We didn't make this up. Our university happens to be based in the safest city of its size in America. So we wondered, given all this safety: are there stories to be told, people to contemplate, risks to be taken? Find out alongside our blog's authors -- two sections of a journalism reporting class whose goal is to show people at work and at play in and around Irvine, Calif. We invite you to read the articles below.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Voting with their forks"

By Amanda Reid

"The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds."

-Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

It’s 11:27a.m. on Tuesday, November 23, 2010, and people begin to file into Doheny Beach AB Room in the Student Center at UC Irvine. Today is the Real Food Challenge club’s GIANT Potluck Event. The event was planned to be outdoors, in Aldrich Park, but forecasted rain forced it indoors. Club members hoped to get thousands of Anteaters into Aldrich Park to simply hang out, share a meal and talk about how UCI could go “green”. Admission is free for anyone who brings a dish, large or small. The goals of this first annual GIANT Potluck are to raise awareness about sustainable foods, to reach more people than the club normally does, to spread ideas of sustainable food culture, and to encourage a community-type environment.

Posters outside the room announce the event and invite students inside with their contributions. The two girls seated at the sign-in table directly under the posters check people in, requesting their name, email address, and whether their food was prepared sanitarily. Also, depending on their dish, attendees are given a colored index card on which to write the ingredients. A green index card identifies a vegetarian dish, a blue index card identifies a vegan dish, and a pink index card is for a dish that is neither. Students bring their dishes into the event to place them and their cards on a long buffet table at the back of the large, hollow room. The club is small, and hopeful that the 80 Potluck RSVPs will show up. Real Food Challenge Co-president Alexandre Colavin greets everyone with a nervous, but thankful smile, “Thanks for coming.”

The Real Food Challenge club hopes to promote the idea of “real food” on campus at UCI. But the term “real food” sounds vague. What does it mean? Real food revolves around the cultivation of food and the collective market around food. It starts with the land or the environment. Then there are the people who work directly with the land, the farm workers, their families and their communities. Next are the producers, the larger farmers, the distributors, and the delivery people. The last group is the consumers, those who purchase and eat the food. However, these four components of the food system are not equally represented and in some cases, aren’t mutually aware of each other. For example, most consumers have very little idea how their food gets to the supermarkets. RFC’s idea is to try to maximize a system to benefit all four aspects of this system. They hope to make it a healthier, more efficient, fair and sustainable system. Foods that address all of these cohesively are real foods. “Organic isn’t always sustainable,” says Colavin, pointing out that organic foods grown out of season still require energy to simulate their seasons with heating, cooling, or light. Fair-trade bananas from Peru, for example, still have to travel thousands of miles to get to California supermarkets.

Because there are so many aspects to consider, the Real Food Challenge National Network developed a calculator or algorithm using a spreadsheet that prescribes a value to how much real food is being purchased by an institution. It includes the elements of locally grown, organic, sustainable, and fair trade in the calculations. First it must be determined which foods are considered “real food” according to a guide of standards in the RFC Calculator Guide, like Fair Trade Certified Coffee. Then the calculations begin. In keeping with the coffee example, let’s say that UCI spends $200,000 on coffee total, and $125,000 on the fair-trade coffee. Then according to the Calculator, UCI spends 62.5% on real coffee. This percentage is combined with the percentages of other food categories like, beef, eggs, and produce, to calculate the total amount of real food purchasing. Two years ago, the Real Food Calculator assessed UCI Dining and found that they were only at about 10% real food. The hope is to get to 20% real food by 2020 as all of the UC campuses have pledged to do.

"The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture." -Michael Pollan

The quiet indie, jazz, and Spanish acoustic guitar music coming from Colavin’s IPod fills the giant empty space and high ceilings of Doheny Beach AB room. “I feel like I’m in a Charlie Brown movie,” said an RFC member with a nametag made of a recycled paper bag that reads “Collette”. The room has 17 tables, each with 8 chairs, most of which are still empty. Many of the potluck attendees have brought their own utensils, plates and cups, but there is biodegradable Greenware provided by UCI Dining for those who did not. All of the waste, including the Greenware, will be composted at Mesa Commons after the event. The food on the buffet tables ranges from banana guacamole with tortilla chips, to a potatoes and carrots dish with curry sauce, to blackberry bread pudding, and variations of Thanksgiving favorites, like turkey, cranberry, and snap pea sandwiches, organic pumpkin bread, and all-natural pumpkin pie. There’s plenty of food. There are also large carafes of lemonade and unsweetened iced tea provided for attendees. It’s 11:45a.m. now and the group is only about 10 people. They fill the seats of the first table at the front of the room, and begin to eat their selections from the diverse spread.

The Real Food Challenge National Network is a collaboration between the California Student Sustainability Coalition and the Food Project. The Network’s purpose is to advocate and promote healthy, natural, and sustainable foods for college campuses. Nationally, colleges spend $4 billion every year on food. The goal of the Real Food Challenge is to effectively move $1 billion of the annual spending to real food by 2020, about 20% of the total spending of U.S. campuses. The hope is to use the purchasing power of the universities and colleges to shift the entire national food system to more sustainable and “real” foods. Since its inception in the fall of 2008, there have been at least twenty colleges and universities to join the national network. Students are creating their own campus gardens, changing college curriculums and food policies, educating their fellow students, and promoting sustainability action.

The UCI chapter was founded in the fall of 2008 by two activist undergraduates, Hai Vo and Kelsey Meagher, both of whom have since graduated. They adopted the RFC national network constitution and began working with UCI Dining in improving the quality of food on campus. Co-Presidents Alexandre Colavin and Alexandra Nagy now head the 20-person group that, last quarter was only 5 or 6 close friends. RFC has a broader focus than most other sustainability groups on campus. “We’re not just looking at the environmental effects of food,” says Colavin. “We’re looking at social, economic, and the individual effects of food.” UCI’s Real Food Challenge looks at very local change, and only works with UCI Dining and UCI Administration and UCI students. “We’re very local-based,” says Colavin.

The group is also diverse. Members have a variety of majors like biology, social science, physics, urban planning, and a variety of food philosophies. Some are vegetarian. Some are vegan. Some are none of the above.

“Our club is lucky because what we’re addressing is extremely general,” says Colavin. “Everyone likes food. Everyone likes to eat. It’s impossible not to eat.”

Alexandre Colavin, is a fourth-year Physics major, who unicycles to class and has been involved in RFC since the beginning. He isn’t vegetarian or vegan, but he cooks about 90% of his meals at home with ingredients purchased mostly from local farmer’s markets. He’s very aware of what he eats, and says that he tries not to be elitist. Colavin admits to enjoying an In-N-Out burger every once in a while, and munching on chips at parties. “The idea isn’t generally to make sure everyone eats only real food,” says Colavin. “It’s just to raise awareness that food is something that is more than just a plastic-wrapped item at the supermarket, there’s a lot more behind that.”

The other Co-President is Alexandra Nagy. She is a fourth-year Political Science and Urban Studies major, who also unicycles, and has recently gotten into growing her own food. “I have little beds on my patio, says Nagy. “I just got a yard-by-yard plot in [Vista Del Campo housing community].” She’s also neither vegetarian nor vegan, but won’t eat fast food or anything from the frozen food aisle of the supermarket. She considers herself to be a pescatarian, but admits that she’ll eat meat other than fish on occasion. “I’ll eat meat only if it’s free,” says Nagy. “I won’t put my own dollar towards it, but if there’s a free meat meal available at an event, I’ll eat it.” Partly, she doesn’t want to refuse meat and offend anyone. “Meat can be such a cultural staple in someone’s diet, and I’m very cautious about cultural boundaries, but I don’t buy it.”

“But that's the challenge -- to change the system more than it changes you."-Michael Pollan

By 12:40p.m., halfway through the two and a half hour event, the initial group of 10 or 11 people has expanded to 16. Colavin is making his rounds, greeting every person that comes through the door. Both Colavin and Nagy are optimistic, but there is a mild awareness of the emptiness of the room. Three of the tables have been pushed together, and everyone seems to know everyone else from one gardening and green event or another. They had set up six of the front tables with piles of pens and note cards. Now, those vacant table setups expose a disappointment. The conversations are intelligent and hardly run-of-the-mill. Discussions around the three tables include early childhood development and earth appreciation teachings to capitalism and sustainability. Alexandra smiles brightly and acknowledges the lacking numbers, “Well, we had hoped for more of a turnout, but thanks everyone for coming.” She then leads the “Check In” or introduction of the attendees. Each person around the now triangular table arrangement states their name, and their favorite Thanksgiving food. Robert Perez, the Director of ARAMARK at UCI, sits down to join the conversations. ARAMARK is the company that provides the food services on campus. Perez was supposed to give a speech at the event, but he’s now able to hold a more intimate roundtable discussion. He’s the Sustainability Steward for the West Coast Region at ARAMARK, but came to talk as a passionate citizen. Perez begins, “What is your part? How can you make a measurable difference?”

Some of RFC’s past accomplishments include trayless dining in residential dining halls, the elimination of Styrofoam in residential and retail locations on campus, the implementation of vegetarian and vegan options, and recycling at all of the dining locations. In fact, the Jamba Juice on campus is the only Jamba Juice location not to use Styrofoam cups for its smoothies. RFC works on multiple events and campaigns at the same time. Currently, they’re working on two campaigns.

