Friday, August 31, 2012

Dear Dance Student: Words of Wisdom from an Older Dancer

Amy Marshall

Treat class -- and your every opportunity to dance-- as a gift, as a special time for you.

Leave your emotional baggage outside.  Let class be your chance to think only about you.  Let it be your therapy.  Let it heal.

Listen to every correction given.  Try to implement it, even if it wasn’t given to you.

Take a correction to the endth degree.  Your teacher can always pull you back.

If you don’t understand the correction, ask.

A dance class is a lab.  Experiment continually.  Never do it the same way twice.

Even if doing so is outside your comfort zone, stand in the front sometimes.  Your teacher is only human. S/he may move students around, but if it seems you don’t want to be seen, you just might not be.

Don’t worry about her feet, her extension, how many turns he does or her natural alignment.  Work with what you have.  Celebrate your gifts, while working your damndest to overcome any shortcomings.

Sarah Cullen Fuller

There is only one you.  You can’t work to your fullest potential trying to be someone else. 

Competition and knowing the strengths of other dancers is healthy, as long it is a motivating force, not a defeating one. 

While there may be a few exceptions out there, every teacher has something to offer.  Never write anyone off because you don’t like her build, style, attire, body decoration, etc.

The dance world is maybe 2 degrees of separation. Always be diligent and respectful.  Word about bad behavior moves faster than a Balanchine petit allegro.

While your teacher should be respectful, s/he is not there to be your friend, but to make you a better dancer. 

If you can find teachers whose class speaks to you, and where you are both complimented and thoughtfully corrected, you are very lucky indeed.

Alexandra Beller

Believe that pushing through and learning something in that weird/boring/super challenging class will pay off.  In the New Dance Order of America these days, the versatile dancer – the one with a solid understanding of several techniques – gets the prize.

There will always be bad days.  Do not be defined by them.

Push yourself.  Hard.  But acknowledge when you have done all you can, at least for the time being.  Sometimes the epiphany, the breakthrough, comes later. 

Immediate gratification is rare.  When it happens it is the result of years of training. The fun and the joy are in the struggle.

Keep dance in perspective.  Know that you can still be a smart, loving, fantastic person with a great life even if one day you can’t buy a decent pirouette. 

It is never too early to gain a firm grasp on somatic concepts.  If you wait too long to develop this beautiful mind, your body might be an unwilling partner. 

Feats of nature -- contortionesque flexibility, oodles of pirouettes, sky-high jumps are dazzling. But remember that dance is communication.  Dance is artistry.  Keep in mind the power and potential of small and simple movement.

Did I say to treat every chance to dance as a gift? 

Dancer: Keesha Beckford
photo: Cheryl Mann

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Big Four O: The Quiz

I very, very recently celebrated my 40th birthday.  It’s a major milestone demanding reflection.  If you are the big Four-0 as well, and want to make sure you’re on the right track, you’ve gotta take this quiz!

The morning of your 40th birthday you___________ .
  1. felt an overwhelming sense of enlightenment.
  2. felt relieved that you didn’t wake up totally gray and with a face bearing a strong resemblance to a raisin.
  3. felt sick to your stomach and vomited over the edge of your bed.

A cougar is _______________
a.     a comically predatory and rather misogynist description of a sexual post-35  woman.
b.     me every weekend, bay-beeeeee!
c.     an animal my Aunt Brenda kept in a cage in her backyard.

When you walk into a store like Forever 21 or Abercrombie you ________________ .
  1. wonder why they don’t call this place HoochieMamas-R-Us.
  2. hide under a floor rack, assume a fetal postion and suck your thumb. 
  3. scream at the all the young shoppers, “Umm-hmmm. You ain’t noboday!!!”

You need to start holding your body in better esteem because __________________ .
  1. really, it’s amazing.  You're the only person who’s been harshing on it all these years.
  2. or else no one will be there for my 27 cats.
  3. Sorry, I’ve gotta finish my Mountain Dew/Cinnabon combo and get to my appointment at the Tan-O-Mat.

The 40ish woman I most resemble is ________ .
  1. Jennifer Garner.
  2. Samantha Jones in early SATC episodes.
  3. Meredith from The Office.

