Monthly Archives: July 2014

Why the Hyatt Regency Maui?

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Folks who know The Classical Girl still might not be aware that, sandwiched between my ballet dancer cycles, and long before my writing career commenced, I worked for Hyatt Hotels for close to four years. It was after my stint in Africa with the Peace Corps, when returning to Kansas became quite the letdown after having traveled the world. But family was in Kansas, and a career with Hyatt Hotels proved a good solution. I spent my shift assisting travelers, first at the front desk and in ensuing months within the sales department, helping plan meetings and conferences. I worked in a luxurious, attractive property that strove to balance the whirlwind nature of travel with the comfort of a temporary home base. I fell in love with hotels and the industry as much as I’d done with travel, and fortunately, Hyatt Hotel’s policy of twelve free stays in any domestic Hyatt Hotel gave me the opportunity to travel and explore the country in elegant style. Years (okay, decades) later, I don’t miss the stress and demands of working in the hotel industry, but boy oh boy, do I miss those beautiful hotels and the sense of belonging I always felt in them.

Time for a return, in a big way.

Maui has been voted “Best Island in the World” by Condé Nast Traveler, and provides an excellent solution to visitors undecided about which island to settle on. The big island of Hawaii offers more physical activity, day trips, hikes and such, while Kauai is smaller, greener, more bucolic (read: duller for our teen son). Maui however, balances itself in the middle of the other two experiences. Maui, therefore, it was. We commenced our six-day vacation with three nights in Hana, accessible via a torturous, narrow winding road with eye-popping scenery and hairpin turns alike. You edge your car along the narrow road, the majestic Pacific Ocean murmuring just below on your left, lush tropical foliage, flowers and waterfalls pressed up against your right side, and you hope the other drivers don’t hit you through the many one-lane roads and bridges. It’s great to stay overnight in Hana to decompress from the drive, which truly is a must-do when you’re on the island, but much better as a multi-day trip. And I loved sleepy, rural, rainy Hana, East Maui’s beauty, soulfulness, brilliant greens and red/yellow/purple flowers, the banana trees, guava and passion fruit trees all within reach at the cottage where we were staying. The two days spent there were comfortably reminiscent, in fact, of my Africa experience, except that everyone spoke English, used dollars, and the nearby Hasegawa General Store (owned/operated by the same family since 1910) provided all the comfort food ingredients you could ask for.

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But after three nights in Hana, the teen son was growing restless, and it was time to head over to the resort side of the island, West Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach and the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. It’s a rather iconic property in my mind, not just because I used to dream over the pictures in my Hyatt days. Back in 1980, upon its completion, it was the first destination resort of its kind in the world, offering a “resort as concept” kind of property that would forever change how Americans (and the rest of the world) viewed resorts. (An odd fact I learned while living in England: there, the town is the resort, not its hotels. The word comes from the French re-sortir, as in, “a place frequently visited.” Brighton is a resort, not a resort town, in England.)

Staying at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa was, in truth, a big splurge. We didn’t opt for the budget rooms (currently there’s great rates on “obstructed view” rooms that face adjacent construction) either. I went for hedonism: partial ocean view, on the Regency Club level, and I have no regrets about the extra cost. The property is located on 40 acres of oceanfront property, has 806 rooms, a gorgeous open-air atrium lobby, and everything feels spacious, luxurious, courtesy of an extensive $15 million renovation completed in 2011.

At the Hyatt Regency Maui, a philosophy of “bring outside in, and inside out” is employed, which describes it perfectly. The lobby is atrium and open-air. Both here and throughout the grounds, artwork and antique sculptures add an elegant, tasteful touch. It imbues the place with spirit, a delicate, gracious ambiance. Within the lobby, the ponds hold not just the requisite orange and white koi, but houses South African penguins (third generation, at that) and birds that can be persuaded to chat with you from their perch. Outside, more ponds, more wildlife, including swans, flamingos and ducks. The grounds, the Oriental garden in particular, are spacious, beautifully landscaped, inviting, serene, perfect for strolling.

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A key facet of the Hyatt experience is their customer service. 2014 marks Hyatt Hotel’s first year on the Fortune 500 “Top 100 companies to work for” list. A press release shares their secret: 
After two years of research that revealed consumers view the hotel industry as ‘one size fits all,’ Hyatt began re-examining its business to create a distinctive experience based on individual preferences. In order to deliver that experience to associates and create a more meaningful career experience, Hyatt is taking steps to transform its operations to unlock individual innovation within each employee.”

