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

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