I have friends I can laugh with, cry with and to give me sage advice.
  1. Yes, more than I can count.
  2. a few
  3. one
  4. sure, if you count the guy at Starbucks talking to his coffee cup.  And the coffee cup.

To be more emotionally healthy, I hope I can let go of a painful memory concerning ___________ .
  1. my guinea pig
  2. a friend or family member.
  3. an ex lover.

When I take stock of my _______________  I see evidence of a life well lived.
  1. home
  2. children/family
  3. friends
  4. slim-jim collection
  5. photos of my many travels

I can come to terms with the fact that I will probably never __________ .
  1. be rich and famous
  2. cure world hunger
  3. arrive anywhere on time having not forgotten something
  4. face a bag of chips/twizzlers/hoagies without eating myself sick

In the next decade I vow to _________________________________ .
  1. find a patron to support my plastic surgery requirements
  2. purchase a shed for my dashed hopes and broken dreams
  3. in the words of Irene Cara, “take my passion and make it happen.”

As for scoring, screw it.  Score it however the blank you want. 

You’re forty, after all.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mom in the Spotlight: Dance Writer, Nichelle Strzepek

Nichelle, weeks away from giving birth in dance film, Framing Bodies
©Studio 4d4 by Lorie Garcia; Framing Bodies by Frame Dance Productions

Nichelle Strzepek writes about 100,000 words per year on dance training at In June 2012 she presented the whats, hows, and whys of blogging on a panel at the annual conference for Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, to better equip artists and companies for engaging their audience and new readers through online communications and content. In addition to self-publishing, she covers dance performance in Houston, Texas, where she finds time to periodically perform and teach. Her career in dance has been a multifaceted diamond but the true gems in her life are her young son and daughter. You can find even more of Nichelle's words on dance at NichelleDances. Or, interact with her via Twitter:@danceadvantage or Facebook:

How many children do you have?  Boys?  Girls?
I have two children, a little man who just turned 5 and is starting kindergarten this year and a daughter who just turned 1. They actually have the same birthdate! ...I know, I couldn't believe it either. So far they're happy to share.

Where were you in your career when your children were born?
When I became pregnant with my son, I was teaching dance, working my tail off at several dance studios. Having him in August meant that I could finish out the season and still have a couple months to get really huge... and I do mean huge. he was 9 1/2 lbs at birth! We re-located to Houston just a month before he was due and, in the transition, I made the choice to take some time away from teaching and be at home. It was a welcome change of direction because I had been burning the candle at both ends teaching full-time and working a part-time job.

I started writing about teaching dance on my blog in the Spring of 2008 when my son was about 8 months old. A small audience started to develop almost right away and I made some connections locally which resulted in writing reviews and previews for dance performances. Suddenly I was a dance writer!

I discovered I had a green thumb for growing the site, and I actually enjoyed the "gardening!" So, when my daughter was born last year, I had a much larger readership with over 40K page views a month. It was challenging but I was able to keep Dance Advantage going and growing with the help of some really awesome people both online and off.

Often choreography looks nothing like the "people you see in your head."  How much did your motherhood look like what you had envisioned?  
Motherhood as a dance is a great analogy. You can do all the preparation you want but when you get into the studio, the creation is going be what it's meant to be.

The quote from Michelangelo about 'carving the marble until he set the angel free' comes to mind. There's a lot of outside pressure to micromanage motherhood and family dynamics and you can waste energy trying to shape your 'mom experience' into what you or someone else envisions.

Dance has taught me that there's great value in discovery, improvisation, and 'que sera' creativity, which has helped me to better appreciate the beauty of happy accidents in motherhood as well. So I prefer to try and follow Michelangelo's lead, patiently and intuitively releasing my inner super-mom. :)

Awww...Nichelle and her daughter

Running your own website/blog, while extremely satisfying, is an obsessive pursuit much like dance.  Any lessons from your dancelife that you apply to running, shaping and promoting
Absolutely! Dance is a perfect laboratory for life-lessons. Here are a few of the biggies:

        That persistence pays off.
        That kindness and professionalism matter.
        That being consistent and building trust among the people with whom you are dancing (or engaging) is essential for creating something outstanding.
        That laying a solid foundation and practicing until you've mastered the basics makes for a strong and efficient performer.
        That you've got to be ready to improvise and learn new things.
        That your only real competition is yourself, that your "rivals" are also your friends and allies, and that maintaining this view is a much more effective motivator than comparing what you do with others.
        That you can have all the right tools and not get anywhere without passion.
        That you've got to be in it because you love the process because the progress is gradual and the rewards are rarely immediate.