The first is the Anteater Garden Initiative, a student-run, on-campus, education-based garden. It takes up a lot of the group’s time. Colavin and Nagy spearheaded the concept at the beginning of last year. By the end of fall quarter 2009, they had over 100 pledge hours of gardening. By spring quarter 2010, they had $20,000 from UCI’s The Green Initiative Fund and by the end of summer 2010, they were given access to a quarter acre of land, an old volleyball court space in the Arroyo Vista housing community. They now have everything they need, and expect to break ground during the first week of January 2011. Colavin contends that the purpose of the garden isn’t to produce food, but to have the emphasis being on education.

“We want this to be an extension of the classroom by providing students with food education in three ways,” says Colavin. “The first way is just by the presence of the garden, students will be exposed to what is in season, where their food comes from, etc. The second way is just by gardening the land, having volunteers working the land, weeding, watering, harvesting, and eating. The third way is by hosting workshops at the garden on how to compost for example, or how to cook kale, or how to grow asparagus. So the emphasis is all on education, not only on the food.”

This Anteater Garden will also be unique at UCI, since most of the current gardens on campus are individually plot-based. Other gardens have long waiting lists, or they’re restricted to specific housing complexes. RFC’s Anteater Garden Initiative is going to be one giant plot with no waiting list and no restrictions aside from being a UCI student.

The second campaign is the Food Systems Working Group (FSWG) or “Fizz-wig,” a group of people that are involved in the UCI food services in some way, including students, administrators, managers, and chefs. Every quarter, FWSG meets and discusses projects to improve or increase the real food percentage, as well as to educate the community at UCI. The group is not solely a part of UCI either. Every UC campus has a FSWG or is setting one up. The groups are meant to hold their campuses responsible for the pledges made to achieve 20% real food by 2020. They’re the enforcers.

FSWG holds educational events such as the recent Weigh the Waste events. During the event, held in different dining halls on campus, they take the food that students didn’t eat and weigh how much food is thrown away and wasted. The purpose is to raise awareness about wasting food, especially since the dining halls are all-you-can-eat, and often people take more food then they’ll eat. RFC and FSWG’s Weigh the Waste events have helped reduce food waste by 50% in some places, cutting the usual 400 lbs of food tossed away each night in half.

At UCI, FSWG with UCI Dining was able to create a paid UCI Dining Sustainability Intern position. Alfredo Tigerino is the first and current intern. Tigerino is a fourth-year Psychology and Social Behaviors major, and a vegetarian who makes all of his own meals. He joined RFC last fall and after reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, became interested in nutrition. This quarter as the Sustainability Intern, he’s focusing on and planning events that emphasize nutrition, like a screening of the film “Chow Down” and also the Real Food Dinner event. The “Chow Down” movie screening was held in Pippin Commons the week before the Potluck. The informative film followed the lives of citizens reversing their heart ailments, through a strict plant-based diet. Tigerino will also be doing the Real Food Assessment this winter.

For his yearlong internship, Tigerino goes to the various dining locations, meets with the directors, and looks at all their produce and food items. “I try to assist them or inform them of items that could be purchased instead,” says Tigerino. “That way our community is getting the best quality food.”

Tigerino describes his internship as “pretty much a little bit of everything.” He holds dining locations accountable, and audits their purchasing. He holds educational events to inform students of better and more nutritional choices, and conduct marketing efforts for more sustainable options.

“We’re very lucky here at UCI to have established a relationship with UCI Dining, “ says Tigerino. “So far, everyone seems open, though sometimes I feel awkward asking them to change things.”

The job also has given him an understanding of how ARAMARK works on campus, that it revolves around the student customer. “If the customer wants fries and deep-fried stuff then they have to supply that,” says Tigerino. “That’s why I hold educational events so that people will start voting with their forks. I want people to look at things critically.”

"We ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse.”-Michael Pollan

It’s 1:02p.m. and the 19 people who have attended the potluck are listening intently as Perez continues his points, calling for more education and more involvement.

“Change needs a majority who wants the change,” says Perez. “There are only about 10% of the people on campus who care about this issue.”

“That’s probably a high number,” says Colavin.

“Groups are more successful if they work through organizations and companies, rather than against them,” says Perez.

The discussion starts up. People begin to interject and propose ideas of educating students to cook for themselves, after they leave the sanctuary of the dining halls.

“There’s so much more that needs to be done,” says Perez.

“What do you want to see from RFC?” asks Colavin.

“I’d love to see a room like this filled up,” replies Perez.

Reporting Notes:

11/10/10 – Attended a 1 hour routine RFC meeting for observation

11/13/10 - 1 hour and 15min interview with co-president Alexandre Colavin

11/17/10 – attended 2 hour screening of Chow Down and subsequent discussion

11/18/10 – 45 minute interview with co-president Alexandra Nagy

11/18/10 – interview with UCI Dining Sustainability Intern Alfredo Tigerino

11/22/10 – interview with RFC member Sandy Chirico

11/23/10 – attended and observed 2 hour RFC GIANT Potluck Event





Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. 1st ed. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2006. Print.

Burlesque: Creating Sexy Empowered Women Since 1840

By Alexis B. Hodoyán-Gastélum.

It is a full house at Worthington’s Tavern in Riverside, CA tonight. Leather jacket wearing, tattooed guys talk to girls with pinup hairstyles and black dresses. Small crowds of friends and acquaintances gather around small wooden tables, chatting and drinking five dollar Blue Moon beers and Bacardi with Coke cocktails. In a second room just across the bar, past the pool table and the British phone booth, a stage with a pole stands. This room is not as packed.

Around nine o’clock, people from the bar start filling in the second room, the "Ghouls Gone Wild" burlesque show is about to start. With the holiday just around the corner, the performances are Halloween inspired. Krisanna Marie, a performer/teacher going by “Miss Hula-la”, takes the stage wearing a black cowgirl costume with a white faux flower on her short black hair. She’s not performing tonight though; she’s the mistress of ceremony, presenting the dancers and entertaining the audience.

The show kicks off with Cinnamon Britches, receiving loud cheers from men and women. She dances on the floor rather than on stage, captivating the audience more dynamically. Followed by Pepper La Rue, “The Queen of Red Hot Burlesque”, dancing to “I Put a Spell On You” in a witch’s costume.

“What street does a zombie end up on?” Krisanna asks, “A dead end.”A few perplexed glances from the audience and only a couple of chuckles later, “It’s terrible, I know” says Krisanna, mocking her own bad joke.

In comes a woman with long red curly hair on the left side of her head with a black faux flower pinned to it, the right side of her head is shaved. Little Miss Vicious wears a long red
velvet cape and long black opera gloves, holding a skull in her hand. Loud rock music comes out of the speakers while she dances around the stage, taking off the cape and revealig her black sequined bra and bottom. She uses the skull as a prop, tilting back to drip blood-looking -liquid from its mouth onto her chest.

Next up is Neko Love, the zombie bunny from the Playboy Mansion. Lastly, the “sultry vixen” Diana Cabanel delights the audience with her striptease and tricks on the pole, twirling and hanging upside down.

This marks the end of the burlesque show for tonight. Up next, the folk group “Los Duggans” take the stage while half of the room is emptied to the bar for more drinks and laughs.

The Sparkling and Glittering Old Days

Burlesque is “a comedic and risqué performance art with striptease dance and an emphasis on teasing”, as Krisanna explains in her handouts. The dance involves hip bumps, sways, swivels and grinds in a feminine, flirty and teasing manner. The dancers’ routines typically convey a specific story, theme or character. To make matters much more dramatic, a burlesque dancer usually wears opera-length gloves, sparkling pasties, high heels, corsets, stockings and garters, rhinestones and feathers; pretty much anything that makes a woman feel sexy and feminine.

Though highly publicized nowadays in the media, burlesque is anything but a novelty. The art of tease has been around since the mid 1800’s, when burlesque was a comedic play used by the middle classes of Great Britain and the United States to satire the upper classes’ social habits.

As time went by, Americans broke off and revolutionized burlesque in their own ways. Legend has it that dancer Little Egypt introduced the "hootchie-kooch" at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, being the first to “belly dance” on American soil.

Burlesque’s primary attraction was a subtle interpretation of sex, but strip tease wasn’t in the package from the start. The act of strip teasing was later introduced to offer something extra that Vaudeville couldn’t. Though Little Egypt never stripped, another legend says that dancer Hinda Wassa was the first ever to strip while performing. In 1928, “The Great Lady of the Grind” was a chorus girl doing a “pick-out number”. To save time, Hinda wore one outfit under the other. When it was time to run off stage to take off the costume, her zipper stuck. The stage manager started to yell at her, forcing her to go onstage with half her gown off. Incorporating it to her routine, she tried to quiver her way out of the gown. Shaking and twirling her bosom, the top costume slowly came off. The more Hinda worked for it, the more the jerks (the audience) cheered as the second costume slowly revealed itself.

