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About me!

A little about me, where I am from and where I am going!
by

Karen Tait

on 20 January 2013

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Transcript of About me!

And one more thing... is here I studied in Otago University, completing a BSc (hons) in Anatomy and Structural biology in 2004. I continued studyinh the development of peripheral nerves, and gained an MSc (dist) in the same subject in 2006. At this point I decided to escape the cold and moved to Australia to happily pursue my scientific career. Born and raised as a country girl in Ashburton, I grew up independent and headstrong. I always had a taste for adventure and other cultures and a love for discovering the stories of others... a sign of things to come perhaps! Subject 1 Growing up University I worked as a Research Assistant in Melbourne for 2.5yrs. I was involved in an exciting project tracking the real-time migration of very early neurons in brain development. I was a movie-maker of the brain! The day came though when my neurons were simply not stimulating enough though, and adventure called... Working in Science I went on holiday for 3 weeks to Vietnam and it changed my life. I realised that there was a lot more that I wanted to do than chase neurons around brain slices all day. I met so many incredible people and experienced such a warm and open culture that I couldn't contemplate a life in Melbourne anymore. An irrepresible forest fire was ignited in my soul to explore, meet people, learn a language and connect to the human race. There was no going back.... so I returned to Australia, did a TESOL certificate, quit my job and moved to South America. Vietnam changed my life Chile I found work with Grant's English, an institute specializing in teaching business English in small classes, tailored to suit the clients. I loved it and have been there ever since. I was promoted to the position of Academic Director in September 2009 and loved the challenge and responsibility that this position offered. However, in June 2012 new challenges presented themselves and I made the difficult decision to move on.... Teaching My window into Chilean life was the traditional dance of the Cueca. See a story I wrote about it, and a video clip to understand more. Cueca I won’t profess to being an expert Cuecera, but since arriving in Chile six months ago I have devoted a substantial number of nights and a large portion of my pride, to learning the national dance of Chile.
On first sight, about three months after I arrived, the Cueca was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen. A repetitive wailing song with a similar melody for every song, and a man and a women waving their hankies at each other while dancing in apparently random circles, stomping their feet, and not touching except for miraculously ending arm in arm at the end. But it grows on you, like heroin.
Oh how my perception has changed! Now I see the cueca as one of the most sexy, powerful and symbolic dances I have ever known. The rhythm courses along my neurons well after the pandero has ceased, and the music and words have a significance of time, place and general nostalgia that I have not experienced before. Its not my own nostalgia (how could it be when I have only know it for a few months), rather the representation of a torrid history and the resilience of the people that have kept its spirit alive. The more I learn the stronger the addiction grasps.
The basics of the Cueca as I grasp them are as follows. It is a dance with arguable origins that became very popular in the country and bordillos of the mid twentieth century. It depicts the act of seduction, using the metaphor of the rooster and the hen. The rooster is showy, dominant and at times aggressive, while the hen is coy and coquettish with her pursuer. It is basically divided into three parts separated by the partners swapping places on the dance floor and briefly making a turn away from one another. In the first part the dancers describe a rough semi-circle, with the rooster pursuing his interest. The second part has more give and take with a pursuit and retreat, and the hen can take more power here. The final part is characterised by stomping on the ground by both the hen and the rooster and after the final turn the hen ends up on the arm of the rooster, as his prize. However, the hen ultimately holds the power as she decides whether she will accept her rooster or not. The most important thing in the cueca is not how well you twirl your hankie, or the fancy footwork, but the eye contact and intensity with which you dance.
The style of Cueca varies immensely, depending on whom you are dancing with where. Watching some people it is like sex on the dance floor with all your clothes on and no touching, super slow, with their eyes only breaking at the times when it is required to turn away. Others dance a more fun bouncy cueca, with less aggression and more of a feel of a country picnic. The historic cueca is somewhere in the middle, with sliding movemoents of the feet and loose knees, but a generally fairly erect posture of a proud chilean dancer. And this is only the urban Cueca. Traditional Cueca is much different, but also has differing connotations. Dancers in traditional dress still dance a highly choreographed and structured cueca after national parades, as mandated by Pinochet during the 70’s to try and raise national patriotism. I don’t know how Pinochet would feel about the “sex on a stick” cueca that can be seen in the clubs of today!