I could go on… but that last one's really crucial for bloggers, and moms, I think.

I saw on a recent twitter thread of yours a discussion of So You Think You Can Dance.  Most mature dancers like myself are ambivalent at best about SYTYCD.  Can you talk a little about the SYTYCD-ization of the field?
Well, most mature dancers have witnessed a multi-faceted dance experience. We've been through the years of training, we've studied academic theory, pedagogy, and dance history, we've participated in artistic collaboration, live stage performance, and the choreographic process, we've been to non-televised auditions and worked in professional company or institutional settings.

We realize that the version of dance presented on SYTYCD is just one tiny facet of dance AND that's it's been adjusted to "fit" our culture's television screens and viewing habits.

Considering this, it's easy to see why mature dancers are often conflicted about the presence and popularity of these shows. We'd prefer the general public to experience a more unfiltered reality of what we do and all that dance is. Moms want that, too. So would most professionals in any field but, as you've already mentioned, dance people are particularly consumed by their profession.

I feel SYTYCD opens up a gateway for new people to enter into dance but then puts them in a room with very few windows and doors leading to other facets of dance. It's getting better. From what I understand, the producers are trying to build more windows and doors into SYTYCD, and it also helps that there are now a wider variety of dance programs popping up.

But we can't just rely on TV shows to do the work for us, as dancers and educators, it's important that we be tour guides, making sure that all of these new viewers of dance know how to get from place to place on the dance campus -- a reason the dance community at large is strengthened by the participation of dancers in new media online who are acting as tour guides.

Wow, sorry. That was longwinded!

If you are like most moms, getting real personal time is almost impossible. What do you do just for you, just to relax?
As a mom, and as a writer and website owner I'm kind of a workaholic. Building in 'me' time is something I'm still figuring out, but I'm an avid reader, which provides some quiet time in the evenings before bed. Sometimes I just enjoy vegging with a movie and a glass of wine. Lately, I've been trying (trying!) to spend a little time each day in prayer and meditating on the things for which I'm grateful.

What's a quote of your children that you've been meaning to send to the "Kids Say the Darnedest Things" of a parent magazine?
I stink at remembering and recording all of the imaginative things that come out of my son's mind and mouth, especially when asked!

I do recall having a good laugh a few months ago when my son said, "Mom, I wish I was a rich man." In addition to the funny phrasing, the question caught my attention, so I asked why. He replied, "Well, the song says, 'Money, money, money. Always sunny in a rich man's world."

Perhaps you can guess we had been listening to the Mama Mia soundtrack in the car. Around that same time he asked "Mom, why does she want a man after midnight?" …we took a break from ABBA for a little while.

Nichelle with her son and daughter,
too - she's 6 months pregnant!

The most hilarious story you can think of for your memoir?
I love to have fun, be silly, and my life is full of laughter but I accept that telling hilarious stories is not my strong suit. I'll leave that to writers like you, Keesha, because that's definitely one of your strengths!

I also cringe a bit at the idea of a memoir but if ever anyone, including myself, would find it necessary to publish my memories, I'd hope that it would be written with plenty of insightful humor and wisdom so that ultimately readers would find strength, motivation, and inspiration to reach their goals. I think my stories probably fit better on that kind of shelf.

©Studio 4d4 by Lorie Garcia;
Satin Stitch by Frame Dance Productions

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Get Your Husband to Help Around the House

What would you if when you heard about a husband who loaded the dishwasher properly without being asked?

Would you

a)laugh hysterically, thinking this is the most far-fetched thing you've heard in months?

b) sit down and weep, wondering how you can get your Hubs to do something so amazing?


c) smile smugly, because you are the lucky chick who has wedded such a man.

If you answered a or b, take heart, for this week's Parent Society Post is a list of suggestions for your husband.  If you want to get your husband to help around the house, this is a godsend for you!  Copy it and put it on his pillow.  On the mirror in the bathroom.  On the dashboard of his car.

Make him see it in his dreams.

