Monday, October 15, 2012

Boxers & Burlesque Dancers


The light slaps my cheek like a jilted lover, and I leap out from  beneath the warm covers. This is to be a day of leaping, from my bed and from my comfort zone.

Several stops on the F, 6 and 2 trains and I'm in The Bronx.  I walk up and down the streets for over an hour in the heat, unable to find the gym where I've been invited to photograph boxers.  People I ask directions from have never heard of the gym or the street, and since my ipod doesn't work here, I'm on my own, sans map.   If I hadn't been in such a hurry to leave the house, if I had mapped out my route before I left the house, if I'd been more prepared when I left the house... I'd know where I'm going and I wouldn't be beating myself up now.

The Universe never fails to delight me, and I stop one last person to ask directions before I decide to give up and head home. Josie, a photographer for The Bronx Times, kindly offers to drive me to the gym.  And drive she does.  The map on her iphone is frozen, my ipod doesn't work, so we're literally driving up and down streets, asking guys in their driveways for help.  Surely men will know where the boxing gym is.  I mean, they're men, right?

Finally, one man does know, gesturing us in the right direction.  Turns out, we're on the wrong side of the tracks, literally!

And so I arrive, on time, unscathed, and only slightly sweaty,  thanks to my angel Josie who I'm sure doesn't offer rides to strangers often.  And thanks to John, a man I met in Chelsea last week, who invited me to the Aaron David Boxing Gym in The Bronx, I spend the afternoon photographing boxers. These young men who came to the gym to sweat and train and throw the bag around, but who happily pose and who make me smile with their innocence and openness.

Aaron Davis owns and manages the gym.  He's a dynamically intelligent and outspoken man, a man who won the WBA Welterweight Title in 1990.  John, Aaron and I talk politics, covering the Obama vs Romney discussion, and then, John and I step back out in to the bright light of the day.  I want to spend more time with Aaron, but the gym is closing and I have other places to be.

I smile when I think of the events that led me here:  If I had not gotten tickets to the dance performance at the Joyce Theatre.  If I had not gone outside during intermission and been photographing the theatre awning.  If John had not been outside at the exact moment I was and as exhuberant as he is to jump in to my photograph. If he had not given me his email and asked me to send a copy of the image to him.  I would not have wandered in to a boxing gym on my own.

This is what I love about the spontaneity of life: the twists and turns of paths crossing... This crossing of paths has been happening to me the entire time I've been here: incredible encounters with amazing individuals that make me laugh, make me smile, challenge my assumptions and perceptions, make me grow as a person.

These are New Yorkers just doing what they do, and while doing so, bumping up alongside me on my pilgrimage.

Walking to the subway station, John and I pass street after street of small businesses, and he notes just how big the sky is, here in The Bronx.

Burlesque Dancers 

I'm not one for nudity.  My middle name, though Marie, could easily be Prudence, short for prude.  I admit it and I'm fine with it.  So, when I saw the flyer for a Burlesque show in SoHo, my first instinct was to ignore it, shunning what embarrasses me or what I judge to be immoral or wrong.  But, I'm in New York City.  This entire adventure that I've sought is calling me to step from the comfort of my day to day life and experience people, places and things in new ways.  And so, instead of ignoring the flyer, I write down the information in my notebook and when I'm back in my room, I email and reserve a seat.

Now I'm waking around, trying to find the Bathtub Gin, a club tucked in the back of a coffee shop.  The address is 132 - 9th Avenue, so I'm walking and walking and circumnavigating 13th Street and 9th Avenue.  Finally, as my feet begin to ache from pacing up and down the beautiful but treacherous cobblestone streets, I pop in to a restaurant and when I ask for directions, the owner smiles like a man who I can expect to see there later, and tells me that it's between 18th and 19th street.  

Of course it is, how silly of me to think that 13th & 9th would be on 13th & 9th.  I'm happy that I'm now on track and that I'm not wearing heels.

The door to the club is nearly invisible and when the woman opens it to let me in, I have to look twice to see that the door actually exists.  I'm the only person in the room as I'm nearly and hour early.  If I'm going to step out of my "prude zone", then I'm sure not going to sit in the back, stuffed behind bookcases or a couch or bottles of gin.