After that, burlesque promoters such as the Minsky brothers put strip teasers on the main stage. But nudity in bars and cabarets was illegal in the golden days. Dancers ingeniously found their way around such regulations, using G-strings and pasties to cover their bottoms and nipples. Though far more vulgar than full on nudity, these were enough to keep the fuzz at bay. Comedy stopped being the attraction of burlesque, having men seeking the shows to see women strip. The legendary “Queen of Class”, Gypsy Rose Lee, brought a new graceful ladylike striptease act never seen in the world of Burly-Q before. The ever witty headliner for the Misnky’s once told officers on a police raid of the club: “I wasn't naked. I was completely covered by a blue spotlight."

Burlesque remained strong throughout the first half of the 20th century. It saw the birth of glamorous and sensual stars such as Bettie Page and Ann Corio. But by the 1960’s, the “sexual revolution” had arrived, bringing hardcore pornography alongside. Burlesque was now completely useless to men. They now had more graphic outlets to fulfill their fantasies.

“Always wondered… What it would be like to shimmy and strut like a sultry vixen or rhinestone covered showgirl?”

Between five dancing poles, in front of a wall with mirrors stands Yana Etemadi, a burlesque teacher at Stiletto Shimmy in Costa Mesa, CA. Wearing a black tank top and matching yoga pants, barefooted and her blonde hair in a high bun, she faces her eight students and turns her iPod on. The women start to warm up to belly dancing tunes, extending their arms and legs. Grinding their hips forward and back, they put their arms in the air and start circling them as well.

It’s 7:40 p.m. now, warm up is over. Time for this week’s routine: Chair.

The women go to the other side of the room, facing the hot and baby pink diamond wall, and grab six metal caramel colored chairs and three brown wooden ones. Each positioning theirs in front of them, spreading their legs and sitting with their chests facing the back of the chairs. Arms crossed, gaze down to the floor. "The Garden" is heard from the speakers, they’re ready to start the routine.

“Oh Oh, I really wanted that thing, I just want to sing…”
The women pop their heads up. Move their torsos to the right, then to the left, grab on to the back of the chair and do a slow circling movement with the torso.

“… I love you baby won’t you bring all the flowers you find out in the garden…”
They reach down to their left ankle, slowly caressing the leg up to their thighs. The same motion with the right leg followed. Then they go down to their ankles with both hands, each on their respective leg and do the same thing, opening up the chest as they reach the top of their thighs to create a sultry effect.

“… Don’t tell me the truth that your heart has hardened…”
They fiercely grab the back of the chair, moving the right leg backward and standing up on the left side of it, left leg straight and right leg slightly bent.

“… But you don’t want me anymore, how can it be? Look what you’ve done to me oh oh…”
Followed by a slow exaggerated strut forward, after six steps they stop at the seventh, opening up their legs. An “S” movement is done with both their hands in the air all the way to the floor, stomping them on the ground and twirling their hair around like rock stars; bending the left knee and extending the right leg sideways.

Yana goes over the routine by small chunks two or three times with her students. She hits play on her iPod and they go over what they’ve learned. She then proceeds to teaching the next chunk, take it from the top and dance the whole thing. She continues the same technique until the choreography is finished. Yana lets the women get comfortable with the moves by allowing them to practice a bit on their own. One woman appeares to be making the wrong moves, so Yana approaches her. She grabs hold of the woman’s arms and moves them around in the right direction, tapping her legs so she’ll move her legs correctly as well. “Are you good? Do you need any help?” she asks another lady.

The routine is finally finished; Yana breaks the ladies into groups of three. They will now perform what they’ve learned to their fellow classmates. Three of the women joined by Yana stand between the poles and grab their chair. The others sit on the wooden floor in front of the mirrors, yet they don’t block the women who’re performing from seeing their reflections.

“Oh Oh I really wanted that thing…” the girls start a bit lost, looking at Yana for direction, “… I love you baby won’t you…” simultaneously, they start gazing at their own reflections, concentrating on their moves and trying to make them sexier. “… Don’t tell me the truth…” Yana has already performed the same routine about six times, but the same mischievous look is in her eyes and her moves are done slowly and candidly as if she were doing them for the first time.
“… But you don’t want me…” the women on the floor cheer, clap and whistle at the performers, “shake it baby, shake it!”

“Teasing” not “stripping”

People generally have the preconception that “burlesque” means having a woman dancing on a pole stripping for one dollar bills, which is anything but the truth. “Burlesque is a lot more theatrical, it’s more entertainment”, Krisanna explains while sitting on the wooden floor next to a dance pole in the Spiritus Yoga and Spa studio in Riverside where she teaches burlesque as a fitness class, “there’s still stripping, but they’re teasing, so it’s a little different.”

Nowadays, burlesque is seen as strip tease’s classier and tamer older sister, focusing on the teasing rather than the stripping. “It’s less sexual even though it is sexual”, Krisanna comments. Audiences, including men and women, go see a burlesque show for the actual show, not to see a dancer strip down to her birthday suit. “We’re trying to be sexy and seductive without taking off clothes”, Yana comments in her Russian accent after her class, “and this is way harder.” Back in October at the “Ghouls Gone Wild” show, Marika “Neko Love” Salazar wearing her black and white stripped top and bottom with pink fluffy bunny ears and blood dripping from her mouth commented, “There are more ways to be creative when you’re covered up… It’s more fun.” “It’s a normal human reaction, you take off the bra, everybody’s drooling”, Yana adds while rolling her eyes, “try to make everyone excited without taking it off. I make men excited with just taking off one glove.”

The Bombshell Factory

In an oversexed modern society, Burlesque has stopped being about bearing flesh. It’s about the glamour, the glitz and the sass. Audiences are beginning to see burlesque as a celebration of women and their femininity. “It’s about women, it’s for women” Yana says with a coy smile, “it’s for their self esteem and for their happiness. It’s all about women.”

“I personally believe that if a woman chooses to find her sexuality dancing around on stage in pasties or naked it is not exploitive but celebratory, as we the audiences are lucky enough to share in what is considered intimate” Krisanna explains, “if a woman is in control of herself, her choices, career and her destination, I can think of very few more truly empowering things.”

Burlesque has started to be part of a new feminist movement. Women, by taking control of their bodies and sexuality, are empowering themselves. “[Women] are gaining confidence, they’re touching themselves, they’re patting themselves” says Yana as she lightly graces her chest, “they see themselves in the mirror and they see that they’re pretty, they dance pretty, they’re doing pretty things, and they can be sexy. And every woman who thinks that she’s sexy, she’s confident.” Krisanna believes that burlesque helps “the common woman to feel pretty and attractive because they are constantly beaten down about their image.” “[It] allows some women, the chance to play dress up and mess around with hair and make-up” she adds, “regular women … may like the chance to be looked at or paid attention too.”

Mary Waruingi is a 32-year-old vehicle integration engineer who has taken classes with Krisanna and Yana simultaneously. Taking both classes has helped her balance her personality, since she works with mostly men and she can’t dress as feminine as she would like. She sees burlesque as an outlet for herself. Mary has lost 50 pounds since she started dancing back in May. On what she likes about it, she says “aside from the era and the glamour and the sass and all that, [burlesque is] something you can develop on your own, practice on your own… You can also be creative and make up your own routine”, which she has been working on recently.

Burly-Q, another name for burlesque, also challenges society’s concept of what is beautiful and sexy. It caters to real women, to women of all shapes and sizes. As Yana explains, the dance teaches women to love and accept themselves as they are. She touches her hips and her stomach and says, “I’m not a size two and some people are crazy about size two’s only. What? I would just die because I don’t have a size two body? They’re a lot of people who are a size eight… And that’s what I always try to explain to women, that this is for you and for you only.” Krisanna explains how dance can help women with weight loss, sustain endurance, build muscle strength, improve coordination, fight depression and increase blood flow. Yana actually describes her class as an introduction to exercise. Being overweight and going to the gym can be intimidating, so she believes her burlesque class helps these women gain confidence so they can hit the gym and get into shape.

Adding onto the self esteem, women are creating bonds with other women through the classes, they’re developing friendships. “It’s a natural thing; it’s a girl’s world” Yana says with a “duh” attitude, “they’re all opening [up] together, they’re all dancing together, they’re performing to each other, they’re all showing off to each other, of course they’ll become friends.” Krisanna on the other hand describes her class as creating a sense of “community” for the women. Mary commented how she’s friends with some of the girls in class and that she actually became co-workers with fellow burlesque classmate, Ulrike “Ulli” Hoff. '

“Burlesque is not necessarily for every woman, every woman can do it, but I think women…are gonna find themselves in different things” Krisanna explains, “for some women it is burlesque and for some women it is pole dancing, or hoop dancing, for other women it’s going to be rock [climbing], or it’s gonna be going to the gym and doing weights, you know? I don’t like to profess that burlesque can save anybody or anything like that, but I think that for quite a few women it does.”

In Yana’s case, his son Andrew was diagnosed with high-functioning autism when he was three years old. She has been going to therapy and different support groups for three years now. “I need some time when I’m not talking about the problem [Andrew] has and I’m not seeing him losing it [or] having some kind of tantrum”, Yana expresses as if she were tired, “I need the time when I’m just driving in the quiet car, nobody is screaming and fighting in the back seat, and come [to class] and nobody [is] talking kids stuff. It’s a woman’s world, it’s a sexy world and I’m a woman there. I’m the teacher and I’m an attractive sexy woman. I need this, it’s my getaway.”

