see the results. I had to force it for a while, but as soon as it became part of my dance muscle memory, I was in.

So now when you see me in class or on stage, that smile is real. But it's not just for the tips anymore, it for the reward of lessons learned.

8 comments:

Foodycat said...

It's interesting you should post this! At Majma last year in one of your workshops you talked about cultivating a pleasant facial expression for dancing. Afterwards I realised that I generally go around with my brow knit and a scowl, so I have been cultivating an open expression for life as well as dance. It seems to make other people respond much more pleasantly to me! Which in turn makes it easier to do. Of course, I am late a lot now because people choose me to ask for directions.

ephemeral arts said...

I was thinking about this recently actually! During practice I noticed I didn't look relaxed and joyful, which is really how belly dance makes me feel. It's so easy to get lost in getting the moves perfect, timing, etc that you forget to just feel the bliss that originally brought you to the dance in the first place...

Virginia said...

As I was reading your post and remembered your story about you not smiling on stage...I think I have trained my muscles since I heard you tell that story and I am in any case so happy when I dance that I can't not smile!

ProtoClone said...

I was reading your blog about smiling and it being a defense mechanism. I didn't grow up in a bad neighborhood but I did grow up in a bad household. Smiling was considered a liability. If I smiled, or any kind of emoting, it made me a target of abuse. So I didn't smile, I didn't do anything to draw attention. This has been the hardest part of performing for me and one I am, after four years, still trying to overcome. It makes me feel better knowing someone of your level at one point had to overcome this as well.

Fran said...

"get off my lawn!" LOL

Bety Damballah said...

My smile was there, always has been .. but arrested. On stage I felt I was smiling, after checking the video, surprise: the same long face of ever ... The authentic and relaxed smile left in me, along with improv dance .. and it took years ... I do not understand why.
.
Big hug from Brazil! I love your work!

t said...

Ah
so many leaves
in a wind
of moist forest beaches
surrounded now
by cement causeways
when once
briefly
we spoke
behind the scenes
in santa fe
too many years back

Ah
the frisco child
i was
upon a dance of poems
and golden gate
park moments
without your eyes
though
knowing
this too would be my
walk down valencia
smell of cilantro
restaurants
and still
there are your intense
eyes

here

and

gone

again

harleygypsy2003 said...

how informative, I love this blog,clint did great job, thanks