And if you answered c, more power to ya.  So you married Mr. Clean.  Stop lording it over the rest of us will ya?

And for all y'all as they say, the parents in society are very, very vocal.  Take off those lace gloves and get in the fray.  I might need you to have my back!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

7 Steps to a Successful Vacation With Kids

Vacation with kids can still
be magical. It really can.

I know, I know. 

You've been wondering where I've been. 
On our summer vacation, of course!  It was great.  Some high highs.  Some low lows.  But we've all returned without needing the services of a lawyer.  A good psychologist maybe, but not a lawyer.

I will share my wisdom about traveling with kids.  There will be a quiz later. And I love quizzes more than Reprehensible Todd Akin loves making s--t up, so you know I mean business!

First, Pack Like You've Been Evicted.Sure, there is a washing machine, but you do not want to be Laurie the Laundress on your vacation.  Pack multiples of every article of clothing for everyone (maybe not Hubby).  Bring enough diapers to cover the bottom of every toddler from Bombay to Beijing. Bring your favorite foods.  And of course, if you are a coddling, enabling parent who lives in abject fear that her children might melt down after facing a nanosecond of discomfort, try to reproduce eating, bathing and sleeping situations in your temporary home. Draw the line at bringing their beds.

Check, Consult and Review the Directions.
Even if you have been to this area several times before, check your directions.  This is especially important if you have a cell phone manufactured sometime during the Nixon Administration.  What a tragedy it would be to finally hold your hubby's hand, gaze lovingly upon your children dozing in the back seat, and realize that though you should be approaching your destination, you are fast on your way to West Jabook. You do not want to pull into a gas station, jolt your kids awake and begin the first marital/parental fight of the trip.  Not 90 minutes in.

Have No Illusions About Bedtime.
Even though every blanket, pillow and lovey from their home bed has been brought, the buggers will likely be too excited to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings.  Do not be surprised if at 11 p.m, the kids are running out of their room, slapping you and using preschool profanity, i.e. stupid.  In this case you have only one option.  Do not let yourself be bullied like a substitute teacher.  No way, Kwam√©. Get them in bed immediately.  And the only way to do this might be a way you might not like, but it works (eventually). You simply must…

Threaten Them With the Loss of An Activity.
Sure you spent thousands of dollars to rent a house in Besticanaffordia.  And you picked Besticanaffordia because of several uniquely opportunities. Your children, however, simply cannot get the best of you.  As a consequence of poor behavior propose losing a meal at their favorite restaurant, or losing a day at the amusement park or pool.  But be careful, because this can blow up in your face.  You must follow through, and particularly wild and impulsive children might have you all imprisoned in your rented living room, watching daytime TV.

Throw The Schedule Out The Window.

Your kids sleep schedule is totally off.  Their eating schedule is off. They might melt down. You might meltdown. It’s okay. Forget the schedule. Some families out there keep everything marching to the same drummer on vacay, but if you’re motto is “we can stay on schedule and be stressed out,” or “we can be a little off schedule, adapt and have fun,” then do it, baby.  Meet new families.  Let your children play with new kids.  As for you, playing drill sergeant on vacation is a great way to have your family tell you to check the under the beds for a small toy, while they sneak off for ice cream.   
Find Unconventional Rainy Day Activities.
The library is fabulous. It is quiet and might have crafts and toys in addition to a sea of books. 
The grocery store is another place for an education.  You may be shocked/awed/dismayed to learn that the local big box store carries a biker shorts/lace tights/lace peblum skirt combo, tubs of every imaginable kind of candy and even bullets!  No matter what your cultural experience, go there and overspend.  Buy more than the Duggars could eat in a week.  Eating every meal out is costly and caloric.  Also, this way you will be faced with the decision of throwing food in the trash or taking home even more crap than you brought.

Consider Hiring a Sitter.
Except for the fact that you are steps from a sandy white beach, you have replicated the galley-slave-governess life you lead at home. But now, because your offspring keep the hours of club rats, you have no time to relax with your partner.  Consider hiring a sitter.  Surely, you can get a recommendation from a reliable source!  Then envision several worst-case babysitting scenarios too heinous to mention. Decide to stay home. 