“…It’s not what good girls do, not how they should behave…”

It’s week five of Yana’s burlesque class at Stiletto Shimmy. Yana comes in with her usual hair wrapped in a bun, a spaghetti strap red tank top and black capri leggings. Today is the last class of the course. They will be reviewing everything learned up until that point: chair, gloves, cane and a second chair routine.

After the warm up, the six women go to the back of the room to fetch the chairs. A skinny girl with pixie hair and rectangular glasses playfully struts her way to her place, carrying the wooden chair. Yana turns on her iPod and Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” starts playing.

The routine starts with them sitting on the chair with their backs to the audience. They pop the right arm sideways and twist it around, pop the left one and twist it too. Then they pop the right arm vertically into the air, same with the left followed by the left caressing down the right arm and going to the back of the neck. The routine continues. The girl with the pixie hair goes off of the routine, touching herself and adding her own moves. She realizes she’s not in sync with the rest of the women but ignores it; she’s just doing her thing.

Yana struggles to remember the next move. Ulli, a former student who is anxiously sitting on the sofa, reminds her of the dance move: sitting in the chair, holding together both hands and raise them to your forehead as if praying, spreading the legs apart from each other and extending them on the floor.

“You can have the class free!” exclaims Yana. She saved $30. Ulli immediately gets up, wearing a big smile on her face and gives a little skip as she rushes for a chair to join the rest of the group. She was wearing jeans and a black blouse, but this didn't matter; she got to participate in the fun.

Then, it was time for gloves. Only one woman seemed to have brought some, so they had to pretend they had them on. But a burlesque dancer doesn’t just take the glove off, there’s far more to the art of removing a glove than just taking it off. You first separate the glove from your fingers with your mouth, pulling on each finger individually. Then there’s a million different ways how you take it off. A playful one is placing the hand with the glove you’re taking off above your head, so the audience can see, and with the other one, slowly pull on one finger until the glove is completely off.

“Somebody brought a cane? Girls!” says Yana as only one woman, the same as the gloves, brought a cane for the next routine. Yana opens a closet and hands out three brooms and one plastic tube. The remainder used imaginary brooms. The song is “Bad Romance”, the same routine for their "Creepy Cabaret" Halloween party/performance. Since not all of the women participated in that show, they’re reviewing the moves more thoroughly. “Ulli, Ulli! I am teaching!” yells Yana as Ulli is showing another lady what the next move is. They go over the routine without music a few times before hitting play on the iPod. Some of the ladies lock their gazes at Yana for direction; some of the more confident ones stare at their own reflections on the mirrors in front of them. These are the women who are concentrating on their moves and trying to make them provocative.

After they finish off the Gaga song, Ulli approaches Yana and apologizes. Yana tells her it’s no big deal and that it’s “awesome” that she remembers the routine.

“Oh oh I really wanted that thing…” sounds through the speakers and Ulli’s mouth; time for the second chair routine. Though she’s no longer part of the class, Ulli sits on the red sofa in the back of the room dancing and singing along. “Head head, shoulder shoulder” says Yana as she does the dance moves.

When the routine is over, she has the class vote on which songs they want to perform. Three women choose the “I Kissed a Girl” chair routine and the remaining three choose the second chair, “The Garden”.

First up are the “I Kissed a Girl” ladies, the rest sat facing them by the mirrors cheering, whistling and clapping along, Ulli included. The women chose the routine because it was the one they liked best and felt most comfortable with as well. No one was staring at Yana while they danced. Everyone was looking at their own bodies or at their reflections. They all bore flirty and naughty looks. Yana closes her eyes as she sensually touches her chest and arms.

They switch places and now the “The Garden” girls grab their chairs and get in place. The girls on the floor clapped along while Ulli singed. This group of ladies was a bit lost and looked at Yana rather than themselves. Yana is completely in her own world, she dances as if she were performing before an actual audience. The song is slower and even has a melancholic feel to it, the women bore girly and playful looks which they incorporated them to their moves. They were rocking a “good girl” attitude.

When they finish they all clap and Yana says, “This was so much fun!” This course has been the last Yana will teach entirely. She’s leaving on a medical leave on December and she will be enrolling at Orange Coast College in January, where she will work towards transferring to Cal State Long Beach. She’s pursuing the nutrition major. Shayla, a belly dance instructor, will be taking over her class. “I’m giving her my baby! This is something I did myself, I raised it, I made it. She’ll be teaching my routines to my students under my name, the name of my company”, Yana later explained.

Now that the class is over, the women circle around Yana and start chatting. They talk about the upcoming Christina Aguilera and Cher movie, “Burlesque”. “Don’t miss it please… [It’s] the same dancing as we do!” explains Yana.

“This was fun girls!” said Yana as they all clap once again. Some of the women go to the back of the room to get their stilettos and put them on for the next class, Pole 1. Slowly, the rest of the women, one by one start to leave. Class is dismissed.

End Notes:
One observation of the "Ghouls Gone Wild" show at Worthington's Tavern.
Handouts written by Krisanna Marie.
Kenrick, John. A History of the Musical Burlesque. <https://webmail.uci.edu/uci/src/webmail.php>
Dancers Wall of Fame.<http://www.eebell.net/burlesque/dancers.htm>
Watson, Sonny. Gypsy Rose Lee.<http://www.streetswing.com/histmai2/d2gypsy1.htm>
Two observations of Krisanna’s classes.
Four observations of Yana’s classes.
Two interviews with Yana Etemadi.
Three interviews with Krisanna Marie.
One observation of the “Creepy Cabaret” at Stiletto Shimmy.
Dinardo, Kelly. Burlesque Comeback Tries to Dance with Feminism.<http://www.womensenew s.org/story/commentary/041207/burlesque-comeback-tries-dance-feminism>
One interview with Mary Waruingi.
Picture of Yana from Stiletto Shimmy Facebook page.
Pictures of Neko Love and Little Miss Vicious from Hula-la Facebook page.
Picture of Krisanna from <http://misshula-la.com/home.html>

Event Planners Provide Low-Cost, No-Cost Weddings to 'Angel Brides'

By Andrea Vu

Aboard “The Pilgrim”, a full size replica of a two-masted vessel originally built in 1825, amongst friends and family Kerry Coryell and Kurt Vanderlinde were married on October 10th, 2009. Kerry and Kurt each held a white dove and released them simultaneously into the light sea breeze of Dana Point Harbor. Like a many high-profile events, camera-crews and reporters were there to document the proceedings.

Kerry Coryell and Kurt Vanderlinde, however, are not celebrities but rather a deserving couple that made their wedding happen, despite lacking the financial means. Kerry was not going to let anything stand in the way of her fairytale wedding, and it all began when she posted an ad on Craigslist willing to barter her way toward a wedding. Erin Taylor, the owner of Events TaylorMade, was at the time searching for properties in Michigan; “Things were getting too expensive here [in California]” she explains. Erin decided to take a break and look in the barter section. There she found the three-page listing Kerry posted listing the services she could provide in return for wedding services. As Erin read through the lengthy ad she was touched by Kerry’s story. Kerry and her two kids moved down the street from her mother, who got meningitis and was left paralyzed, to care for her. Kurt came into Kerry’s life but they never had the chance in the ten years they had been together to get married. Then, Kerry’s mother passed away. Then, the couple was blessed with two more children. Kerry stayed at home to care for her four children and went to school at night in the hopes of becoming a nurse. On top of all of that, Kerry donated blood as often as she could and sewed dog beds for an animal shelter. Erin decided to shoot Kerry an e-mail and a few e-mail exchanges later she was given a list of services and goods Kerry needed for her wedding. “Once I had the list, I just started working. I contacted vendors and sent out e-mails. The response was phenomenal.” Erin shares.

Erin Taylor is a mother of five girls and works a full time job, as a facilities manager at an architecture firm. Her event planning company Events TaylorMade is another full time job but probably more of a passion. “My full time job pays the bills and allows me to do what I love.” Erin says. Events TaylorMade like any event planning company plans events on a budget, but what sets it apart is Erin’s ability to plan events on very tight budgets. “Anyone can plan a platinum wedding [a wedding with a budget of $100,000 or more]” says Erin “but planning a wedding with a budget of only a couple thousand dollars and making it look close to a platinum wedding takes a lot more dedication.”

Kerry’s wedding was just the beginning of the Angel Brides. Erin was inspired by her experience with Kerry to give brides-to-be’s a wedding they could not have otherwise. An Angel Bride “looks no different than any other bride - she's newly engaged and excited about starting her life with the man she loves - except for one thing... life has just not been kind to them. This could be for a plethora of reasons beyond their control - she's not looking for 'something for nothing' or for a 'handout' - she just wants to get married and has pretty much given up on the idea of the Wedding of her dreams because there literally IS no budget.” Planning a wedding is already a lot of work; imagine doing it without any money.

