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420 Topics: Movies – Rocky; Famous Americans – Alvin Ailey; the hand of fate; riveting, to charge headlong, oblivious, and the outside world; outgoing versus a people person

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 420.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 420. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is ESLPod.com. Go there. Become a member and download the Learning Guide for this episode that will help you improve your English even faster.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about two influences on American art and culture. The first influence is the movie Rocky, which had an impact on American popular culture, especially in the late twentieth century. The second influence is that of Alvin Ailey, one of the great modern dancers in the United States during the twentieth century and the founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. And, as always, we’ll answer some of your questions. Let's get started.

[Jeff humming a song from Rocky]

Oh, I'm sorry. Today we’re going to talk about the movie Rocky. Rocky is a movie about an amateur boxer named Rocky Balboa. An “amateur” (amateur) is someone who plays a sport or a musical instrument or does any activity for fun and not professionally, not as their job. An amateur doesn't usually get paid for doing what they do. Sometimes we use the word “amateur” as an insult, in describing someone who doesn't know how to do something very well. Here, it's not an insult. It's just describing who this character is.

Rocky Balboa is a boxer. A “boxer” is an athlete who fights other boxers – and now there are both men and women boxers. Boxers basically are trying to hit the other person with their hands. They wear what are called “boxing gloves” so that they're not hitting them, usually, with what we would describe as their “bare hands” or their “bare fists” but rather with these gloves that they have on.

The movie Rocky is interesting in that it's both an action movie – there's a lot of exciting things that happen – but it's also a romance. Since it was released or first started showing in 1976, Rocky has become one of the most well-known American movies in the last 50 years. The movie is set in 1975 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When we say something is “set in,” we mean it takes place during that time and in that place. The place here is Philadelphia, which is a large city about 95, 96 miles southwest of New York City on the eastern coast of the United States, or near the eastern coast of the United States.

The movie has five main characters. The first is what we would call the “title character,” the person whose name is in the title of the movie, and that would be Rocky Balboa. Rocky Balboa is played by Sylvester Stallone. When I say “played by,” I mean this is the name of the actor who has that role, or that character in the movie. The other main characters in the movie are Adrian Pennino, Paulie Pennino, Apollo Creed, and Mickey Goldmill. The role of Mickey Goldmill was played by another famous American actor during this time period, Burgess Meredith.

The story of Rocky Balboa is that he's a 30-year-old man from what we would describe as a “working-class” neighborhood in Philadelphia. “Working-class” is a term that we use to describe people who have jobs that are usually not very high paying. They have jobs that often don't require a lot of education. Working-class jobs often require a lot of physical work. Rocky Balboa is from this working-class neighborhood.

We see in the movie that he's not a very smart 30-year-old man. He’s not very intelligent, but he has very strong emotions and he cares a lot about the other people in his life. For much of his life, Rocky has been boxing as an amateur – boxing for fun. He makes a little money doing this but not enough to live on. When we say he doesn't have “enough to live on,” we mean he doesn't have enough to pay his basic expenses of food and rent and transportation. So, Rocky has to take other jobs in order to make money.

This makes Mickey, his trainer, rather angry. A “trainer” (trainer) is a person who teaches you how to do something. We often use this word in describing a person who helps you at some physical exercise. You can have a personal trainer at the gym who helps you lift weights, who teaches you how to do whatever you do at a gym. The word “trainer” can be used in a lot of different circumstances, however. You can have a trainer in a business who trains new employees on how to use software.

Boxers have trainers. They’re like coaches who help them become better boxers. Rocky’s trainer is named Mickey, and Mickey isn’t very happy that Rocky isn't concentrating or focusing on his boxing. He believes that Rocky could be a great boxer if he practiced more. That's what people said about me when I was growing up. I could be a great boxer if I practiced more.

At the beginning of the movie, Rocky meets Adrian, a quiet woman who works in a pet store – a store that sells things for people who own dogs and cats and birds and elephants, those sorts of things you would keep at your house. He falls in love with Adrian and the two begin to date. They begin to go out and see each other in a romantic way. Now, Adrian has a brother named Paulie who’s not very nice to Adrian, but Paulie is happy that Rocky is dating Adrian. He wants them to continue to do that.