Create Memories.
Because you have been so spontaneous, you may be so lucky as to find yourself with one (unnapped) kid at a nearly empty beach on a fantabulous afternoon.  Watch him do something that makes your heart leap, something that imprints itself on your soul and will bring you joy every time you remember it.  Be so moved that you forget your I-thingie, which may either be dead or back at the house.  Lament the loss, but don’t freak out.  After all, some memories are meant to be relived only in the FLASH player of our minds. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mom in the Spotlight: Pilates Instructor, Jennifer Damsky

Jennifer Damsky began her ballet training at the age of 8 at the School of American Ballet.  After her family moved out of NYC she continued her training with her mother, Melissa Hayden, and then at the North Carolina School of the Arts.  Jennifer danced professionally with the Ballet Internacional de Caracas and the Los Angels Ballet until the age of 20.  Although dance was certainly in her genes, Jennifer knew that it was not her passion.  She stopped dancing, returned to school and then embarked on a whirlwind career in fashion, married and had two girls.  Although Jennifer loved her career, she realized that she wanted to have more control over the time she spent working and with her children.  Fortunately, throughout her dance career, fashion career and both pregnancies, Jennifer practiced Pilates.  Her love for Pilates lead her to become certified Pilates instructor through Power Pilates in NYC.  She now manages her own schedule and teaches close to 30 clients. She has also launched a website showcasing instructional and easy-to-follow Pilates DVDs.

How old are your children?  Boys? Girls?
I have two wonderful girls, ages 12 and 16.

Where were you in your career when your girls were born?
I was in a slightly different stage in my career when each girl was born, but with each experience I had to prove that I could handle a career and a baby.  

With my oldest, I was hired by a manufacturer as a midlevel sales person at five months pregnant.  Everyone thought my boss was crazy for hiring me.  He believed in me, and I wanted the job desperately, so I promised to stay with the company for a few years and take a less than traditional maternity leave.  I agreed to return to work for one week of meetings after 3 weeks at home.

Then, after the week of meetings I would go back on maternity but work from home a bit.  Despite a C-section and feeling sad to leave my baby, I kept my end of the deal.  The company did too.  They provided a wonderful environment where many of the sales and management staff were also working moms striving to balance work and career.  

I did, however, leave that company for another that offered a higher level job running a start up division of a larger company.  That's where I was with my second pregnancy.  Here, too, I had to break up my maternity leave, but this time when I came back after 10 days my counterpart did not understand why in the world I would want to go back on maternity leave.  

Needless to say, that was my last job in the fashion industry.

It seems that whether a woman is a stay-at-home mom, or a work-for-pay mom, she is likely feel some combination of guilt, longing for the road not taken, a lack of fulfillment, or regret. What has your experience been with this statement?
That is such a true statement!  Although when I was working for someone I tried (and almost succeeded) to never miss a school play, a school holiday party, swim meet, ballet performance or major event, I always had to run right after to go back to work.  I am not sure if my older daughter really minded but my heart would sink seeing other children go on a playdate or to lunch with their moms.  

I would often cry on the way to the subway thinking about what I was missing. Then on the flip side, there were many times at work that I so desperately wanted to run a larger division or go to China with my designer.  I know that was impossible given the way that I wanted to parent my girls.

Conventional thought says a woman serves her children best by staying at home.  Do you think your children benefited from seeing you work?
I really do think that my girls have benefited from seeing me work.  In the fashion industry they saw me navigate through some very difficult situations.  

With my Pilates practice they are very respectful of the times that I am teaching and with a client.  Now that I have launched my website they often ask “aren’t you proud of yourself mom?”  It is a great feeling.  I feel that I serve as a role model, for the better much of the time and sometimes, for the worse.  Either way, they realize that life is full of choices and hard work.

Like you, many people have come to Pilates from dance.  Why do you think this is?
I think that it is difficult for dancers to stop using their bodies even if they’ve chosen to stop dancing.  Most dancers have experienced Pilates at some point in their careers or training as pro-active conditioning or as rehabilitation after an injury. Many fall in love with Pilates because they see and feel the benefits of the exercises through their understanding of how the body moves.  

It seems that teaching is a natural progression, we are giving while still performing a little bit.