When planning a wedding, meeting the couple and their family is just the first step. “l like meeting the couples in person. It helps us to all get to know each other,” says Erin. From that point, planning goes in an array of directions depending on the type of wedding. “Some weddings we just show up on the day of and ensure all the vendors show up, do what they are paid to do, and the day goes by smoothly,”says Aleksa. Aleksa is Erin’s third eldest daughter and works for her mother’s business on the weekends, after her studies and job. For any wedding, catering to the bride and goom’s likes is an important aspect of planning. But as the budgets get smaller or even become non-existent, finding vendors that not only suit the bride and groom and fit the budget is hard work. Negotiating is a difficult task, even when there is money involved. Most vendors are not as receptive to the idea of donating their time and services, especially during these difficult times. People promise their services but sometimes do not follow through because they feel no obligations. Planning a wedding goes beyond giving the bride and groom a day to remember. There is long list of services that are needed for a wedding. Having a venue is just one of the most important steps in planning a wedding. Once the venue is set in stone there are many other details that are tended to such as: seating, tables, linens, glassware, silverware, plates, flowers, decorations, lighting, music, DJ, catering, photographers, favors, bartenders, the list is endless. Each detail then has to be meticulously planned to suit the couple’s style and remain in the budget. Once all the planning is done the next step is the rehearsal dinner, where details are finalized before the big day. Finally, the most stressful of days is the wedding day.

When asked which was her most memorable (Angel Bride) wedding, Aleksa recalled one of the couples, who were not actual Angel Brides, but rather benefited from the program as being some of the sweetest people she has ever met. “We actually met Erica and Ben at Kerry’s wedding. Erica, Ben, and Erica’s mom Kathy lent Kerry some items for the wedding and were there to volunteer.” What makes this couple even more endearing is the fact Erica has Down syndrome and her fiancée, Ben, is developmentally delayed. Erin, “wanting to repay [Kathy’s] kindness towards Kerry, offered Day of Coordination services to them.” Erin and her entire family (daughters, husband, and parents) participated in the setup and break down of the wedding. They celebrated they newly married couple and ended the night with a performance from OC Elvis.
Erin’s most emotional wedding took place at the Puddingstone Resort in San Dimas. The bride, Rebecca, and the groom, Phil, won a Platinum Planning & Coordination at a Bridal Show. Once Erin contacted the couple, she discovered that Rebecca actually wrote a letter in response to a contest in Orange County Register for military couples. Rebecca wrote in about her brother, Phil, going into active duty and his longing to marry Daisy, so she and their son would be taken care should anything happen to him. Phil and Daisy’s wedding was Erin’s sixth Angel Bride wedding. Erin wrote on her Angel Bride blog, “…This wonderful sister who penned such a heartfelt letter on behalf of her brother although she really needed the help herself, had just won the very same thing she'd enabled her brother to have. (K-A-R-M-A).” May 9th was the wedding date, which happened to be Mother’s Day AND the groom’s birthday. It was a wedding that overflowing with emotion. Erin remembers the hand-off as being exceptionally emotional for the father-of-the-bride. He was so emotional that they all paused to give him a moment. Emotions did not run dry; the father-daughter dance was very affectionate and really showed how much joy this family was experiencing. The emotions extended beyond the wedding party, Erin was just as joyful that day. “I had my mom, my girls, and my man with me. It was a really special day,” she said.
Angel Brides weddings are a lot to take on but “I love seeing all the hard work everyone puts in turn into an amazing event” Aleksa shares “It just makes your heart warm to see smiles on peoples face, too.” Angel Bride weddings are no different from any other wedding besides the fact services are donated. Well, there is one big difference and that is the bride and groom deserve to be celebrated and honored for their good deeds and big hearts.

To celebrate and honor more couples like Kerry & Kurt and Erica & Ben Events TaylorMade and BenefitAll have teamed up give ten deserving couples the weddings they could not give themselves. Entries were sent via e-mail and seventy-five non-military entries were received. “We as a company decided that we would honor every military couple with a wedding. They we will be receiving their own private ceremonies at a later date,” Erin states. She read every single entry that was submitted and reveals, “I have never cried so much in my life”.
Out of the seventy-five entries ten couples have been chosen and were either notified by phone, e-mail, or in person. The deserving couples are:

Orange County
Nicole Parks & Scott Krochmalny
Nicole and Scott were notified, actually surprised, at Irvine Spectrum by their family and Erin. Missi, Nicole’s sister, actually sent in the nomination and, along with her dad, arranged for a family meeting to give the couple the good news. Erin walked up the group, explained who she was, then gave the couple a sample of their wedding invitations. The family, consisting of about 20 people celebrated as the good news sunk in.

Amber Gulla & Wesley Christy
Erin and Aleksa arrived at Amber and Wesley’s town home and are greeted by Patti, Amber’s mother, in the street. Patti, who nominated the couple, concocted a story about her boyfriend intending to propose that night. Once Patti walked into the house she was overcome with tears. Erin stepped in and introduced herself. Patti then excitedly exclaims that they were selected for an Angel Bride wedding. The room went quite and the home was filled with joy.

Colleen Kelly & Terry Saurwein

Los Angeles
Christine Ramirez & Edwin Carranza
Erin called Eileen, who nominated her sister Christine for an Angel Bride wedding, on 11/21/2010 at 4:57pm. Eileen did not pick up so Erin left a message urging her to call back as soon as possible. At 5:02 pm, Erin’s cell phone ringed and it was Eileen, who was ecstatic. Erin asked if the couple knew about their nomination and Eileen confirmed. She would be the one to surprise her sister with the good news.

LaShawn & Todd Barnett
Erin called on 11/21/2010 at 4:35pm and left message. At 7:19pm LaShawn called back and Erin introduced herself, since LaShawn did not recognize the number. LaShawn was with her family at the time and put Erin on the speakerphone. Erin said “Are you ready to get married on the 18th? LaShawns response was, “Oh my god,yes! Oh my god, Oh my god, Oh my god!” and cries. She realizes her voice has become inaudible and hands the phone to her fiancé Todd.
Jeremy Hayes & Judith

San Bernardino
Sara Gonzales & Alfredo Saldana
Erin called Sara and Alfredo on 11/21/2010 at 5:01pm but they did not pick up. After hearing Erin’s urgent message they called back about twenty-seven minutes later. The couple gathered with family for Sunday night dinner, received news that they would be getting married in less than a month. As soon as Erin paused, the family cheered “Whoo!” in somewhat synchronized manner. The couple was more than thrilled.

Susan Armitt & David Riha
Erin called Susan on 11/21/2010 at 5:07pm. Susan picked up the phone call coming from an unfamiliar number. Erin introduced herself and reminded Susan of the letter she submitted. Not wanting to prolong the anticipation, Erin excitedly informed Susan that she and her fiancé David have been chosen to be one of the ten Angel Brides. “Oh my god…Oh my god…Oh wow! Wow!” is all that is heard on the other end of the line.

San Deigo
Trinidad McGee III & Josephine Felaca
At 5:18 on 11/21/2010 Erin called Trinidad to give him the good news. Trinidad did not pick up so Erin left a message explaining who she is and why she was calling, since she was unsure whether he knew about the nominating. Trinidad’s cousin Apple nominated him and his fiancée Josephine but would not be in the country to get the good news or attend the wedding.

USMC - Camp Pendleton

Erin Boucher & Brandon

After surprising each couple, Erin broke down the details of the event. She told them that all ten couples would be walking down the aisle simultaneously. Even though it will be a mass wedding, Erin reassured the couples that it would still feel intimate. Each couple would be allowed 100 wedding guests including the wedding party that could not exceed ten, counting the bride and groom. Invitations would be provided so all the couples need to do is decide whom they want to invite. She also informed the ten couples that photographers, catering, officiants, flowers, decorations, gowns, tuxedos, hair & make-up for the bride, videographers, a DJ, and assigned coordinator would all be provided, at no cost to them and with no catches.

December 18th will be a day full of events and generosity. During the daytime there will be plenty of entertainment such as: storytelling, face painting, musical performances, craft demonstrations, and international holiday celebrations. Christmas trees along with decorations and gifts will be given to those who are struggling financially and cannot afford to celebrate the holidays. To end the event, ten deserving couples will walk down the aisle to say their “I Do’s” bringing Erin Taylor’s total to thirty Angel Brides.

Reporting Notes:
Two-hour interview with Aleksa Foreman
One day of shadowing Aleksa at a wedding
Two-hour interview with Erin Taylor
Six hours of observation at the Taylor’s
Websites and Articles:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lets Make This Last Forever

By Priya S.
The three o’clock shift is calling. But in his mind his hands are curling around his guitar’s neck, feeling the bite of the strings cut into the fleshy pads of his fingers. A pedal. An amp. Eduardo Ramirez does not want to be driving to the 3M’ Plant in Irvine, helping make dental molds and doing heavy lifting. He wants tomorrow to come, to be here already dammit, so the band, Fixate, can practice.