Now, at the same time, in New York City there is a professional boxer, a very famous boxer called Apollo Creed. He is what we would describe as the “heavyweight champion of the world.” Being a “heavyweight champion” means that you are the best boxer who has a certain weight – weighing over 200 pounds or 91 kilos. In this sport of boxing, you have different levels based on how big you are, how much you weigh. Obviously, if you are a very big person and weighed 200 pounds, you're going to easily beat someone like me who weighs much less than that.

Apollo is the heavyweight champion of the world. He’s the best boxer in the world who weighs more than 200 pounds. Apollo was looking for someone to box on New Year's Day 1976. New Year's Day would, of course, be January 1st. He decides that he wants to box someone who is an amateur. He looks at a list of amateur boxers and he chooses – he selects – Rocky Balboa because he likes Rocky’s nickname. Rocky’s nickname is the “Italian Stallion.” The Italian part refers to Rocky being an Italian American. The “stallion” (stallion) part refers to a strong male horse. To describe a man as a stallion is to describe him as being very strong, very solid. So, Rocky is the Italian Stallion.

As the movie continues, Rocky works with his trainer Mickey to get strong enough to fight Apollo Creed. He does a very difficult workout regimen. That is, he does a very difficult set of athletic activities or exercises in order to get ready for the fight. A “workout regimen” (regimen) is something you do to stay strong and to be healthy. In Rocky’s workout regimen, he works out at a gym and he runs around the city of Philadelphia. In one of the most famous scenes in the movie, Rocky runs up the stairs in front of a famous building in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Art Museum. There are 72 stairs, so it's a very difficult exercise.

The movie ends, of course, with the fight between Rocky and Apollo on New Year's Day 1976. Now, I won't tell you who won, but you can probably guess. Throughout the movie, the audience watches Rocky work hard to achieve his dream of being a professional boxer and also working hard at his relationship with his girlfriend Adrian. One of the reasons Rocky became such a popular movie is that it was about things that people could relate to. He was a character who had difficulties, and he worked hard to overcome those difficulties – to get past those difficulties, to be successful.

His desire to win showed that he had a lot of perseverance. “Perseverance” (perseverance) is the ability to continue working hard even when something looks difficult, even when it looks like you may not be successful. The movie was released in December of 1976. It was a time in the United States when there was a lot of unhappiness about the economy, about America's position in the world, about a lot of things. People wanted a movie about hope, a positive movie that showed that even though life is difficult, you can be successful. That's what Rocky, as a movie, represented in American culture.

The movie was nominated for 10 Oscars, or Academy Awards, in 1977. It won the Oscar for Best Picture – the best film of the year. Rocky was written by the actor who played Rocky, Sylvester Stallone. Stallone went on to write and act in five more Rocky films. There was Rocky II in 1979, Rocky III in 1982, Rocky IV in 1985, Rocky V in 1990, and then, more recently, Rocky Balboa in 2006. So, Sylvester Stallone has made Rocky his lifetime career as a movie actor.

None of the other Rocky movies – II, III, IV, V, and so forth – were as successful as the original Rocky movie, but everyone knows the character Rocky, and in addition to knowing the movie, people know the famous song. There was a song that was used in the movie called “Gonna Fly Now.” “Gonna” (gonna) is an informal way of saying “going to” – Going to Fly Now. “To fly” literally would mean to go up into the air, but here it really means to be successful, to be someone who is going to do great things.

Our next topic on this Café is also someone who did great things, not just in a movie but in real life. We're going to talk about Alvin Ailey. Alvin Ailey was a dancer and a choreographer. A “choreographer” (choreographer) is someone who designs dance moves, what we might call “dance routines” or performances. Alvin Ailey was one of the most famous choreographers of the twentieth century. He brought together a lot of different forms of dance to create a very new and powerful form of modern dance.

