End-of-Decade Review

December 22, 2015

I’m turning 30! I want to assess my results of my twenties by giving myself a decade review. Let’s do this:

When I was 20 [the year: 2005] 

I was a sophemore at VCU working on dual degrees (BA, English & BS, Mass Communications). I was a first-year Resident Assistant at Brandt Hall, a first-year member of the VCU Dance Team, and I interviewed for a writer position at the school newspaper but ended up getting the News Editor position instead. I was dancing, writing, growing. I had a boyfriend who wanted to be a doctor, so I’d spend hours in the library with his notecards helping him study. We ate a lot of Thai food. I was starting to develop friendships that would last me a lifetime. I was an assistant for the Physics department at VCU.

When I was 21 [the year: 2006]


I turned 21 at midnight on an evening I was working at Richmond Times-Dispatch. I was surrounded by some of the best writers and thinkers I’ve ever met. Still today, I credit them with making me the writer I am today. I still danced, studied, wrote but now I could attend parties and drink a glass of wine (you know – legitimately, like a grown person). I was still helping my boyfriend at the time study for medical school tests, performing at basketball games, interning at Richmond Times-Dispatching, news editing for The Commonwealth Times, and teaching dance occasionally. I was placed on scholarship at VCU, which I am still thankful for today. It helped my life tremendously. But I also experienced a break up. The boyfriend I had been helping study graduated and went off to medical school. We went our separate ways, as friends, with mutual respect.

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Surprise and Delight Those You Love

December 3, 2015

“There is a secret about human love that is commonly overlooked: Receiving it is much more scary and threatening than giving it. How many times in your life have you been unable to let in someone’s love or even pushed it away? Much as we proclaim the wish to be truly loved, we are often afraid of that, and so find it difficult to open to love or let it all the way in.” {john welwood}

In my efforts to understand love in a deeper more mature way, I’ve found that my attention and research tends to bring up trauma. Understanding trauma and how we react physically, mentally, emotionally to trauma impacts the way we give and receive love. For example, I know from my education research that processing, decision making and emotional reactions and emotional attachment occur in the amygdala of the human brain. The cerebellum handles motor control, memory, mood and language. The amygdala and cerebellum work together to help us express and process, then decide and act. But when trauma enters the equation, our brain reacts which causes our emotions, actions and entire personality to react. When you are experiencing trauma (or attempting to recover from trauma) your pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for learning, differentiating between good and bad, better or best, same or different – is taken offline. So the executive director of your brain is no longer functioning when you’re experiencing stress. It is difficult to be entirely present for a partner when your entire personality is offline.


“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” {william james}

We have to strive to understand how we react during stress and how our partner reacts under stress in order to give them the adequate time for their brain to settle and for their personality to be restored. Whew. That’s heavy. That’s a huge task, especially if you’re in a particularly highly charged moment and language is firing off (though it isn’t firing off well, because your brain function to determine what is good, bad, better and best is turned off).

So how do we do this? How do we become solid ground and present to support the people that we love in feeling secure and calm so that they are able to function with their best, strongest and healthiest version of their brain?

Dr. Kristen R. Jamison has 4 suggestions, and I want to add one.

Worth: We need to instill within our partners a feeling of belonging, positive sense of self, foster self-determination and motivation within them by showing you support them. Let them know they are loved and cared for. Show them that they are seen, heard and feltEmotion: Help each other identify feelings, and acknowledge they are real. Learning what a feeling is and how to regulate it can help an individual return to a safe, happy and secure brain faster.

Empathy: Understand each others’ sense of self. Understand that you are both very different and experience the world differently. Practice acceptance instead of judgment.

Exploration: This is higher-order thinking because now we’re discussing problem-solving. As Dr. Jamison said, “It’s about getting messy to explore the world but it’s not OK to expect someone else to clean up your mess.” We can’t be reckless with another’s heart or time or energy.