Practice Session One: Nov. 13th
Tommorow has arrived. It’s early Saturday morning on November 13th. Fixate practices in Ed’s garage on. It’s a cozy, cluttered place with several large Tikki Masks, and an old Underoath poster from Ed’s high school days on the wall. Pale morning light filters into his open garage and he is groggily tuning his guitar. The other band members—Ryan, Ken and Andy—are all fiddling with their respective instruments. While they set up, plugging guitars into pedals and amps, they are quiet. When the music starts playing it sounds schizophrenic and disjointed. There is no cohesion. Ryan stands in front of the microphone, his voice zipping up and down. Ken and Ed are twanging away their own separate melodies. And Andy beats on his drums. But the lack of cohesion doesn’t matter. They are just warming up after all. And then the cohesion comes:
Ed goes first. His fingers strike one note again and again, shrilly melodic, and then a pause ensues. It slows down to a hypnotic trickle of notes. Ryan lets loose a melodic howl that ripples up “sunk is the sound/dare to come up into sight –” the garage is full of drum-lit, guitar-drunk melody. They are craftsmen. Look at Andy, wedged behind his drum set oblivious the drafty room. His skinny arms hover and bam! They come down; a barrage of knocks and thumps on the drums, clangs on the cymbals. Their heads toss. And one by one, inevitably all their eyes close. Ken bends over his bass guitar, overcome by the intensity of his playing. Ed sways to the rhythm, a foot slamming on his pedal every now and then. His hands are mesmerizing. Spiders scurrying in a frenzy. But it wasn’t always that way. They weren’t always Fixate. Once they were just excitable kids with stacks of tickets to sell before they were allowed to play at the venues that booked them.

From left: Andy, Eduardo, Ken, Ryan
Fixate—like nearly every local band Irvine has produced—boasts musicians that grew into their craft from a young age. Ed and Ryan are 23 and 24, Andy is 21 and Ken is 20. They all share roots in Irvine, growing up in tan, handsome houses with garages, going to Irvine school district middle schools and high schools. And Blink 182 hugely inspired their love of music. Ed was 14 years old when he became obsessed with the band.

“I really like Blink because they are, like, the one band that really connected with a bunch of youth.” And its true. Blink 182’s pop-punk infiltrated most of America’s youth during the early to mid years of 2000. Their incredibly catchy, up-beat songs dealt with a variety of issues—girls, insecurities, swearwords, toilet humor—and captured the euphoria of being young and just plain stupid. Ed, sitting on the dilapidated love seat in the garage says as much. “I really just connected to them because of what they would write about. Just being young and stupid.” First Date—the Blink 182 song that perfectly sums up the angsty, giddy nervousness of teenage love—inspired Ed to try his hand at music.

“I just wanted to learn how to play my favorite songs,” he says. In 2001, at 14, his first guitar was an acoustic six-string Epiphone. He practiced and practiced. He doesn’t think of it as practicing. “ I would just play”, he says absentmindedly strumming on his guitar. Andy was practicing around this time too. He started small, on a practice pad.

“It was really crappy, but it was the first thing I learned on. It was an instant connection,” Andy says. His black snowboard pants swish as he walks around the garage. “I just wanted to learn all the songs I was listening to in middle school. It was a lot of pop punk—y’know…Blink 182, stuff like that. “

Ken, Fixate’s newest member, joined the band in 2008. “I made the decision drunk,” he says with his trademark impish grin. He does not regret deciding under the influence. “It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I get to play music with my friends. It can’t get any better than that.” His musical abilities flourished as his eleven-year-old self learned to play a Filipino mandolin called a bandurria. He emphasizes that this was at his mother’s insistence. “I was just playing Filipino folk tunes and learning traditional Filipino music and I eventually became a part of a music ensemble.” Ken’s love affair with performing music was further ignited through his unavoidable exposure to guitar and Blink 182.

In 2004 and as early as 2001, a musical renaissance among the Blink-crazed middle schoolers- and high-schoolers was occurring. In Venado Middle School, a few boys practiced their instruments too. Not together, not yet. That came later. Jacob Tilley, freshly arrived from England had a guitar. Sameer Gadhia. Brett Lienen. Andy Chabolla. All these kids attended Venado Middle School and practiced. Guitar. Bass. Drums. Piano. And all these kids ended up contributing significantly to Irvine’s local band scene playing together, playing apart.

Ed is a thoughtful person. He thinks before answering many questions. When asked about the change in the local band scene has undergone since the local band golden age in high school, he purses his lips in clear distaste.

“It was so good back then. In its prime. Now everyone just tries to be indie and sounds the same. Everything now is like, spacey and ethereal. Pretty noises. Everyone is trying to be indie, but they aren’t making music. Their just making pretty sounds. And everyone sounds the same. Aw, man!” he shakes his head and smiles sadly. “There were amaaazing bands in highschool”

The popularity of bands like Taking Back Sunday and Underoath meant that most of the aspiring musicians heavily imitated the sounds as Blink 182’s influence wore off. “Yeah, it was all emo/screamo/hardcore sounding.” Ken says, wedging himself besides Ed on the love seat and the two exchange grins. “Remember?” What they all miss is the genuine enthusiasm every band forming at the time saw. A network of budding musicians flared up in the high schools and they played the venues that opened up to them. Every band sounded unique, if similar to each other, they all recall. Most of the bands bristled with energy and performed energetically melodic songs with screaming. It was the invasion of girl-pants clad high school guitar players, drummers and singers, Ed recalls. “It was before they started making skinny jeans for guys”.
Battle of the Bands—an event organized by the City of Irvine’s Youth Action Team— became big occasions for these young boys. As high schoolers, the budding musicians often found out about performing opportunities from the YAT grainy yellow flyers and posters littered around their high schools grounds. Andy smiles reminiscing about high school band experiences. “When you’re starting, you don’t realize how music is as a business. A lot of people will take advantage of you. People will offer you shows and at the time you’re just really stoked to get any sort of show. And then they throw these things called presales at you”—Andy sneers, and He and Ed share a wry, knowing look at the word presales— “where they make you sell a minimum amount of tickets.”

“Anywhere between 300 to 800 dollars!” quips Ed, throwing his arms up. “Like, what the fuck!”

“Yeah. And you have to sell those before you play the show” Andy finishes. He reaches for the Macbook on Ed’s lap. “Shit. Those sucked.”

“Remember Crazy Horse? We had to sell, like, 80.” Ed says.

“No, it was like 60 tickets at 10 dollars each. And they don’t let you play if you don’t sell the minimum amount of tickets. “ Andy says. Thankfully the band members’ families were big supporters, turning out en masse to their shows. “Ed’s family made T-shirts for the Crazy Horse concert”.

In October of 2004 Andy and Ed met through Jacob Tilley. ”At a gay bar,” Ed jokes, flipping his hand to his side.

“Spotted him across the room,” Andy singsongs, fluttering his eyelashes. Jake, Ed and Andy along with another classmate formed their first band, ‘Anyone Else’. Before The Irvine Spectrum’s Old Navy was Old Navy, it was the trendy music club and restaurant, Crazy Horse.

In spite of not knowing Andy or Jake personally at the time, I knew of them. We went to the same high school. We were in the same grade. And everyone had been approached by one of the band members trying to sell their pre-sale tickets. I record that Crazy Horse performance in my sophomore diary perfectly summing up the early high school direction these bands were following:

Flashback: The Crazy Horse Concert diary excerpt dated November 14th, 2004
“Yesterday was the Crazy Horse Concert. Nihaar dropped me off late so I just missed Jake’s band. That was pretty much the sole reason for me coming. To see his band, judge my fellow Irvine-ians.

Omg. The next band that played. They were really good. The drummer was either a freshman or sophomore, but lordy! He made that band. He pounded on those drums so skillfully, and delightfully enthusiastically. He did the screamo parts. I don’t know why, but that was so HOT. Then he switched. He grabbed a guitar and got in the front of the stage, in front of the mic.
Dude. He was so petite. Crazy skinny. In tight, girl pants, with frilly pink briefs. (Nicole recognized them to be American Eagle, and this super tite (sic) long sleeve black shirt. DUDE. His hair was black and perfect! Perfect length (long) and waved. Omg. He did crazy screaming, and twanged away most excellently on his guitar. I told Nicole he looked like a bird on coke. He did. I think the judge said his name was Marcus.”

Fixate has come a long way since its band members high school days and its inception in 2007.

“What I like about Fixate is that I feel it’s catchy enough for the average person to listen to, but its very technical for those who know what’s going on in music. Whether it’s simple or complicated, I feel the music just works.” Andy says. There is a loud creak, and Ed’s baby niece suddenly toddles in to the garage. Ed hastily scoops her to him and sets her back in to the house.

Andy continues, “Uh. Anyway. It’s, uhm, what it should be. We didn’t leave parts to chance. We worked out every single part to exactly the way we want it. It’s just us. “ This effort has not gone unnoticed. The comments on their Myspace page suggest that their precision has really paid off. A friend by the username of ‘None None’ says “zOmg thanks for the adddddddddddddddddddddd you guys are really sIiIiiiiiiiiCkKk hope you come to my town soon

<3<3.“ Taka Shirawasa claims to “love the sound.”
Fixate’s simple Myspace music page describes their music thusly: “Melodies Flex with the intricacies of intertwining sonic bliss.” That ‘sonic bliss’ sounds remarkably similar to a more indie version of Taking Back Sunday, a favorite band of the members in 2004. “We all check in on the page from time to time. Ryan wrote the Bio” Ed says, gesturing towards Ryan’s retreating back. After a two-hour practice session, Ryan leaves saying “family stuff,” with an apologetic glance.

