New York City offered so many experiences with dance, of course, being my backdrop – and experiences positive and negative reached out to teach me.

I descended the subway stairs to ride the IRT back to Brooklyn one day; my head in a dance cloud as usual, entered the train and sat in a seat nearest to the door noticing a man in a brown trench coat sitting across from me. The train began to move and I opened my book, not really reading as I knew from years of riding the New York subway, I had to be aware of my surroundings at all times. I kept my practiced eye on the goings on in the train and took a mental note of the scarcity of passengers. Mental toughness began for me in gymnastics but for surviving New York City, I needed to be even more resilient, mentally and physically.

No sooner had the train begun to move when I sensed a motion above the horizon of my book and yep, sure enough, the man was pleasuring himself. Pretending not to be shocked and disgusted, I wondered for a moment what had happened to this guy to make him seem so lost and lonely.

Survival was my education that day, and without losing eye contact with him, I yawned – a big, fat and rude yawn. He couldn’t miss it. Nonchalantly, I went back to reading and was acutely aware that he never stopped masturbating and never stopped looking at me. The train arrived at the next station and the man got up to leave. I kept my eyes on the book, reading the same line over and over until the doors shut. And then, just like that, as if finishing a marathon, my heart went from its imposed calm to wanting to burst out of my chest!

I have found that practicing the Pilates method with mindfulness, prepares me for all kinds of survival moments. When I sense something scary in front of me, I think back of the New York subway experience remembering my gutsy yawn and it makes me smile. We all need courage and confidence in our lives and if you encounter something potentially frightening, look it right in the eye and yawn – a big, fat and rude yawn.

 

When I was dancing and choreographing in New York City, I took every opportunity to gain more experience. This led me to a unique chance of choreographing for an all-male strip group. Most were gang bangers, body builders or an amalgamation of both. I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to convince them of my abilities and earn their respect, but still defiant enough to grab onto all of the courage my insides had to offer.

Because each man brought into the studio a disrespectful attitude and a preconceived idea of what I would be like as his teacher – mostly it was “that little white girl” with the big set of cojones. I wanted to prove my worth as their choreographer – which was no easy task, especially with the ones who deposited their knives and Berettas at the back of the studio. Not only did I need to prove myself as their choreographer, but to my surprise, I found myself also having to be mother, healer and stripper.

On Wednesdays, I had 2 hours to teach a group dance class to these mammoths and then to help them individually with their strip routines as well as empower them with self-confidence and grace. Each following Friday night, at a large, predominantly black and Puerto Rican nightclub, in front of hundreds, if not thousands of screaming women, they’d perform in all their glory and self-admiration.

You never know how your actions will be perceived, but I do believe when your intentions are clear and good, you will earn respect because, eventually, I did earn it from of those big thugs. So much so, that every time we were all together for their nightclub gig, they’d all huddle around me before and after their show, protecting me from men, just like themselves – in case those men might not have had the opportunity to work with someone who gave them respect.

Hello everyone, as this is my first blog, I’d like to promise two things. First, that whatever I say is what I sincerely believe. I’m not politically correct – which means I’ll express to you what I feel and why I feel the way I do. It is never my intention to offend anyone, but sometimes things need to be said. Secondly, to offer practical mind and body health tips that go beyond the Pilates method as well as deal with the myths and phoniness that exist in my field.

And with those two promises laid out for all to hold me accountable, I begin…

Back when I was training as a competitive gymnast, I had many opportunities to have life lessons presented to me. Most were begrudgingly taught by my coaches, others I learned at the gymnastic meets and still others by the realization that my girlhood was fading – and I was nowhere near where I wanted to be.

One such lesson came during just another day at the gym as I worked to perfect my tumbling skills. Try as I might, my efforts never seemed quite good enough for my coaches. I guess you could say I developed a bit of an attitude, and yes, it was on display. I thought the manner in which they gave corrections lacked any kind of humanity, so could you blame me for having my boxing gloves at the ready? Apparently, my coaches had had enough of this attitude and decided that it was best if I took some time off. Good, I said to myself, glad to be out of their sight. My ankles were hurting anyway.

What I didn’t know at the time was how important it was to extract myself from that world. Although I was pissed because it was their decision and not mine, I secretly agreed with them and left the gym. Choice words cascaded out of me the moment I drove away.

From that one little gymnastic scene, I came to realize how important it was to separate myself in order to stay centered – to give myself time to re-evaluate my thoughts, words and actions. When I was allowed to return to the gym, I was amazed at how high my back flips and twists were. I found myself smiling inside and thinking that my little “rest” helped me in more ways than expected. My coaches thought they tamed me, but I knew better. I just had found my center again. I learned that without honoring necessary alone time, centering time, we can often make unwise choices – from what we choose to eat or whom we select as friends or what source of information to trust in our rapidly changing world. Getting centered puts us back in touch with our authentic selves.