Now, if you're like me, you probably don't know a lot about modern dance, but the story of Alvin Ailey is quite interesting. I think you'll be interested in it even if you're not a big fan of dance. Ailey was born on January 5th, 1931, in a small town in Texas called Rogers. Rogers, Texas, is about 140 miles (about 230 kilometers) south of Dallas. The state of Texas is in the south central part of the United States, right next to the country of Mexico. Alvin lived in Texas until he was 12 years old, when he and his mother moved to Los Angeles, California.

Here in Los Angeles, Alvin Ailey saw dance for the first time. He watched dance companies such as the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. This was back, remember, in the 1940s. In 1949, he began to take dance classes himself at the Lester Horton Dance Theater. The importance of this theater, and the importance of Alvin Ailey, in part, is that he was an African American. He was a black man. There weren't very many places in the United States where a black man could take dance lessons like this.

Alvin went to the Lester Horton Dance Theater, which was one of the first racially integrated dance theaters, or dance classes, that existed in the United States. When we say something is “racially integrated,” we mean African Americans, whites, and people of any race are able to work together and, in this case, learn together. Ailey was a quiet boy, but he found that dance was a way for him to express his emotions and to express his thoughts.

The owner of this dance theater, Lester Horton, died in 1953, just a few years after Alvin Ailey began to take lessons there. Ailey took over as, or became director of the dance company. This was when he began his work as a choreographer. In the next year, 1954, Ailey moved from Los Angeles to New York City and began dancing in some of the shows and performances in New York. At the same time, Ailey continued to study dance himself with some of the most famous dancers in that era. His teachers included Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Karel Shook.

In 1958, Ailey started his own dance company, calling it the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The mission or goal of his dance company was to perform modern American dance while expressing the experiences of African Americans in the United States. Despite the focus being on the African American experience, Ailey made sure that his own dance company was always racially integrated, always had both whites and blacks and those of other races as part of the dance performances. Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater group began to go to other cities and give performances and eventually to other countries.

Over the next 27 years, his dance group would tour throughout the United States and the world. In fact, by 1989 over 15 million people around the world had seen a performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. If you're old enough, maybe you were one of them. Ailey himself danced in many of the performances that he choreographed. He created a new form of dance that brought together a lot of different dance styles. His styles included ballet, African American dance, dance from other dance companies in the United States, and so forth. He put together these different dances to create something, as I mentioned earlier, that would express the experiences of African Americans in the United States.

In addition to his dance company, Alvin Ailey was very involved in education, especially education in what we might describe as “underserved communities.” The term “underserved communities” refers to very poor areas that don't have very good schools or living conditions. Alvin was given many awards for his work in underserved communities, including the United Nations Peace Medal. He also was given the highest honor for an American artist when he was given the Kennedy Center Honor for Contributions to American Culture in 1988.

Unfortunately, Ailey died rather young at the age of 58 in 1989. He died of a rare blood disorder. Something that is “rare” is something that is not very common. A “blood disorder” refers to a disease of your blood. Even though he was still young when he died, Alvin Ailey left a definite legacy to American culture. “Legacy” (legacy) refers to your influence on future people doing the same activities that you're doing. In this case, it was dance. His dances and choreography, then, continue to be influential in American culture today.

Now let's answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Jet (Jet) in Korea. Jet wants to know the meaning of the phrase “the hand of fate.” Let's start by talking about the word “fate” (fate). “Fate” usually describes something that is unavoidable, something that has somehow been arranged by some higher power beyond human control. “The hand of fate” would refer, then, to the influence of fate on our lives. It's usually used to describe a situation where you don't have control over what will happen to you in your future.

When something bad happens to you, you might say, “It's the hand of fate.” “Fate” expresses a belief that we don't have control over our own future. It's a way of denying that we have control over our future. It's a belief that every action has been determined and you don't really have any control over it. If that is your view of the world, then you might talk a lot about fate or use expressions such as “the hand of fate.” My girlfriend left me. I lost my job and I don't have enough money to buy a beer. That is the hand of fate.