Surprise and Delight: I’m adding this one because it’s special and I think it creates within your partner a sense of security, intrigue and validation. Finding small ways to surprise and delight your partner (or people that you love) reiterates to them in volume how important they are. It also shows your investment into the partnership and it keeps the brain elated, overjoyed and confirmed.


Being present for them means knowing when your experiencing stress and that your personality may be offline. Being present for them means accepting and showing them their worth, and never taking that for granted. Being present for them means genuinely wanting their happiness and showing them through surprise-and-delight efforts. Being present for them means knowing when you or they are experiencing trauma and being there for them through that, in whatever what they need.

It has taken me a while to arrive right where I am with this. I’m still practicing. I still mess up. But as I dedicate time, energy and thinking to discovering what love is and how to accept and receive it, I’m learning more about what it takes to suffer alone and with someone. I’m learning what it takes to be present and proactive. I’m learning what it takes to make a choice and stand by it.

These lessons are refreshing and they’re opening up my world in ways I never anticipated.

Uprooted to Find

November 30, 2015

I have monthly check-ins with myself. Occasionally, during concentrated times of growth, I go back and read the check-ins.

October 2015, I wrote: 

I’ve been totally uprooted. I thought I knew what I wanted, needed and where I was going. Turns out, I guess I was wrong. I feel thrown off track, professionally and personally. That has been refreshing. But that has also been very lonely. It has made me ask myself the tough questions. It has made me swallow a tough pill. I have watched as people I love tell me everything I’ve missed. I’ve been totally uprooted.

November 2015, I wrote: 

I am stronger. I am closer to God. I am more firm in my conviction to turn away from fear, worry and anxiety about my future. I am good exactly where I am. I am loved, exactly where I am. I feel sturdy and content. I am seeking nothing. I am listening to myself more and hearing the call to love myself more, be kinder to myself more. I am putting all of my efforts into developing an immense capacity for love and understanding. I am here to observe and participate in joy. 


“And hope does not disappointment us, because God has poured his love into our hearts.” {Romans 5:5}

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Love Yourself Enough

November 3, 2015

I loved myself enough. I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgement called it disloyal. I call it self-loving.


I have always been a mission-oriented girl. I’ve always been good at taking general excitement and making it specific. But there are things I’ve been terrible at: setting boundaries, saying “no,” using discernment when it comes to my time, efforts and energy. I haven’t been great at creating and sustaining balance for myself and my schedule. And I’ve had to come to a harsh truth with myself: I was being reckless with myself and with others who loved me. 

It’s easy to get caught up with hurriedness. In fact, I had gotten so accustomed to living like a tornado, that I couldn’t understand those non-tornado people around me. Didn’t they feel they were missing out? Didn’t they have somewhere to be? Didn’t they want to be somewhere? Here I was thinking that people who were doing nothing were causing the problems. It took me heartbreak to realize that the tornado is what causes harm and pain. Not the community of people it’s rushing through.

So I stopped.

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Children of the Dirt

October 13, 2015

Read this short story by Simon Rich (The Last Girlfriend on Earth):

According to Aristophanes, there were originally three sexes – the children of the moon who were half-male and half-female, the children of the sun who were fully male, and the children of the earth, who were fully female. Everyone had four legs, four arms and two heads, and spent their days in blissful contentment. Zeus became jealous of the humans’ joy so he decided to split them all in two. Aristophanes called this punishment the origin of love because ever since, the children of the earth, moon and sun have been searching the globe in a desperate bid to find their other halves. Aristophanes’ story though is incomplete because there was also a fourth sex – the children of the dirt. Unlike the other three sexes, the children of the dirt consisted of just one half. Some were male and some were female and each had just two arms, two legs and one head. The children of the dirt found the children of the earth, moon and sun to be completely insufferable. Whenever they saw a two-headed creature walking by, talking to itself in baby-talk voices, it made them want to vomit. They hated going to parties and when there was no way to get out of one, they sat in the corner, too bitter and depressed to talk to anybody. The children of the dirt were so miserable that they invented wine and art to dull their pain. It helped a little, but not really. When Zeus went on his rampage he decided to leave the children of the dirt alone. They’re already [bleep], he explained.

