June 30 – Anniversary of a Ballet First

Posted on June 30, 2016

In May, 2015, Misty Copeland was certainly one of the most famous ballerinas in the United States. She had been interviewed on TV, she had appeared on the cover of non-ballet magazines like Time, and she had starred in an online ad that had been viewed more than 8,000,000 times! She had lines of fans waiting for autographs after her performances, and she had danced in some of ballet's biggest roles, on some of its biggest stages.

And yet she still hadn't been promoted to “principal dancer.”

Finally, on this date in 2015, she became the first African-American woman to be named a principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater.

(Black dancers have broken through “the color barrier” and been named principal dancers in other prestigious ballet companies in the U.S. before this date. But the list of those who have done so is very, very short. And the ABT is one of the top three companies in the U.S.)

Misty Copeland didn't start dancing ballet until age 13. She was immediately, however, considered a prodigy – and her ballet teachers even fought her mother for custody of the teen! At age 15, she was already an award-winning dancer checking out the professional offers that were coming her way.

In addition to dancing, dancing, dancing, Copeland has become a public speaker and an author. She has already narrated a documentary about her challenges as a ballet dancer. She has performed on Broadway, toured as a featured dance for Prince, and appeared as herself on TV shows. She has endorsements for products, and she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Well done, Misty!!!

You might want to check out the book Firebird, by Misty Copeland.
Her other book is Life in Motion.

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June 29 – Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul in Chile

Posted on June 29, 2016

Two of the biggest saints in the Catholic religion are these guys: the Apostle Paul and Peter, the first pope. Their “feast days” are on the same day, because they were both said to have been killed on June 29.

About half of all Chileans consider themselves Catholic, so Catholic holidays are probably pretty big there. (I want to say “down there” when referring to Chile – because I share the Northern Hemisphere bias that comes from seeing so many globes and maps with the north in the “up” position. But there ARE south-up maps!)

Here are some amazing landscapes you can see in Chile:

Los Pinguinos Natural Monument

As you may have guessed “los pinguinos” translates as “penguins.” These particular penguins are called Megallanic penguins.

San Rafael Glacier

Remember that parts of Chile are the very closest to Antarctica. And there are giant ice fields in Antarctica at sea level. This giant glacier, however, is not particularly near the southern tip of this long, skinny country. Instead, it's high, high, high in the Andes Mountains. The glacier “calves” (breaks off into icebergs) into the Laguna San Rafael, seen here.

Actually, San Rafael Glacier is only one of 19 glaciers that break off from the ice field that makes up much of the Laguna San Rafael National Park!

Valle de la Luna

This “Valley of the Moon” is part of a desert; the stone and sand have been carved by wind and water and are considered by some to look similar to the surface of the moon (hence the name).

Lago Chungara

This is one of the world's highest lakes, which lies under a dormant volcano called Parinacota.

Villarrica Volcano

This volcano is NOT so dormant! It started erupting in 2015.

Torres del Paine

This national park is amazingly beautiful!!! It's located in the southern part of Patagonian Chile.

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June 28 – Anniversary of the Premiere of Giselle

Posted on June 28, 2016

Do you love romantic tragedies?

I personally do not! I prefer romantic comedies. Everybody lives, everybody laughs! However, there have been many great romantic tragedies among all sorts of art forms – in books, movies, plays, operas, and ballets.

On this date in 1841, the ballet Giselle had its first performance in Paris.

This is the Theatre de l'Academie Royale
de Musique in Paris, where Giselle premiered.

The story is set in Germany.

Giselle is a peasant girl who discovers that the boy she loves is going to marry someone else. She has such a broken heart that she dies. Then a group of supernatural women called the Wilis call Giselle up from her grave. They are going to take revenge on the young man she'd loved by dancing him to his death – it's what they do, apparently! But Giselle's love is true, and she doesn't want revenge; her pure heart saves the young man from the Wilis.

Giselle was a huge success. It was immediately staged all across three continents (Europe, North America and Asia – as in Russia).

You can check out the entire ballet here, if you have interest and a couple of hours to indulge it; I recommend this super short trailer to get a good taste in a short time. 

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June 27 – National Sunglasses Day

Posted on June 27, 2016

Sunglasses can be fun!

They are often very cool.

They can make our eyes more comfortable in glary places like beaches and sunlit snow fields. And they can make us safer when drivers can see the road, signs, pedestrians, and other cars better on sunny days – especially when the sun is low in sky.

But...sunglasses are good for your eyes?

The Vision Council is taking advantage of National Sunglasses Day to point out that sunglasses help protect our eyes from harmful UV light. Ultraviolet rays have been linked to such things as cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye problems. Even the highest energy visible light may cause macular degeneration; this is called HEV (for High-Energy Visible) or blue light.

By the way, the very best way to protect your eyes (or to protect your identity, if you are famous and want to go unnoticed) is to wear a hat AND sunglasses. Also, wrap-around sunglasses protect more than the more typical open-sided styles.

Actress Meg Ryan avoids recognition with shades and hat...

Not all sunglasses are equal...

Of course you want a style you like and a fit that is comfortable, but you really should pay the most attention to the UV protection offered by sunglasses. Look for 100% UV protection labels (which sometimes are labeled UV 400). Those lenses will protect from both kinds of ultraviolet light.

Apparently a consumer-protection test was run on sunglasses; all of the expensive and moderate sunglasses labeled “100% UV protection” really did offer the protection. Most of the bargain-basement sunglasses with that label did, too – but at least one $5 pair did not. If you have any doubts, an optometrist can easily and quickly test your shades.

By the way, here are some sunglasses factors that have nothing to do with UV protection:
  • being polarized – this can help you see better but does not guarantee UV protection
  • being anti-glare – ditto the above
  • being a particular color or darker tint – there is no proof that particular colors of sunglasses (not even the amber “Blue Blocker” lenses), nor that darker-tinted sunglasses, do a better job of protecting your eyes than other colors or tints.
Kids' eyes need protection from UV radiation just as much as adults' eyes do!!

Modern or...?

Of course sunglasses with UV protection are pretty modern, but there were some early forms of eye protection invented over the course of history. Inuit people had to cope with a lot of sun-on-snow glare, and they often wore “glasses” made out of walrus ivory; they would view the world through narrow slits. The Roman emperor Nero watched gladiator fights through emeralds; I'm pretty sure he wasn't thinking of protecting his eyes from radiation! Another sort of early sunglasses was invented in 12th Century China; these were flat panes of smoky quartz.
Inuit snow goggles

It wasn't until the 1900s that sunglasses were used by loads of people. They were first mass produced in 1929, and polarized lenses became available in 1936. Ray Ban invented anti-glare sunglasses for aviators during World War II, and his aviator-style shades also caught on with the general public.

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Mathematician Augustus DeMorgan's birthday

Djibouti's Independence Day

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