Our next question is also from Korea, from Nolayath (Nolayath). The question has to do with a quote about the famous novelist, the famous author J. K. Rowling, who wrote the Harry Potter series of books. The quote about Rowling said that she was a “riveting storyteller.” Her books give you, quote, “the kind of reading experience that has you charging headlong through the book, oblivious to the outside world.” There are a couple of words there that are a little difficult to understand. The first one is “riveting.” J. K. Rowling is described as a “riveting (riveting) storyteller.” Something that is “riveting” is something that keeps your attention. It's so interesting, you can't look at or pay attention to anything else.

Another expression in that quote is “charging headlong.” “To charge headlong” (headlong) – one word – means to move forward very quickly without really thinking about it very much. Often, that term is used to describe someone who isn't being very careful. It's almost as though the person is doing something that is somewhat dangerous. Here, though, it just refers to someone who's going through the book, in this case, very quickly.

“Oblivious” is also part of this quote. The word “oblivious” (oblivious) means not aware or not caring about what's going on around you. This goes together very well with the idea of “charging headlong” into something or through something. If you're oblivious, you’re not paying attention to what's going on around you. “The outside world” just refers to everything that is not related to the experience that you are in right now. People use the phrase “the outside world” to talk about something outside of the experience that you have personally of something, or perhaps outside of the experience of the situation in which you are in right now.

To go back to the quote, then, we find that J. K. Rowling is a “riveting storyteller” – a very interesting person who tells stories. She gives her readers the kind of reading experience that has you “charging headlong through the book.” That means you are just racing to finish the book, which is true, I heard, of a lot of people who read her books. They just want to continue reading them because they're so interesting. Because they're charging headlong through the book, they're oblivious to the outside world. They're not paying attention to anything else that’s going on around them.

Our final question is also from Korea. This is an all-Korea edition of listener questions. Taek-Hwan (Taek-Hwan) wants to know the difference between an “outgoing person” and a “people person.” Let's start with the term “outgoing” (outgoing). A person who is “outgoing” is a person who's very friendly, who likes to talk to other people, who is very confident in different social situations. An “outgoing” person would be someone who you would like to talk to, who finds it easy to meet new people, and so forth.

The term “people person” is sort of an odd one. We use this expression, a “people person,” to describe someone who enjoys being with other people, who is good at interacting with other people, and who likes to work with people more than, perhaps, working by themselves. That would be a “people person.” The two expressions, “outgoing person” and “people person,” are closely related. They're very similar. The only difference really is in emphasis. When you talk about someone being a “people person,” usually you are emphasizing the fact that they like to work with other people and not necessarily by themselves. “People person” also implies that other people like that person.

If you say someone is “outgoing,” that means that they're friendly, that they like to talk to other people. But it doesn't mean always that other people like to talk to them. A “people person” would be someone who not only is outgoing but also is popular with other people. Other people like to spend time with them. However, in many circumstances, in many situations, these two expressions – an “outgoing person” and a “people person” –would both be acceptable.

I have to say that the expression “people person” is sometimes used to be funny rather than to actually describe a person. It's a term that I think became popular in the business world 20 or 30 years ago, and now it's sometimes used as a joke to say, “I'm a people person.” You may say that to be funny in a certain situation. It's not always a positive description of someone, or at least, it's not always meant to be an accurate description of someone.

If you would like an accurate description of some term or phrase that you've read or heard, email us at eslpod@eslpod.com We don't have time to answer everyone's questions, but we’ll do our best.