Happy gay couples descend from the children of the sun. Happy lesbian couples descend from the children of the earth. And happy straight couples descend from the children of the moon. But the vast majority of humans are descendants of the children of the dirt. And no matter how long they search the earth, they’ll never find what they’re looking for because there’s nobody for them, not anybody in the world.


This story came into my life during a rough patch. I had packed my car and was driving home to get hugs from my mother, snuggles from my doggy, and walks on roads where the lines aren’t painted on. I needed that during this rough patch. NPR was on and this story was read aloud by the author. At the end of the podcast, they repeat at least 20 times: “They’ll never find what they’re looking for because there’s nobody for them, not anybody in the world.”


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When Your Soul is Well

October 7, 2015

How are you, lately? Strong? Flourishing? Living in integrity? Those are all lovely, empowering ideas but they’re hard to maintain on a day-by-day basis. Like flowers, we wither. Like pitchers of lemonade, we spill out.


What makes us spill doesn’t have to be negative things like rude people, rush-hour traffic or feeling stepped on. It can be the life things we adore like giving to someone, carrying emotional load, or even doing a job that we love.

A dear friend of mine and I were discussing my struggles lately [granted, my struggles seem petty up next to some of my friends’ struggles] but they’ve left me shaken. He said to me, “You should avoid fighting negative energy with negative principles.” When he said it, it struck me. After I let the thought marinate for awhile, it continued to strike me. I felt like he hit the core of why I spill.

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How much did they first pay you to give up on your dreams?

September 28, 2015

Take a look at this clip from Up in the Air (Note: It does contain language as the character is finding out that he’s being fired).

“How much did they first pay you to give up on your dreams?” 

“27 grand a year.”

“And when were you going to stop and come back to do what makes you happy?”

“I see guys who work at the same company for their entire lives. They clock in and clock out, and they never have a moment of happiness.” 

I write about this because I did it. I did it exactly the way that guy in the movie did it. I graduated college and I took a job for the money and the health insurance (and those were the only reasons). It took me 4 years to realize I wasn’t experiencing a moment of happiness. So I got out to follow my dreams (and that was a very important reason).

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Month by Month

September 25, 2015

Month by month is how our lives go by. We don’t always realize it’s happening. We find ourselves walking into stores and decorations are already being sold for holidays 3 months away, but it isn’t until we’re scheduling something that we stop and say, “I can’t believe it’s… [enter month here].”

I have always tried to make it a personal goal to realize where, how, why and when my time [my life] is passing. You can’t re-do a breath. You can’t go back in time. You can’t re-experience an emotion exactly the way you did the first time it hit. You move on not even realizing that you’re moving on.

I’ve been contemplating ways to track time with my students. As an educator, I use embedded assessments to track student learning. I have the students complete the same task three times at different points in their learning: once at the beginning (when they know little), once in the middle (when it’s seeping in), and once at the conclusion (when teaching has been completed and the true learning and personal processing begins). The students rarely catch on that they’re being assessed because they are in such different places at each assessment. Who we are changes day to day, minute to minute. I’m never dealing with the same student.

It took me awhile to realize: I’m never the same person either. Each morning I wake up, I’m coming from a different space. One day, I am a small little dancer. The next day, I’m the School Director. So what do we count as “life?” Because everything actually counts.


I remembered recently being a child sitting by the pool. I was overwhelmed by this particular pool. The colors were a little dark for my liking, and the water seemed to be alarmingly deep. The pool was behind a brick house surrounded by trees, so I couldn’t visualize an exit. I wanted to be by this pool. I wanted to jump in and enjoy it without hesitation. I wanted to sink into the water and pop back up with my hair slicked back and zero worries. But for some reason, this particular pool wasn’t allowing that. I had questions. This particular pool seemed peculiarly out of place. Or perhaps it was me that was out of place. I didn’t know; the pool didn’t know; and my perfectly sweet and attentive babysitter didn’t know.