Their Myspace page is a simple affair, but even that boasts of a fierce strain of DIY so prevalent among today’s local bands. They recorded their EP last November and uploaded the songs to their Myspace. The band does not have a Facebook profile. There is a reliance here on a community of peers to support their efforts. Andy, who presides over the recording, has impressive equipment in his garage. He makes money on the side, recording bands in high school. The quality of songs is astonishing—they are clear and sound as professional as any you’d find on a legitimate studio recorded EP. “I used Logic Pro on Mac” says Andy. Logic Pro, a program designed for Mac, is program used for professional recording and the choice of many other recording garage-band locals.

All the members have been in multiple performing bands before Fixate and concurrent with Fixate. Ed recalls playing around 6 shows with Anyone Else, 10 shows with his 2008 summer band Stop Motion Stills and around 15 shows most recently with Strange Birds at venues including UCI, Detroit Bar, and even the House of Blues.

The unity that high school afforded bands has vanished as the musicians all enter the next stage after college. The convenience of living in closely related neighbor hoods and in even the same city has vanished. All the members of Fixate agree that the hardest thing about being in a band now is the scheduling in order to play shows. Andy explains, “With everyone’s lives changing so much—school, work, people moving and everything like that—it’s a lot harder to get people together and do the live aspect of music. Doing shows is a lot tougher now.” Fixate’s acquisition of Ken is directly linked to the bumpy changing of lives and situations band members undergo.

After losing the original bass player to college in San Diego and a experiencing few months of idleness, Ken wound up with the gig. But even with the current cast of Fixate living so closely together, their non-musical duties interfere with scheduling. Andy attends Cal State Fullerton and works at the Apple Store in Brea. Ed has horrific hours at the 3M’s Irvine Plant. Ryan is a chef. Ken attends Irvine Valley College, and also plays in Strange Birds. Practice has been pushed back twice in the last week.

Strange Birds is fronted by Brett and Aiden—fellow alumni of Irvine High School—whom endured the same Battle of the Bands growing pains as the others. Ed joined Strange Birds in April 2010, and quit October. Ken joined Strange Birds the same month. Both bands see each other every weekend and most weekdays. “We’re still cool” Ed says. “I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t for me.” The Strange Birds are serious about their music—and it is seriously, seriously good. They appear on countless blogs. A friend who prefers to be unnamed credits Aiden for being a ruthlessly smart self-promoter. Their Facebook has 494 likes, details updates and locations about their upcoming shows, and links to favorable critiques and blog/magazine exposure.

Aiden and Brett, the front men of Strange Birds
The OC Weekly’s Paul Saitowitz describes Strange Birds as “Irvine’s melancholy, textured, wispy, indie shoegazer rock combo” and notes they “are still in search of an identity.” This identity search was one reason Ed left the band and devoted himself fulltime to Fixate. The evolving tone of most local bands attempting to master a more mellow, ‘pretty sounding’ indie style can rub Ed the wrong way.

“A Lot of bands want to be indie right now, so they all sound the same. One thing that made me laugh one time—this was one of the other reasons why I left strange birds— we were gonna play a show, and they were like, ‘you have to dress indie’ and I was like ‘what the fuck?!’ I was just gonna piss ‘em off and wear super cut off shorts and my captain E O sweater. Brett was all, ‘You have to dress indie, there’s gonna be a lot of people there and people have to like us” Ed protested. “But I’m not indie at all, I don’t really like that” and he’s like ‘naw dude, we’re all indie, all the kids are indie now a days, but I’m like, DUDE I LISTEN TO BOBBY BROWN. That’s pretty indie I guess.” His voice is withering. “I’m me. That’s it” Ed does like indie music. He loves Modest Mouse and Sigur Ros, but watching most of his peers change in order to cater to the ‘in’ style of music contrasts starkly with the genuine passion that he remembers from high school.

Fellow peers and supporters Jacob Tilley and Sameer Gadhia changed their band name from The Jakes to the appropriately more indie ‘Young the Giant. And their success has been phenomenal. They’ve toured with Minus the Bear, a popular indie band, opened for Kings of Leon and even had one of their songs play on an MTV episode of The Real World: Brooklyn and also on A& E’s The Beast. They were signed to Road Runner Records. Strange Birds unswerving dedication to getting their name out there and appealing to their audience in addition to their undeniable talent all seem to suggest that they too are on the road to the sort of success Young the Giant has garnered. The same friend says, “Strange Birds seems very much Aiden’s and Brett’s band. They are trying their hardest to get their name out. They seem more about carving a niche then making music.” He adds that in the Strange Birds, “Ed couldn’t blossom” because he wasn’t allowed to contribute creatively. When asked about Fixate’s dedication, the friend responded that Fixate is centered on a genuine love for music, “They have fun together making music.”

Ken has no problem fitting in—he dresses indie, in black toms, deep v-neck shirts and skinny jeans—though he admits that he finds more freedom in Fixate. “It is a little harder with them because you cant leave their genre when in fixate we have the ability to jump to any genre sound we feel like”

Fixate’s dynamic is free flowing and stoner-y. Drake’s low-pitched “ahs” and “ehs” flood the garage. The members of fixate all enjoy mainstream hip- hop and particularly enjoy Drake. “So sick, ” Ed shakes his head and drums his fingers against his leg to the beat. A joint is slowly making its rounds. Soon the garage is filled with smoke and resounding ‘hahahas’. The instruments lie abandoned as every relaxes on chairs and the lurid green love seat. Ed is all curly black hair and handsomely chiseled Spanish features; he wears a Ducks cap, his favorite Captain EO sweatshirt and cut-off denim shorts that sag limply against a concave butt. “Check em out” he says, sticking a foot out. He has on brand new turquoise Vans sneakers. He has a handsome face with defined, delicate Spanish features and a high-pitched giggle he emits often.

“Oh shit!” he squeals and then starts laughing. “Dude, remember when we bought those Iron Man sippy cups?” he gestures at his be-stickered Macbook. Ken and Andy peer at the screen and laugh along. “Oh!” Ed starts, and pulls up his Garage Band application on his Macbook.

“Check out this beat I made. What do you guys think? I’m so happy with it.”

They listen to the electro sounding, synthesized beat and all agree that it is “dope”. Within 15 minutes, Ed has his guitar back in hand and is showing them new ideas for potential new songs.

“I just think something like this…” he strums a few quavery notes, “and then like…I dunno, Andy you could—” They are all clustered together, testing new beats and melodies. Ken pretends to victory hump Andy when they finally figure out a hook to song.
Ed’s writing Eureka moments happen in the shower. “ I’ll have a melody in my head. I’ll just be thinking in my head of songs I started writing, and I’m just like thinking, and like, there’s been times when something so awesome pops into my head, and I’m like FUCK! And I’ll just get out of the shower and I’ll record. I’ll hum the melody if I have to, just so I wont lose it.” Andy’s pipe is making rounds. Ed decides this is a good time to bring up his fifth member idea again. He barely gets the words “fifth member” out before Andy stops him.

“No. No man. I just don’t think it would work. Didn’t we already talk about this?”

“I’m down, for like, whatever, ”Ken says. “I think it could be cool.” Ed fiddles with his cap before murmuring something about bigger sounds and finally performing. Andy looks agitated. It is understood that the band—started by Ryan and Andy—follows their direction and decisions. And both of them are against the idea. When Andy leaves, he and Ed—who are best friends—are civil enough to each other, but there is a slight frostiness to the way they say goodbye. No real eye contact and curtly worded ‘byes’.

Ed’s fingers drum madly against his thigh. The fifth member idea that Ed has is one he is passionate about. “I just want to push Fixate. I’m trying to push us to be better. I have all these visions for it, and I really want to reach them. But sometimes, like, Ryan and Andy hold it back”.

He stops and looks guiltily as Ken. Ed is as loyal as they come, and he is caught between voicing his frustrations and seeming disloyal to his friends. He shrugs and then goes on, his eyes glued to his knees. “They hold it back, because they are—like the only word I can really is lazy—and don’t really want to try it out because it seems kinda hard.”

“I’m down” Ken says for the second time. Ed laughs.

“I don’t think it’d be that hard. Ken’s always down, and I want to try it, even if it doesn’t work. I want to try it, but Andy would be like, “I don’t even want to waste my time,” when I suggested the idea, he was like, ‘why don’t you just do keys?” and I’m like, ‘coz I jut want to play guitar! “ Ed gets up and plugs his Epiphone Dot into an amp and strikes a cacophonic blend of chords. “I think I’m gonna figure out a way though. I was thinking of just getting together with Brandon and writing, Write something I’m trying to get Fixate to do and just show them and say, ‘this is what I want to do, but you guys don’t want to’. Hopefully that way they’ll be like, ‘ok, lets give this a try’. Especially for live, I just think it’ll sound really epic. I want it to be just large sounding and big. I want it to be filling to my like, music hunger. I know we can do it. we’re all really capable of doing it. I just need to push them.

Ed is the driving creative force in the band. “This is going to sound cocky, but all the songs we have I brought the idea for. What they do is what they do,” he says referring to the rest of his band members, “what I do is try to direct…which Ryan does too. All the songs on the album were started by me. Then they did their thing, and it sounded really better.” In October of last year, frustrated at the band’s lack of initiative Ed threatened to quit. “I was sick of not having anything. We only started recording because I stopped participating. ‘I’ll go when we start recording’, Ed had told them.