Perhaps the most powerful part of the history that I have learnt since I have been here is the legacy of the Cueca during the Pinochet years. In stark contrast to the regimented cueca of the Pinochet mandate, women of the “disappeared” men danced the cueca solo as a protest, in front of government buildings around the city. The idea of forcefully stopping innocent women dancing alone was too much even for Pinochet and his men, and it was the only form of protest during those years that didn’t end in bloodshed or disappearance. They quickly became celebrities, and this was possibly the only thing that did save them from disappearance, as they surely must have been a deviation in the clean parallel lines of right and wrong that were drawn (1).
September is the month of Cueca and general chilean patriotism. Everywhere you turn the city is draped in red white and blue flags and banners. It is actually a law here that you display a chilean flag outside your house for the national independence holiday and the two days flanking it. It is not however, a national requirement to love cueca. In fact, many Chileans look upon it as the dance of the country, and don’t appreciate the revival in its popularity.
Cueca has been my window into Chilean life. Quite literally, it has been the primary way that I have been learning Spanish. From those first days bumbling around the dance floor with my very patient teacher, flicking people in the eyes with my hankie and not understanding a word of the instructions, to today dancing reasonably well and understand much of the conversation around me. It has been a slow process on both fronts, but every Thursday I turned up religously to cueca. This devotion to the national dance (and willingness to make a fool of myself while learning), has facilitated some strong friendships, from people who were at first somewhat wary of me. It is necessary to prove yourself to some extent in all countries, and Chile is no exception. The people here while warm and friendly once you get to know them, can at times be very suspicious of foreigners, especially the women. They are under the impression that we are here to steal their men. The similarity to the rooster proving his worth to the hen is strong, and I feel that I have done my time as the rooster and am now allowed to sit back with a glass of rum and be a hen for a while.
In cueca, the hen ultimately holds the power. That is the way that I see the chilean family situation too. Although it is a masochist society, with men making come-ons in the street frequently, ultimately the women hold the power. Their coquetish ways aren’t restricted to the dance floor, and while they appear demure while dancing cueca, there is fire hiding not far from the surface. It seems (solely on observation), that the women make the men chase hard, (like the rooster), and once the man has snared them she doesn’t let him forget it!
Cueca reflects the history of discrimination in class and socio-economic standing in Chile as well as any social lecture ever could. Originally popular in the more dangerous areas of the city, and the country, it was originally shunned by the upper-classes. The cueca brava, a more organic form of the dance virtually disappeared during the Pinochet era, when the regimented version was embraced by these upper-classes. The cueca brava is undergoing a revival now though, with the youth of Santiago embracing the music and themes as their own. To me, this reflects a change in the discrimination of the class system also, with young people influenced more strongly than ever before by western culture. In a way, the revival of the Cueca is a rebellion against this westernisation by some of the youth, and a strengthening of the national unity and patriotism, but not as Pinochet ever imagined it. It is now becoming more recognised as a symbol common to all socio-economic classes too, which to me also reflects a softening and increasing acceptance of people of a lower status within the society, and a realisation that it is often solely circumstances and not through any fault or flaw of their own, that they are less educated or privileged than others. This is strengthening in the youth of today, though it still feels that other generations may be struggling with this realisation.
For me, Cueca has allowed me an open door into Chilean life. With my somewhat improved Spanish, and my pandero in hand, any given night at a Cueca fiesta will bring conversations with many new people. Mostly they are curious as to how and why this gringa dances Cueca, but I don’t mind explaining it, as it always leads to conversation, and usually new friends. This way, I am not left on the sidelines, rather embraced by people interested in reviving and moulding the culture of this country, and that is what the Cueca is all about, the rooster and the hen, dancing together to discover what makes the other unique. Cueca as a Metaphor for Chilean Life I am very interested in the approached of task based learning and unplugged teaching. I believe tjat especially with adults they must notice their own mistakes to learn from them, and to do this they must be actively using language that is useful for them. I am also interested in the way that technology could be introduced into more of my classes to hopefully provide a little more motivation for some of my unmotivated learners. My students love playing on their smart phones, so why not utilise some of that 'playtime' for learning English!! Teaching Philosophy I hope that you have enjoyed learning a little about me. I look forward to learning all about you too. After all, I love meeting new people! The End English Coordination In June 2012 I started as an English coordinator in 3 subvencionado schools in poorer areas in Santiago. My job is to supervise and improve the English programme in these schools following an improvement plan. Motivation is low among the students and teachers, and support from home often non existant. It is a job full of challenges, and I am loving it! There is a lot more information about this on my blog: http://theflightlessenglishteacher.blogspot.com/
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