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Someone else’s “oops” helped me grow

January 4, 2015

I once applied for a job that I wasn’t ready for. I’ve always dreamed big, and I’ve never truly understood holding back or not going for it, so I applied. I had an inkling that perhaps I wasn’t… established enough, but I also believe in my ability to learn, grow and produce, so I applied.

I also got an interview!

I went in, shook hands, discussed possibilities, toured the facilities, and everything ended on a positive note. I was honestly happy that I had received any kind of response (seeing as I was 23 years old, hadn’t pursued my Masters degree yet, and was still relatively “new” at everything in life).

But the person I interviewed with had a boss. He – of course – had to report back to her about the interview and his impressions of me, and she – of course – got to comment on me.

Here’s the funny part of the story: I was accidentally copied on these e-mails.

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The person I interviewed with seemed to love me; he wrote to her quoting the examples I gave him in the interview about programming, plans, curriculum, goals, and he made a noticeable effort to point out my “passion.” That person’s boss, however, tore me to pieces: too young, too inexperienced, no Masters degree, no “reputable company associated,” “reaching too high,” and the list went on and on. She meant to send that only to her employee (whose name conveniently also started with the letters “S-h,” so in her rush she accidentally selected only my name and sent her assassination of me directly to me).

I read every single word with squinty eyes in total shock. It cut deep (which ended up being a terrific things 6 years later, but we’ll get to that).

When I got to the end of a very long e-mail full of detailed reasons, examples and arguments of why I’m not great, I felt acutely aware of everything. I could feel I hadn’t blinked in awhile. My hands here holding a lot of stress. My heart was beating really fast. I had no words. My spine hadn’t relaxed since I started reading the e-mail.

I wasn’t sure what to do. She had obviously spent a lot time constructing that e-mail (complete with an Internet search of who I am, links for examples and so on). I felt the person for whom the e-mail was intended needed to see her opinions.  So I forwarded it to him (copied her) and simply said, “I believe she intended this for you.”

In no time, I received an e-mail from her (this time talking to me instead of about me). She apologized for her oversight of who she sent the e-mail to and then proceeded to give me advice. I read her advice but I never wrote her back.

Six years later, I’m sure that woman is still in a director position making decisions on who is worthy and who is not (unfortunately, that must happen in life and someone has to make those tough decisions). But I want to thank her, not for her second e-mail on life advice, but for her first e-mail deconstructing who I was appearing to be to the outside world. She was simply going off what she was perceiving – without ever having spoken to me – and we rarely get a uncensored glimpse of what strangers think of us. We can’t just go up to a stranger on the subway and ask, “Hey, what do you think of me? First impressions, say anything, go!”

But I got that. And I’m thankful.

Since then, I have finished my Masters degree. I have since become associated with many reputable companies. I have hundreds of teaching hours under my belt. I’ve worked on major research projects and national initiatives.

So here is what I learned from this: 

You have to give life time so that you can develop who you are. My 23-year-old self is very different than my 29-year-old self. My 45-year-old self will be very different than my 29-year-old self (and I’m uber-excited to meet that person!) But you can’t let someone’s words stop you from your goals, your efforts and your passions.

This experience sticks with me for many reasons: 

1. I realized even super important directors make mistakes.

2. I saw how directors look at candidates (what they look for, what they dissect, what they analyze a little too much, what they jump to conclusions on, what they find important and interesting).

3. I saw how innocent and naieve I was at 23, but also how fearless I was (proud of myself for that).

4. I see how far I’ve come. Out of her checklist of everything I wasn’t, I now am. From my own doing, on my own time and terms.

5. I learned to not let words change my life plans or path.

I often wonder if she ever sits around a table with her friends with a glass of wine and tells the story of how on her first week at the new job, she sent an e-mail trashing someone TO that someone. And I often wonder if she ever wonders about that someone and if I listened to the unsolicited advice she gave me.