Pilates is all about alignment. What are some basic and accessible postural suggestions you would give to the dancer struggling with her side view in the mirror, as well as to the mom depressed about her pooch?
For both, I would start by saying we do not have to strive for perfection.  We should work towards being healthy and making our individual body the best it can be.  

From a technical standpoint, I would suggest to the dancer not to tuck her tail bone under and push her hips forward to give her legs turnout. We have four curves in our spine.  We need to honor them and not force a change, but maintain strength by keeping the abdominals engaged and pulled in and up.  Turnout should come from the top and back of the thigh.  

As for the mom, I would suggest the same about her abdominal muscles, which of course is very difficult to do after having a baby.
However, doing a few Pilates mat exercises for 5-10 minutes three times a week will help make that easily attainable.  

It is also very important for moms to think about shoulder placement and upper back strength. We all need to feel our shoulders down the back and upper back lifted. Too often we carry far too much or sit at the computer for way too long.  

It seems that people either love or hate Pilates – an exercise form that is often misunderstood.  What do you want folks to know about Pilates?  What is your mission in the fitness community? 
I think people are often scared of Pilates.  So often I hear, “oh, I can’t do that -- I am not flexible or I have no core strength.”  You can do it. I have a 31 year old 6’1’’ male client who came to me at the suggestion of his wife.  He was convinced he would hate it.  He now comes to me every week at 6:00am and boasts to his office how terrific he feels on his Pilates days.  

Pilates does work the core (which includes not only the abdominals but the shoulders, upper back down to the hips) and it does make one more flexible.  It also increases the circulation, helps with balance (which we really need when we get older), improves posture and helps reduce stress while boosting energy.  Pilates can be a wonderful addition to a workout program and compliment to other forms of exercise.  I love to run.  I love the high I get when I run and I love that I can let my mind wander.  Pilates compliments my running, it strengthens me so that I run faster, it lengthens my muscles  and it forces me to think about how and why my body is working.

I feel passionate about Pilates and I want to expose many to the benefits of Pilates. I have clients that range from athletic teens to people in their 90’s.  Hoping to make Pilates affordable to all, I launched a website of instructional and easy-to –follow videos. Featured are two very detailed mat classes taught by myself and In September the site will showcase two prenatal workouts taught by friend and expert teacher Carrie Campbell.

What advice would you, a seasoned mother of two, give to a mom like me, the mother of two little ones?
It may sound trite, but very simply, enjoy every moment.  It goes by much too quickly.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mean Girls at the Indoor Play Space

When Mr. R was about fourteen months old we took him to an indoor play space in a gentrifying neighborhood of Chicago.  It was a great place, with a costume area, grocery section, a fleet of Little Tikes cars, a train table, a crawlers' area for babies and a real, functioning kitchen/dining space for meals and snacks. 

The kicker, however, the area that I longed to take advantage of, was the living room lounge where mothers of older kids could chat, read magazines, and sip coffee. There the VIP Moms could bask in their glory, as we mothers of little kids performed the gruntwork of routine child supervision and eyed them enviously.  

Three girls, who though barely five years old, had the Queen Bee thing down to a science, were playing dress up in the costume area.  Their bossy, confident and bitchy banter poisoned the cheerful energy of the space. I wanted to keep out of their way.  I hate to use the b-word in describing little girls, but I'm a woman, a dancer and a dance teacher -- to me vicious females are as obvious as an unwashed taxi driver. 

Two of the mean girls hopped into two Little Tikes cars, red plastic ones with yellow roofs, and began driving around.  Little Joan Collins, wearing a pink boa and lucite heels, bumped into her Little Linda Evans friend.  They got into a bit of a jam, and were unable to move.  Little Joan began punching her horn and shouting, "Get out of my way!  My daughter has to get to school! I said, get out of my way!!!!"

Whoa, chica, I thought. I glanced into the lounge, knowing the model for this behavior was sitting right there. Mom was oblivious, chit-chatting away. Although it was midwinter in a West Town play space, Girlfriend had transported herself to a rooftop deck in L.A. where she was sipping artisinal cocktails with a friend. 

A bit later, the threesome took up residence in the play house.  Mr. R wandered in and tried to cook. "He cannot play in here," said The queen Queen Bee.

"You have to share," I said. "This is for everyone.  And he's just a little boy."

"We are playing here and this is ours.  He cannot play here."