From Los Angeles, California, I'm Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

amateur – someone who does any activity, such as plays a sport or a musical instrument, for fun and not for money

* Sally is an amateur photographer, who enjoys taking photographs of nature.

boxer – an athlete who fights other people using his or her hands, while wearing special gloves that protect the hands from getting hurt

* The two boxers fought each other until one fell down on the ground.

working class – a group of people in society who are not very rich and who usually do jobs that require hard physical work

* Many working class jobs are in construction and involve lifting heavy things.

trainer – a professional who helps you get your body strong and fit usually by working out and doing exercises in a gym

* Alan worked with his trainer four times a week to build his muscles.

heavyweight champion – a boxer who weighs more than 200 pounds (91 kilos) who has fought other boxers over 200 pounds (91 kilos) and won all of the fights

* Mohammad Ali became the most famous heavyweight champion ever when he boxed Sonny Liston in 1964 and won the fight.

workout regimen – the exercises that someone does regularly to get their body healthy and strong

* Cathy’s workout regimen involves walking for two miles and lifting weights.

perseverance – continuing to do something that is difficult even when it looks like one will fail or lose

* Mike showed perseverance and kept applying for jobs until he got one.

choreographer – someone who designs and creates dance moves and dance routines or performances

* The choreographer created a dance to go with this piece of music.

racially-integrated – a place where people of different races can be together working, learning, or doing other activities

* Today, all major companies are racially-integrated and have employees of different races working for them.

underserved community – an area that does not have good access to education, healthcare, or good food

* In many underserved communities, people are too poor to visit the doctor when they are sick.

rare blood disorder – an uncommon or unusual sickness that affects the blood in a person’s body

* He died of a rare blood disorder that made his blood unable to fight off disease.

legacy – the influence or impact someone leaves behind after they leave or die

* Gandhi left a legacy of peaceful protest. Today, many people follow Gandhi’s example and express their opinions peacefully.

the hand of fate – the influence of fate (something unavoidable; something planned for one’s life by God or another force) on our lives

* We can see the hand of fate in our two children: one with a positive approach to life and one with a negative one.

riveting – keeping one’s attention so that one is not able to look at or think about other things; engrossing

* This movie is three hours long, but it’s riveting from beginning to end.

to charge headlong – to move forward quickly without any thought; to proceed without thinking or having concerns

* Joanna charged headlong into her relationship with Axel by moving in with him after dating only a month and she’s now regretting it.

oblivious – not aware of or not caring about what is happening around one

* When Guido is painting, he’s oblivious to anything happening around him.

the outside world – the people and places that one does not know about because one does not have any contact with it or connection to it

* Colin grew up in a small town and wants to see more of the outside world.

outgoing – friendly to others and confident in social situations and relationships

* Georgia has always been outgoing and makes friends wherever she goes.

a people person – a person who enjoys being with other people and is good at being with and interacting with others

* Lisle knows a lot about technology, but she’s not a people person and probably wouldn’t be good providing customer service.

What Insiders Know
George Foreman and the George Foreman Grill

George Foreman was an American boxer. He was a World Heavyweight Champion twice and an Olympic “gold medal” (top prize at the Olympic games) winner.

Foreman “dropped out of” (quit) school at the age of 13 and later trained in California to become a boxer. He then moved on to professional boxing and won his first Heavyweight championship after “defeating” Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1973. He was successful in “defending his title” (winning again) but lost it to Muhammad Ali in 1974.

Although he was still a respected and successful boxer, to the surprise of many people, he announced his “retirement” (ending of his career). Foreman said that he had been “reborn” (became a Christian) after an important fight and he became a “minister” (priest; leader of a church) in Houston, Texas.

George shocked the world again when he announced a “comeback” (return to one’s professional activities) 10 years later. He continued to fight and won his second World Heavyweight title in November 1994. He remains the oldest person to win a Heavyweight Championship at age 45. Foreman retired “for good” (permanently) from boxing in 1997, at age 48.

Normally, people would just enjoy living during their retirement, but George Foreman did it while earning more money than he did when he was fighting. After George’s comeback, he told people how he ate healthy food prepared in a healthy way, and this was a big part of his success. This made him the perfect person to “endorse” (announce one’s official support for) a grill that “reduced” (lowered) the amount of fat on meat as it cooked. The company later “launched” (introduced) The George Foreman Grill, which sold approximately 100 million units “to date” (as of today). Aside from the 40% profit he makes for every grill sold, George was paid $137 million dollars in 1999 “to buy out” (to gain ownership of) the right to use his name.