But, by chance, if she ever does wonder and, by chance, if she Googles me (the way she’s previously done), I hope she knows that I’m appreciative for the uncensored honesty she spoke. I learned to sit down, wait my turn, let life happen, work hard and keep going. I’ve also learned to “say yes” to responsibilities that seem scary, to collect moments, to learn new skills, to be brave on all fronts and I’m thankful for those lessons.

I’m also thankful to the random people and events (like her and her mistake) which have helped inspire me, teach me and guide me. Those are the stories that count.

I am transient, fleeting and that’s cool!

January 2, 2015

“It probably has to do with the ease of remembering versus the difficulty of imagining. Most of us can remember who we were 10 years ago, but we find it hard to imagine who we are going to be. And then we mistakingly think that because it’s hard to imagine, it’s not likely to happen.”

“The bottom line is, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences; it reshapes our values; it alters our personalities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect; only when we look backwards do we realize how much change happens in a decade. It’s as if the present is a magic time, it’s a watershed on the timeline. It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves. Human beings are works in progress that mistakingly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been.” – Dan Gilbert, TED talk, June 3, 2014.

I finished graduate school in May 2014. It was as simple as clicking “send” on an e-mail to relinquish my hours and hours of research on gifted children over to my advisor. Then I hopped on a train for New York City where I danced for three days straight (and shared a lovely meal with an ex-boyfriend while sipping wine on a skyscraper’s roof).

But after the rush was over, I wearily woke up, rubbed my eyes, hopped back on the train and headed back to reality… whatever that was. See, I thought that once you get a graduate degree, that’s when “real life” starts. (Note: I’ve been through this “Is this real life? Am I grown?” phase once before: when I graduated with my undergraduate degrees and landed my first full-time job. You can read all about that here, here and here).

At some point during 2014, I realized that there is no moment when I’ll recognize “real life” or feel “grown.” So when copious job offers didn’t come pouring in with $100,000+ offers for salaries, I accepted that a transition phase was in order. The difficult part about transition phases is that they’re extremely uncomfortable and mega stressful. It makes you start to have to have conversations about money, and health insurance (because you’re not 18 anymore, and that spot wasn’t there before), and retirement. I once had all of those things but I gave them up for my dream (which you’ve already read about if you clicked on one of the above-mentioned “heres.”) But now, I’m 29 and money, insurance and retirement are needing to be discussed again with a little more… focus.

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That being said, I still embraced the transition phase head on. I took 3 part-time jobs, all of them had to fulfill certain life thinggys that I wanted in my life: 1) I wanted to grow as a leader – I wanted to learn how to be more assertive and foster growth in others. 2) I wanted to have fun – I wanted a job that made me money and I could randomly dance/sing/laugh during my work hours without having to explain such outbursts. 3) I wanted to work with my community – I wanted to leave a mark. Lucky for me, three fabulous part-time jobs surfaced and they each fulfill 1, 2 and 3. I’m a lucky girl.

Here’s the thing, I am not eternally patient (though I’m working on that). I do understand that transition phases are necessary and you learn a lot while treading water. But I’m also saying that I’ve learned to value my transition phases not only as “moments of chaos” but as my life. I am not “done.” My life story is not done. I’m not wasting time or energy or finances. I’m collecting moments, memories, friends, skills. I’m 29, and if I choose to randomly change directions, then I’ll do it! Dressed cute and with an army of friends and family standing behind me.

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I’m not saying that my transition phase has been easy. It has been difficult. Long hours, little sleep, frustrations, inability to save money the way I used to, and I’ve had to ask for help when I need it (which was a valuable lesson for me to learn). But I won’t fall prey to “the ease of remembering” who I was – and repeating that – simply because it takes extra work to imagine who I could be. I’m willing to do the work.

My 2015 words of focus for my life are posted on my wall:

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Faith. Love. Loyalty.