I take my seat and nestle in to write as I sip what I will only find out later when my bill arrives, a $15 margarita.  This margarita is the same size and I'm assuming the same alcohol that I had two nights ago while out listening to live music.  That drink was $6.  I know these things because I'm on a tight budget.  Leaving one's jobs to move to the city can do that!  I'm not sure what special potion is in this drink, or perhaps the glass is leaded crystal, but I enjoy it and as the warm liquid hits my blood, that drifting sensation that alcohol provides settles me deeper in to my black, leather chair.

I write.  I drink.  I order hummus and cheese to try to counteract the woozy, drifting, drunk feeling I have.  Ah, there's my $15 worth!  Straight couples, gay couple, small groups and friends are seated around me.  As the lights dim and the quiet jazz music becomes less background and more boisterous, the air in the room becomes thick and we become one, mesmerized by the flickering candles, the warming alcohol and the deep music.

One by one, the girls take their turns and dance through the aisles.  They shimmer and shimmy in sequined gowns, eyes outlined in dark, smudged pencil and lips the color of blood.  They sway and bend and lift and kneel and slowly they stand before us in just tassles and bows.

I look around the room and smile at the young men who are too shy to look and the older men who are not too shy to clap and holler, to whistle and cheer.  I love innocent men and I love confident men.  I find the blend of the two very intriguing.
  The last woman bends and contorts herself in to beautifully athletic poses on the rim of the tub, resting gracefully for just a moment before plunging in to the water and then leaping out, covering the nearby tables and patrons at these tables with tepid water.

The lights rise, the music stops and slowly the crowds begin to talk, to mingle.  I make my way through the throngs of people, and out in to the night.  

As I ride the F train home, I think of what it must take to dance like that for a living: confidence, endurance, flexibility, discipline, poise, grace.  I wonder if they're fearless or if they simply push past their fears.


Josiane Bauke said...

Hi Christina,

I just have to say that it was wonderful meeting you yesterday. I had no intentions of "leaping out of my comfort zone" but I did. I never ever allow a total stranger in my car. But, for some reason, after speaking to you for only a few minutes, I knew instinctively that I just had to help you achieve your goal.

I hope to some day see you again!

Christina Whiting said...

Hi Josie. It was so kind of you to not only give me a ride, but to drive me around while we tried to find the gym. As you can see, I got some great shots and was able to be relaxed, not too sweaty, and on time, because of you. I would have given up after walking in the heat for so long... Thanks so much for stepping outside of your comfort zone to help a stranger in need. What makes your stopping even more special to me is that I had a nasty encounter with a very rude bus driver about fifteen minutes before meeting you and so was not only feeling lost, but sad and angry too. I'd love to properly thank you over a cup of coffee or glass of wine, if you have the inclination and time. I'll be back in your neck of the woods soon as I want to do a story on Aaron Davis, the owner of the gym. I ran out of time on Sunday... I'm eager to read and see your article on the pricey pumpkins, so I'll watch for it in an upcoming The Bronx Times.

Taz said...

Fav image = glove + towel
Fav description= These are New Yorkers just doing what they do, and while doing so, bumping up alongside me on my pilgrimage.
Eager to know what was going on in the gym?
thanx for the peak into the bronx

Christina Whiting said...

Hi Taz.
Thanks for sharing your favorites...
This is the Aaron Davis Boxing Gym in The Bronx.
A very small gym that's only been open a month.
The owner, Aaron Davis, is a world champion boxer and a very nice, humble but amazing guy with lots of stories to share.
A new friend, John, teaches boxing at this gym and invited me to hang out and photograph the boxers, studio, etc.
There were just a hand full of guys when I got there, as it was close to closing time, but they were all very happy to be photographed and to chat with me.
I'm going to go back before the end of the month when I have more time to shoot and shoot the breeze!
I thought you might like to go here when you come to New York, even though it's outside of Brooklyn!

Taz Tally said...

So what was the prude's reaction to the nudity & sexy dancing?

Christina Whiting said...

Ah ha. I will edit my writing to answer your question. Stay tuned!