Which, in layman’s terms, means they respond quickly in addressing complaints, implementing solutions immediately, at both management and line employee level. Employees are encouraged and empowered to solve issues quickly, creatively, to maximum customer satisfaction. They don’t just shrug and wait for things to get better. If people are saying on social media that something sucks, it’s addressed and fixed fast. Employees care, they’re proud of their brand, they’re eager to help guests, and it shows.

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A resort’s pool is a place where a lot of guests spend a lot of time. This one is as spectacular as you’d expect. Two free-forming pools are divided by waterfalls, a half-acre of swimmage amid a million gallons of water with a kids’ section and a 150-foot lava tube water slide. My son loved swimming under the waterfalls and exploring the darkened grotto section of the pool that connects the two sides of the pool complex. It’s lots of fun, although I must say I enjoyed the pools more in the morning and late afternoon, before and after the crowds. One negative is the way guests stake out a prime spot, in the shade or right in front of the pool, draping their towels over the lounge chair at 7am and claiming it for the day, even as they themselves wander off to eat breakfast, take long walks, etc. But that’s the nature of the beast. It didn’t matter so much to me; we were not sit-all-day-by-the-pool types, but I felt sorry for those arriving at 9:30am, looking around bewildered at the sea of empty lounge chairs claimed by a towel and a magazine. And serendipity favored us, opening shaded spots for my son and I just as we were strolling past both afternoons. (Tip: wait till the others burn out, literally and figuratively, and grab a prime seat at 2:30pm.)

It should be mentioned, as well, that the beach directly in front of the Hyatt is narrow, and once you’re in the water it gets rocky fast. Coupled with a brisk undertow, swimming felt a little treacherous, but for the disadvantage of not having the best beach in front of you, you have the advantage of a quieter walk-on-the-beach experience. This property is on the end of Kana’apali Beach, with the Westin being more in the center of things. (Read: more noisy and hectic.) I don’t need to be in the center of things all that much, and as we’re talking a 10 minute beach stroll to get there, I rather appreciate the Hyatt’s location.

Another caveat to be aware of: in addition to the room charges, there is a daily resort fee of $30 (like at most full-service resorts on the island) that doesn’t include parking. Ouch. Like I said, this wasn’t a cheap trip. I still argue, however, that it was worth it. For dance and fitness buffs, it’s doubly worthy: the Hyatt Regency Maui’s athletic center is extensive, full of up-to-date equipment, open 24 hours, and best of all, has a separate studio with wonderful fitness classes. I’d have gladly paid $15 elsewhere for the two yoga classes I took that my body craves, even (or especially) when on vacation. For those who’d rather have someone else perform the bodywork on them, the athletic center is connected to a full service spa, the recently rebranded Kamaha’o Marilyn Monroe Spa, which strives to imbue a sense of relaxed playfulness into the spa experience, a glorious “go ahead and spoil yourself” opportunity.

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Have I mentioned food? Because of course I need to do that. The restaurant, Japengo, served up the best sushi/sashimi I’ve ever had, not to mention delivering the pleasure of eating outdoors at night, in their lounge, adjacent to the pool. And my favorite perk of staying on the Regency Club level was the food: generous breakfasts in the morning, hors d’oeuvres and drinks in the evening, and desserts and cordials two hours later. The 2000 square feet lounge on the 22nd floor divides up into three rooms, each with a lanai (Hawaiian for “patio”) for an al fresco experience if it’s too crowded inside. Breakfast was the most impressive spread, an excellent selection of fresh tropical fruits, espresso and other coffee drinks, cheese and meats tray, oatmeal, cereals, pastries, and one hot dish that alternated each day. Sipping a glass of wine in the evening, nibbling on snacks (again, always one hot dish to accompany the cheese and snack trays set up) felt utterly magical, and my son loved that we had two home bases during those times – both the room and the Regency Club, keeping the three of us from feeling too enclosed in just the one room.

Hyatt has been thoughtful about décor, how they fill their space, how they present their product. While the resort was a “one of a kind” experience back in the early 1980’s, today it competes with a half-dozen other luxury, full-service properties in the area, including the Westin, Sheraton and Ritz Carlton. But I have to say, I’m still a fan of “the Hyatt touch.” To me, even after all the time between my years of employment with them, Hyatt Hotels still feels like coming home.

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Which way is the dancer turning?

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All right, readers, opinions, please. Which way do you see the dancer turning? This psychological study fascinates me. My first reaction to seeing this, years back, had me thinking, oh, clockwise. Without question. I felt like surely it was a trick question. And, further, suggestions that I could make it go the other way seemed just as preposterous.