Living in integrity.

Don’t try to fix the past.

Yoga. Every. Dang. Day.

Be guardful of my time.

Write once a week.

Live more genuinely.

Make time for me.

Pray more.

Make time for friends.

Trust the process.

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I’m headed into unknown territory of what lies ahead, and that is terrifyingly exciting! But I promise, as soon as I know, you’ll know! For now, I think I’ll imagine some wonderful moments for my future!

Living in Integrity

October 1, 2014

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it is to live in integrity with the people around you. These questions have been on my mind:

Are your commitments in line with who you are?

If you had to leave your house every single day, where would you go and what would you do?

Are you living accepting full responsibility for all areas of your life?

Are your daily choices aligning with your goals, values and beliefs?

Are you creating a future that otherwise would not exist?

Are your goals authentic to who you are?

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I had a friend recently tell me a story. She said every time you hit the snooze button in the morning, you aren’t holding integrity with yourself. You said you were going to wake up at that time – you set an alarm to make that so; to set that into action. But you shut it off. You shut down your original intention.

Eventually, that spills over into your life (you said you were going the gym, but you didn’t – you get the point). If you continuously hit the snooze button or don’t follow through with your own goals, intentions, values and beliefs than you start to feel like you can’t even rely on yourself.

I have been examining how I am living with and among other people in my life. My co-workers, my staff, my friends, my family, my followers (that sounds creepy, but I mean in an Instagram kind of way).

And I want to write them all a short letter.

Dear co-workers: I want to be solid ground for you. When you see me, I want you know – without debt or hesitation – that I am dependable. I want you to know that I will show up, that I will be present, that I will be positive, strong, willing to listen, open to feedback and always working with a sense of urgency. I want you to know that I won’t shy away from candor, that I’ll respect the space we share and produce results.

Dear staff (who I actually just consider my friends): I want to be an inspiring leader for you. I want to have an open door, I want to have answers (even when I may not have them right that minute). I want to make sure I’m there to check in with you on your work-life balance. I want to help elevate you from where you are to where you want to be. I want to help you work through whatever you’re struggling with in order to create a better, stronger you.

Dear friends: I want to be better for you. I will openly admit that I haven’t been the best friend lately. I’ve dedicated my hours and energy to self and service, and I feel as though I’ve let you down. I want to be there for you, spend time with you, build you up and share laughs with you. I need you in my life more than I’ve let on, and this is an area I am dedicated to working on.

Dear family: I want to be someone you’re proud of calling your own. I want to be someone who puts into the family as much as I’ve taken. You are the people who made me who I am today, and saying “thank you” would never be enough, so I dedicate my daily doings and my life’s work to you all. You are the ones who taught me about integrity growing up, and I am only able to move forward in life knowing you all have my back.

Dear followers (you know, in the Instagram/blog kind of way): I want to be the same person I am publically, privately and personally. I want you to see that my life aligns with my goals, visions and values and that living those things has made – for me – a life that I am happy to live. I want to challenge you, inspire you, make you think and make you question. I want to be a source of positive energy for you; a catalyst for something new in your life.

And most importantly…

Dear Sheena: I want to be solid ground for you. I want to be an inspiring leader for you. I want to be better, for you. I want to be someone you’re proud of calling your own. I want to be the same person I am publically, privately and personally. (See what I did there? hehe) But, seriously. At the end of the day, I want all of those things for everyone else and for myself because I want to be that good to the world and to myself.

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I’m learning that wishing, hoping and “shoulding” are not effective. That saying “I’ll try” is really just non-committal. I’ve learned that you have to change your inner voice. (How would you feel if someone started talking to you the way your inner voice does?) I’ve learned that the person who looked into the mirror and saw my 10-year-old self is the same person who looks in the mirror today and sees my 28-year-old self. Here I am. Here I always was.

I challenge you think about these questions mentioned here. Are you living in integrity with your co-workers, friends, family and most importantly, with yourself? And if you aren’t, what would you change?