"My son can play wherever he wants," I said through clenched teeth. "Don't you ever tell my son where he can or cannot play."  

The little mean girl tossed her hair(!) at me and walked away.  A few minutes later she shoved another toddler off a bench and received no more than a stern look from the unseated party's mother. I kept my mouth shut that time, for fear I'd leave the place handcuffed and in a squad car.  

Obviously, even though I failed to put little so-and-so in her place, I had no problem saying something to her. If my daughter were this much of a mean girl, I would pray to God that people would say something to her.  

What would you have done?  Where do you stand on disciplining other people's children? Are you okay with others disciplining your children? To keep talking, click on over to my Parent Society post.  And, by the way, I'm not sure if it's my lack of make-up or my desperately in-need-of-a-cut-and-color-hair, but it's cold over in society! While you're there, please, please show a blogger some love by commenting!  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Mom in the Spotlight: Elizabeth Stepanek Stepien

Elizabeth Stepanek Stepien began her dance training at the age of eight at the Major School of Dance in Illinois.  She trained in ballet, tap, jazz, pointe, and lyrical. She performed in their annual recitals as well as competed as a soloist in pointe and lyrical. She also performed in the Von Heideke’s Chicago Festival Ballet The Nutcracker. After graduating high school, Elizabeth studied at the Von Heidecke School of Ballet and taught ballet and jazz at the Major School of Dance. In 2000, She moved to South Carolina where she attended the College of Charleston for theater, dance, and costume design. She also danced with the Robert Ivey Ballet and performed in the Footlight Players production of West Side Story. After moving back to Illinois and getting married, Elizabeth attended Columbia College Chicago as a dance major. She studied with Liz Burritt, Peter Carpenter, Paige Cunningham, and Dardi McGinley-Gallivan among others. She also attended workshops with Same Planet Different World, The Joe Goode Performance Group, and Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan. As a recent graduate she excited for  the next chapter in her life as a dancer, choreographer, teacher,  and mom! 

How Many Children do you Have? Boys ?Girls?
I have a son named Christian and he is 4 years old going on 16. My second child is Sophia and she is 2 years old.

Where were you in your career when your children were born?
I feel  like I was just starting over. I had spent many years as a theater major as well as dancing in a small ballet company in Charleston SC. I moved back to Illinois and reconnected with my now husband. I spent a lot of time taking class and teaching. 

Shortly after we were married (like 2 weeks) I started at Columbia College Of Chicago as a dance major. The summer after I started Columbia, we were pregnant. This created some challenges, but I was so ready for them. I was in knee deep in school with both pregnancies and danced with both until about 6 or 7 months.

Being a full-time student mom seems almost impossible to me. What were your strategies? Is there any perspective that you had as a mom that might have given you an advantage over your peers?
Being in school with two very small children was such a challenge. I felt guilty being away ten hours or more a day. I kept telling myself just to finish school.  Of course I also wanted to be a example to my kids -- finish what you start and always do the best you can. 

My strategies were to sleep on the train, which was an hour and a half each way, and to stay up after Christian and Sophia were asleep to get homework done. For the most part, if they were awake I was mom not student. I also had a great support system from my husband and his parents. They went above and beyond watching the kids, so I could finish school.

Being a mom did change things for me. School became my only selfish time. At times, it was the only place I had time to myself, which made me a better mom. What better way to feel normal again than to be in a dance class? I didn’t take it for granted. I never missed, unless my kids were seriously sick and couldn’t go to the sitter.  If I was sick or injured I did the best I could. 

My kids taught me to let go of things and just have fun, which sometimes is hard in the dance world. My confidence went up and I really started to dance for myself…not for a grade or to get moved up into the next technique level. My kids have brought out a better dancer. I’m not sure that being a parent gave me an advantage but I feel like it helped me grow a lot the last few semesters.

You’re a dance teacher as well. Does being a parent give you any different insights, strategies or ideas for your teaching?
I know that I teach way differently than before I had kids. But I don’t know if it’s because of the tools I learned at Columbia and the examples of my amazing teachers there, or if it’s because I am a parent. 

I do know that I am way more patient with students than my own kids! I guess it’s easier when they are not your own. I feel very comfortable teaching little ones, which I'm sure is because of my own children. I am still growing and learning as a teacher. Similar to parenting, it's total trial and error. I try to be as prepared as possible, but I always have a backup plan.