But the secret, of course, is not to strive, not to stare really hard, but to un-stare. Un-strive. Relax your focus. Like with those computer generated 3-D images from the 1990’s that for some reason, I just love. I’m crazy about the way I seem to slip into it, inside that world, just like you can sink into a good, old-fashioned novel, letting the story wholly absorb you.

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So, I un-thought about it.

And there you have it, I’m making the dancer turn counter-clockwise. And now it floors me that 1) I couldn’t do it before and 2) that I could have ever thought she was going clockwise and 3) how easy, and yet paradoxically, how difficult it is to make her shift movement.

I love this kind of stuff, messing with my brain in this way, and then figuring out what it says about me. It is argued by many that if you made it go clockwise, then you use more the right side of your brain. Counter-clockwise means you favor the left side.

Do you agree? Here’s a generic recap of what the two sides bring to the equation.

RIGHT BRAIN FUNCTIONS               LEFT BRAIN FUNCTIONS

  • uses feeling                                    uses logic
  • “big picture” oriented                   detail oriented
  • imagination rules                          facts rule
  • symbols and images                     words and language
  • present and future                        present and past
  • philosophy & religion                    math and science
  • can “get it” (i.e. meaning)             can comprehend
  • believes                                           knows
  • knows object function                  knows object name
  • presents possibilities                    forms strategies
  • impetuous                                      practical

 

10 reasons ballet dancers hate Black Swan

Book 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, Outside the Limelight, is a Kirkus Indie Books of the Month selection for Jan 2017! Celebrating with a $2.99 sale HERE

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I hated Black Swan. Successful film that it was, I hated many things about it, mostly the way it depicted ballet dancers in a way real enough to convince the mainstream population they were seeing the real deal, behind the heavy velvet curtains. But, oh, come on.

I wasn’t blogging when it came out in 2011. Everyone else wanting to rant has had their rant. Now I get mine.

Everyone knows what the movie’s about, right? You’re not going to make me suffer through writing a synopsis, are you? The heroine, for lack of a better term, is ballet professional Nina, talented but wimpy, over-connected to mommy, who commences a descent into madness while grappling with both her need for perfection and her inability to master both the White Swan and Black Swan for the company’s upcoming performance of Swan Lake. Oh, and toss into the equation rival Lily. Who’s far more intriguing than whiny Nina from the get-go.

Lame synopsis, I know. But so’s the movie. No, correction. It’s an award winning film, a great horror flick and psychological thriller. It’s just not a great ballet flick. I don’t know any ballet dancer who enjoyed the film. Why, you ask? Ooh, thank you!

Ten reasons we ballet dancers hate Black Swan

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1) Nina is a wimp. She’s timid. She spends most of her day with a panic-stricken expression. Zero confidence on her face, in her body language. She doesn’t pour her pathos into her dancing (maybe because the actress isn’t a real dancer and doesn’t understand how). Great acting, for the talented, lovely Portman. Except that, um, ballet dancers just aren’t that way.

2) In the morning, when the women arrive for company class and a day of rehearsing, apparently they flock to the dressing room and pile in there (one room), and carefully apply makeup, the full works. Um? That’s what you do 60 minutes before curtain for a performance. WTF, is company class a glamour show? You enjoy that mask-like full makeup feeling at 10am?

3) In company class, during barre, artistic directors don’t walk in and commence a digression, a motivational speech, while the dancers are immersed in their exercise. Barre is for doing barre. Announcements come afterward.

4) The artistic director is grossly over-sharing. “Sex – do you enjoy it?” he asks Nina. “I mean, come on. We need to be able to talk about this. [..] I don’t want there to be boundaries between us.” Well, now. That’s got the making of a functional, professional relationship. Um, best not to let the AGMA rep hear about this. Or the labor board. Or the BBB. And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse… “I got a little homework assignment for you. Go home, and touch yourself.” Ewww.

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5) In the movie, there is one lone principal. There is, at some point, the announcement of a new lone principal. There is a suicide of aforementioned lone principal when she becomes a “former.” (Oops, should I have said “spoiler alert?” Nah…) Oh, wrong in so many ways. Companies have a handful of soloists and principals. (See rant #9.) Not one lone star. And suicide over the loss? People. Career dancers go on to have other lives, even as they might struggle with the transition. Suicidal depression and ballet meet far less than you’d think, watching Hollywood’s rendition (as do psychosis and ballet). Ballet dancers are warriors. From an early age, they’re well trained to cope with tremendous pain and disappointment. To rise to the top of the top, you understand that pain and disappointment are part of the package. The eventual pain and insecurity of pondering “what comes next?” are, as well. You deal. You are a survivor.