How to Call Tinker Bell

January 19, 2014

The sweetest little conversation happened yesterday.

My little dancers from Dance Camp for Children of Prisoners and Local Youth and I were sitting in a circle for Circle Time. This is a precious time where we sit down to talk about their favorite, most memorable moments in class. They answer the question: “What do you hope you’ll never forget?” One by one they list the moments that were most special to their little hearts.

But quickly, a little background. The week before, Tinker Bell surprised the dancers and she came to Dance Camp.

She brought them all sparkly wands and goodies, then she helped them design their Dance Camp costumes for their upcoming performance. After that, she danced with them! Smiles were everywhere. Hugs were unstoppable.


Tinker Bell brought magic into the room, and then when she sat down and helped the students design their costumes there was encouragement, love and happiness that I cannot explain in words here. There were special moments full of little hands covered in marker ink that waved Tinker Bell over. There were magic spells being cast with their sparkly wands. There were twirls and giggles. There were little princesses walking on the tips of their little toes. It was magical.


Now flash forward to this past weekend of camp. We had accomplished a lot. We finalized our show order (which the kids chose), we talked about the upcoming performance and what it is to be a professional performer. Then, one little girl raised her hand.

“Miss Sheena? Will Tinker Bell be at our show?” Silence filled the room. All of their little eyes got just a little bit bigger.

“I think so!” I answered, although I was unsure. “I have to call Tinker Bell and ask her if she can come.”

The little girl immediately said, “But how are you going to call her?” (Quick Sheena, quick. HOW are you going to call Tinker Bell?)

“There’s this little tiny phone,” I said, holding my index finger and thumb together. “This little phone lives inside of a flower. I peel open the petals and I get the special phone, and then I can call Tinker Bell!”

“But Miss Sheena. Do you know what flower the phone is in?”

I thought for a minute. “No… I don’t! I’m going to have to search a lot of flowers to find this phone, aren’t I?”

But then the little girl stops me and says something I’ll never forget:

“No, Miss Sheena. There’s a Tinker Bell phone is EVERY flower!”

My heart filled with so much joy at this statement. One of the life lessons I hoped to pass on to my students was that there is always opportunity if we look for it. Within every life experience, there is always something magical: an open door, a chance for communication, an experience to grow from, a person to meet,  a connection to be made. When that little girl told me that there is a Tinker Bell phone hidden in every flower, I couldn’t stop smiling. Because – you know what – she was right.

There is a Tinker Bell phone in every flower as long as we look for it. If we peel back the petals, we find the prize. And that prize can connect us to new people, challenges and opportunities.

Here I was thinking I had to find a specific flower to find the phone, and this little girl reminded me that’s not my job! I don’t have to worry! I don’t have to assign a specific flower or moment in my life with so much importance. Every flower has the power; every flower is an opportunity.

So after Dance Camp had come to a close – all of the hugs had been given, the “thank yous” had been said, and the floors had been swept – I went immediately to find the nearest flower. And there, I found a Tinker Bell phone and I called Tinker Bell.

Protected: Work / Life Balance

December 29, 2013

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27 Lessons I Learned During Year 27

December 16, 2013

The calendar tells me I’m turning 28 this month. I compiled some life lessons I’ve learned during Year 27.


1. We assume others show love the same way do – and if they don’t, we worry it’s not there. This lesson, I have learned, comes with everything. We assume others communicate the same way we do, or that they’ll react the same way we do to a situation. But they don’t, and when they don’t that sets off red flags in our minds. We go on alert or on the defensive. We spend so much energy locking down that we forget to realize where they are coming from or why they reacted in such a way. We have to slow down and not fall haphazardly into panic mode assuming something (love, understanding, fond feelings) is not there. It’s most likely there, we are just reading it the wrong way.