People have been clamoring for them to play a show—something they are yet to do. Andy and the rest of Fixate agree that they are not setting their sights on Young the Giant Success. “We have to play one show and have it be SUPER EPIC. At least one or it will be a waste. We love the music and a bunch of people keep asking us about it. Ed, Andy and Ryan concur. Andy insists, “life without music is not an option.”

Ed whispers, “we will play y’know.” And they will.

The Danger and Dedication of Surfing

By Sofia Farooquee

"I could not help concluding this man had the most supreme pleasure while he was driven so fast and so smoothly by the sea." James Cook (European Discoverer of the Hawaiian Islands)

The weather is a perfect 70 degrees. Seagulls swarm the sky with not a cloud in sight. Palm trees adorn the long and winding stretch of sand and water. The sun shines in your eyes so that you need to put on your wayfarer sunglasses and the wind blows your hair in every direction. The warm sand caresses your toes as you prepare to enter the water. You hear a nearby surfer say "We are just in perfect water. The waves are perfect today, great barrels”. It is only six in the morning on a quiet October day but the Wedge off of Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, California is already packed with at least two dozen surfers and body boarders. Body boarders are similar to surfers in that they ride waves, but they ride waves on the surface of the water and ride on a small, rectangular piece of hydrodynamic foam. Most body boarders also use swim fins for better force and to control the waves. The boards are shaped to the rider's specific needs such as height, weight and riding style. These styles include prone (laying flat on your belly), dropknee (one foot forward and flat on the deck of the board and the back leg has its knee to ankle on the deck), and stand up (both feet on the deck). The 15 foot waves are huge as they encompass adventurists that are less than half of their height. The Wedge is “beyond challenging when you are on a surf board but when you are on a body board it’s like going to a circus and being able to complete every trick without even thinking about it”.

When you enter the water it’s a completely different feeling and all your worries go away and you don’t think about anything. You just enjoy your time to yourself away from the world. Time stops for you and for as long as you wish; it is just you and the water. There is no doubting the excitement and adrenaline that any surfer or body boarder has upon entering the water. It is an experience like no other. This experience is one that Alex Gero seeks daily in his search for thrills and adventure.

Body Boarder Alex Gero courtesy of Instinct Images

Alex Gero grew up in Newport Beach and began surfing at the age of nine and turned pro at 18. After competing for a while, he picked up body boarding which is something that he has met a lot of interesting people through and has come to really enjoy. He later got signed by Cartel which he describes as “golden” and “one of my biggest moments (in the surf world)”. Alex spends many hours a day in the ocean and loves being sponsored because it’s like “getting paid to do what you love”. Since getting sponsored, Alex has traveled all over the world to surf from Bali, to Costa Rica, to Australia. He admits, after surfing in Australia, that he wouldn’t mind having a vacation home there just to surf. Alex also confesses that he can easily spend more than 15 hours a week body boarding. To him, the natural high he gets from being in the water far outweighs the potential dangers. Right now, there is nothing else he would rather be doing with his time.

Body Boarder Alex Gero Courtesy of Alex Gero

Andrew Macrae, who surfs recreationally in Newport, describes surfing as “an escape from reality”. It is just you and the water and no one has to know what happened earlier that week or what is on your mind. Andrew says “You can’t describe the feeling of being in a big barrel, time stops, then it’s over and all you can think is “I want more!”. It really is a type of therapy for those who frequent the beach. “You just take one step on that sandy surface and alas you are free!” says Macrae. Surfing legend Andy Irons describes surfing as “the closest thing you can feel to being kissed by God”.

This experience that is so treasured by Southern Californians as well as water enthusiasts from all over the country is not always such a pleasant one. Alex admits “Surfing definitely takes a toll on you. I dislocated my shoulders and knees multiple times”. Alex recently tore the smaller tendons in his foot and the main tendon that connects to his big toe as well as having small fractures near the same area. This was while participating at Wave House in San Diego, one of his favorite places to practice for a competition. Alex describes the incident as “crazy, ridiculous and kind of mind blowing…especially coming out of the wave…limping around like a gimp and not really being able to walk”.

Wave House San Diego Courtesy of http://www.wavehouse.com/

Wave House is home to a giant pool with wave machines that can produce up to ten foot waves. It promotes something called flow boarding. Flow boarders ride on artificial waves or “sheet waves.” Sheet waves are stationary waves, in that the wave does not move forward, and the movement is derived from water flowing over a stationary surface. Powerful pumps project a three-inch layer of water at speeds ranging from 20 MPH to 30 MPH. The water flows up and over surfaces and is designed to replicate the shape of ocean waves. Flow boarders get their speed from the energy of the water flowing at them, and can perform basic to sophisticated turns and tricks within a relatively small area.The three strongest influences of flow boarding are surfing, snowboarding and skating but elements of wake skating, wakeboarding and skim boarding can be seen in everything from board construction to the riding styles and trick names. Board riding legends like Terje Haakonsen, Mike Stewart, Tony Hawk and Kelly Slater have played a key role in the evolution of the sport. There is even a Flow boarding magazine dedicated to the sport.

Wave House at Night Courtesy of Alex Gero

Alex’s injury at Wave House has kept him out of the water and on sick leave at his job for 2 months. He admits “I was so bored. I just sat there watching TV…wishing to be back in the ocean. Taking a surfer away from the ocean is like taking cocaine away from a crack addict”. It is definitely bittersweet to know that while you are doing something you love you can be harmed. Alex admits “The waves can get rough and you never know if you turn right too much or don’t time everything correctly…it’s not for the light hearted”. He knows of the dangers, but it is not something he can give up very easily, he says “I have been in the water in some form or another for almost ten years now…why would I stop now? I’ve gotten injured so many times, I’m pretty much unstoppable”. This feeling of being invincible is one that fills the minds of most thrill seekers who surf or body board.

In addition to being injured by the water, many surfers also have become prey to sharks that swim nearby. In recent news, a local body boarder from the University of Santa Barbara was killed by an 18 foot great white shark after bleeding to death from a severe wound to his left leg.

Lucas Ransom, 19, was surfing only 2 feet away from his friend Matthew Garcia when the shark attacked him. According to Garcia, “When the shark hit him, he just said, 'Help me, dude!' It was really fast. You just saw a red wave and this water is blue – as blue as it could ever be – and it was just red, the whole wave." When Garcia finally spotted Ransom’s red surfboard, “he already looked dead…kind of lifeless, just dead weight”. Sharks are a threat to every person that enters the water. Everyone has a chance of coming in contact with a shark, whether you are just relaxing and enjoying the waves or out for an adventure at sea. It is a fact however, that you are more prone to be struck by lightning in your lifetime than be bitten by a shark (Lightning Fatalities, Injuries and Damage Reports in the United States from 1959-1994, NOAA). You are also more likely to die from a fatal dog attack than a shark attack (National Canine Research Foundation/www.dogbitelaw.com and www.dogsbite.org). The number one cause of death is currently heart disease with 1 in 5 people dying of heart disease in their lifetime (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

This may come as a surprise to many but the majority of surf-related injuries are actually from the surf board itself: “66% of surfing injuries result from contact with a surfboard's sharp fins and nose”. Surfboard fins are so dangerous because, with use, they can become sharp with rough edges. These edges actually help improve the speed of the board, but can be very dangerous, especially when beaches are crowded and there is less space to maneuver your board. If the sharp part of a board’s fins or nose hits a surfer or body boarder in the wrong area of their body like their eye or groin, it can be very painful.

While riding atop a perfect wave, there are also things below the surface that can harm you. In areas that attract massive waves, rocks and corral have proven to be fatal. Wiping out into a reef can knock a surfer unconscious, allowing him to be battered by the waves against the reef. Some surfers have even drowned as a result of being caught against corral by their leash. Many surfers in search of larger waves won't leash themselves to their surfboards for this reason. Less than five years ago in 2009, a body surfer died after being thrown against the rocks at the Wedge in Newport Beach in 20-foot waves.

The height of waves can also be quite frightening for beginners and pro surfers alike. Once you enter a large wave, there is no telling what will happen afterwards. If a surfer looses their equilibrium and falls off their board, they maybe under for a while and only have 20 seconds before the next wave hits them. Additionally, the water pressure at depths of 20 to 50 feet can be enough to rupture one’s eardrums. One of the greatest dangers is being held underwater for more than three waves, which is extremely difficult to survive.

It is 5 a.m. and Alex’s brother Nik parks his blue pickup truck in the Newport Beach parking lot. Swells are predicted to be huge today. The surf report predicts 8 to 15 feet. He realizes it is early, but surfing takes dedication. The best waves are in the early hours of the morning and even if it means not staying out late the night before, to him it is worth it. He knows of the risks but to him doing something you love at every free moment you have means more than always being afraid of what may happen. He hops out of the truck- surfboard in hand, ready to take on the waves. “Let’s do this!” he exclaims, excited to enter the ocean. Signs posted along the beach warn inexperienced swimmers of the danger and Nik continues on in search of a sweet spot for Alex to watch and take pictures as he surfs. Nik seems to be aware of the immediate danger but ventures willingly into the ocean for that perfect wave.

Reporting Notes
3 hour long Interviews with Alex Gero
1 hour interview with Nik Gero
30 minute interview with Andrew Macrae
Weekly observations at Newport and Huntington Beach
Short interviews with local surfers