6)   Mommy is Nina’s roommate. Mommy helps undress her. Mommy helps her sew her pointe shoe ribbons. Mommy clips her nails too. Just in case you don’t get how wrong this is, let me elaborate: the average professional ballet dancer, particularly one in a top tier company, has quite possibly been living on her own, fending for herself, since age 14. If you live in a ballet city, that’s way cool. But ever so many young dancers whose talent will take them to the rank of principal, will head off to New York, San Francisco, Paris, Moscow, London, Amsterdam, etc, on their own. Live in a dorm. The Vaganova Academy takes kids at age ten. If you’re good, bound for the high echelons, you learn at a very early age how to be self-sufficient. Further, real dance moms are such unsung heroes, such diligent, solid supporters of their daughter’s careers, it burns me to see a dance mom portrayed in such an icky fashion. Creepy, creepy. Okay, successful psychological thriller flick fodder. Just not how it is in the dance world.

7)  Lily, Nina’s nemesis, dancing in rehearsal, laughing and relaxed, has her hair down, swinging all over the place. We are made to believe that she is somehow upstaging the uptight Nina, the ultimate bunhead. Okay. The tucked-away hair thing—we dancers like the feeling. As a lifelong exerciser, I want my hair to be out of my face while moving. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. It looks stupid and distracting, all that loose hair. It gets in your mouth. It clings to your sweaty parts. It does not feel liberating. It’s claustrophobia-producing. A woman doing ballet with long hair down (unless it’s a contemporary ballet performance and thus intentional) doesn’t look free and relaxed, she looks like someone who isn’t a ballet dancer and who has no sense of the dance etiquette.

8) Sarah Lane didn’t get the recognition she deserved.

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Don’t believe the Fox Searchlight/Portman camp propaganda. Natalie Portman didn’t do 90 percent of the dancing. There’s all sorts of neat editing you can do with one person’s moving body and another person’s head superimposed. Great job there! There was a lot of hype, just before the Academy Awards, at how neat it was that Natalie could dance like a professional after only two years of training. That would certainly be a neat trick. But we can tell, we ballet dancers, when we’re seeing the real deal. Hint: the tight neck and expressions were Natalie’s. Hint: the ungainly hands were hers, as were the stiff port de bras movements. On the other hand, the tight fifth positions, the bourrées, the turns, the elegant lines, were Sarah Lane’s. Yes, you can “learn” ballet in two years. But you will look like someone who learned ballet in two years. Someone who has been at it since childhood, who spends six hours a day at the craft, will have a finesse, an authenticity, an innate sense of grace that you simply can’t learn quickly.

9) Lily, the newcomer, has been made Nina’s alternate for Odette/Odile (AKA the white/black swan). Well, gosh, that’s fine thinking on the artistic director’s part to have more than one dancer learning the lead role. Positively inspired. He’s really thinking outside the box there. This is sarcasm. I’ll stop now, in order to inform you that there are usually multiple casts when a ballet company performs Swan Lake. It’s not a cheap production to put on; companies that can afford to produce it will have the means and funds for multiple casts. And a smart artistic director knows to share the wealth and not piss off talented dancers who are at the same level. Early in the movie, it looked like there were five or six talented soloists vying for the role. Poof, they disappeared, it seems. Too bad, so sad.

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10) Most of all, we ballet dancers hate how our beautiful ballet world and craft have been distorted, made tawdry and sort of unclean. This pure art of ours that’s so much about beauty and grace and, okay, yes, the pursuit of perfection and its impossibility to arrive there, and yes, that is neurotic to strive so passionately, ignoring physical pain and the low odds of success. But it’s the good kind of neurotic. Say, the obsession of someone training for the Olympics. In fact, consider this: what if they did a similar movie on the Olympics, the dirt behind the scenes? Not the administrators, but the athletes? Their training, their grueling struggle to achieve the highest echelons. Feels kinda wrong to propose it, huh? I don’t know about you, but in my mind, we need our purer endeavors, vocations, to make up for the cluttered nature of the commercial world.

Okay, so maybe I’ve gotten a little sanctimonious here. Preachy about tainting high art with commercialism. I have a sense of sport, a sense of humor, honest. Even about ballet. Which is why I’m offering a bonus reason here, in the opposite direction. Here’s the number one best thing about seeing Black Swan: I can really, really enjoy the SNL spoof of it, with Jim Carrey as the ultimate black swan. Oh, too much fun. Readers, enjoy. And don’t go saying The Classical Girl doesn’t have a sense of humor about Really Bad Ballet. (If embed isn’t working, go HERE.)