Like dancers, we as parents have strengths and weaknesses. What is your best quality as a mom? What’s something that you would like to improve on?
I am awful at this question when asked about dance…strengths. I'll start with weaknesses. I would love to be more patient, especially with my 4 year old. I hate yelling so finding patience would be awesome. Learning how to remain calm when buttons are pushed or nothing seems like it’s going right is something I try to work on daily.

Ok, strengths…I encourage my kids to do what they love. I am not afraid to go out in public with my son when he decides he is going to be Peter Pan and not answer to any other name. This really happened and lasted for two days. I truly enjoy playing along with their active imaginations.

What are your strategies for finding balance between work, family, and personal time.
I am a crazy list maker. Each day I try and make a list/plan. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. At all. The kids are on a routine and life revolves around that. 

Being organized helps a lot, although I probably drive everyone crazy. I usually get work done when Dane is off work or when the kids are sleeping -- a lot like school.  

Personal time takes a back seat. If I want to workout it is done at 5 a.m., before everyone gets up or around my husband’s crazy schedule. I am training for a marathon and I get up really early most of the time before the kids get up. 

I am still trying to figure out how to actually take a dance class myself. That's the hard part about teaching dance. It is doubly hard, living in the suburbs with the long commute to a city studio. But once life gets back to normal it will happen at least twice a month.

What?! You are training for a marathon?!  How does one even embark on such a quest?

I am a little crazy! I have wanted to run a marathon since high school, but couldn’t because I was in school or pregnant.  I was a distanc runner starting in junior high.  In high school, I ran cross country and track all four years.  I recently ran the Soldier 10 and the Allstate 13.1 in Chicago.

To start training you just run.  I use an app on my phone that gives me the amount of time I need to run – this weekend my long run was 2.5 hours.  I think my short run days started at three miles.  It has been good for me since right now I can’t get to the city to take class. It’s a stress release and keeps me sane.

I didn have to make huge changes to my diet because I suffer from IBS and realized the longer I ran, the worse my digestive system was.  So now I’m gluten and dairy free, which are my number one triggers.  I feel a lot better and I am finally losing that stubborn baby weight.

I hope to add interval training and weights to improve my pace.  Right now I run my long runs at about 9:40 minutes/mile and would love a 9 minute pace.  The big day is September 16th and I’m getting nervous.

This will be a huge accomplishment for me.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Member of Society

You have delusions of grandeur!   

Miss Hollywood.

Champagne tastes and beer (water scooped out of a puddle?) money.

These are phrases I've heard often -- very often -- in reference to my tastes.  

From the time I was a little girl in Queens, I wanted to dance the tango in a large elegant room with a man of mystery.  I just knew I'd be a member of high society.  I knew I would dance.  

But unfortunately, I realized that unless you were ridiculously talented, ridiculously lucky and married a sugar daddy -- or you paired dancing with vapo-thieving diamonds right off the bodies of spectators-- dancing was no ticket to riches.  

And I didn't care.  

I danced in the U.S. and in Europe and I taught dance.  I married a wonderful man.  We had two beautiful children. While we're not jetting off on vacation with the frequency with which McDonald's tries to convince people that it's healthy/like Starbucks/where the cool people eat, I am living a great life.  Despite what those who define everyone by their annual household income and material possessions may think, being able to lead a creative life is a gift.  

But then, all of a sudden, it happened. Because of my writing, society let me in! Even though I am not fit to remove an errant piece of toilet paper from David Sedaris's shoes, I have finally been admitted into society.  

Parent Society that is! 

Yes, I am one of the official bloggers at! Do pay a call to my first post,  The Best Mom Workout: 8 Lessons in Patience Training.  Also, the Parent Society button over in the right-hand side column of this blog is your calling card to all my Parent Society posts.  

Do the Patience Training workout immediately if by 9 a.m. you have ever craved a triple venti Mexican Coffee, some Benadryl for your kids (even though they're experiencing no allergic reaction whatsoever), and a one-way ticket to Guam.     

Go!  Become a functioning member of society!

Note: you don't have to join anything to read posts. But you have to register to comment, which I know you will, in order to show your superior intellect and breeding. 

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