2. Maturity doesn’t mean age. It means sensitivity, manners and how you react. The more years that pass in my life the more I realize that maturity has absolutely nothing to do with a number. I have seen children whose parents are in jail be admirably mature. I have seen grown adults with full-time jobs of stature be undeniably immature. Maturity is understanding yourself and how your personality travels within this world and how it touches the lives of others. Taking on the responsibility to be pleasant and kind… that’s maturity.

3. Some things are not important. I feel as though I keep having to learn this lesson. It comes to me in different forms, for example: “Pick and choose your battles” or “Make good choices” or “Create priorities” or “Decide what’s important to you.” I am the person who thinks everything matters and everything counts and everything is important, so this lesson has been a difficult one for me to comprehend. But it’s true, some things are not important. Like getting completely frazzled and worked up because of traffic: not worth it; not important. What’s important is arriving to your destination safe. What’s important is the rest of your day and what you have to accomplish and for whom. Some things are not important.

4. Letting go isn’t a one-time thing. It’s something you have to do every day, over and over again. When something bothers me, it’s like a pebble in my shoe until it’s corrected. This can be with anything: something on my to-do list, someone I need to forgive, a grudge that’s hard to let go of, a hurt feeling or bothersome feeling that’s lurking, a job I want to do myself but don’t have time for (and have to trust someone else to do). Letting go is hard for me, because I like to be involved and I like to feel life, even if that’s completely overwhelming to me at times. But learning to let go is a skill that I’ll need in the future. (Note: I have not perfected this lesson. At all)

5. Yes, I’m a strong person. But every now and then I need someone to take my hand and tell me it will all be all right. This is the dag-on truth.

6. Sorry isn’t enough. Sometimes you actually have to change. Behavior patterns. Know your own. Know others. Sometimes you actually have to change.

7. It’s OK to miss people you no longer want in your life. This lesson came with a lot of heartache. I think Danielle Koepke said it best, “Not all toxic people are cruel and uncaring. Some of them love us dearly. Many of them have good intentions. Most are toxic to our being simply because their needs and way of existing in the world force us to compromise ourselves and our happiness. They aren’t inherently bad people but they aren’t the right people for us. And as hard as it is, we have to let them go. Life is hard enough without being around people who bring you down, and – as much as you care – you can’t destroy yourself for the sake of someone else. You have to make your well-being a priority. Whether that means breaking up with someone you care about, loving a family member from a distance, letting go of a friend or removing yourself from a situation that feels painful, you have every right to leave and create a safer space for yourself.” (Note: This doesn’t mean you won’t miss them deeply.)


Photo by: Chelsie Darling Photography

8. I love the person I’ve become, because I’ve fought to become her. Working hard pays off, and I have seen this happen in my years of life. I’m thankful for every person and every moment that has brought me to where and who I am today.

9. Never trust your tongue when your heart is bitter. We all get frustrated and we all (as humans) are very likely to say things we know we don’t mean. It’s a difficult lesson, but stopping to breathe and stopping to look at the big picture can be tremendously helpful to many situations.

10. Show your work. My teachers used to say this all of the time in math class. But I have learned that this rule applies for everything. Showing your work means your work will speak for itself. You don’t have to be prideful about every process you go through, but your results should show all of the work you have put into something. Be that losing weight, or dancing, or studying, or working on a project. Your work should show and show beautifully. It should speak for itself.

11. Tea and coffee are great drinks. They keep you going. When I am feeling overwhelmed, stopping to sip tea or grab coffee is soothing to my soul. It’s a ritual that hushes a troubled spirit. Tea and coffee have helped me through a lot of stressful moments in graduate school. They’re like my secret high-power calming weapons.

12. The moment you realize that someone is better than you (for reasons you cannot change)… that’s a hard moment. I have witnessed this a lot this year. Young girls in dance realizing that they will never have as flexible of a back as so-and-so simply because she was born that way and the other one was not. Realizing that someone is “better” than you at something is an upsetting moment. It shakes us to the core and it makes us feel suddenly very vulnerable. Not only have I had to witness this moment a lot, but I’ve experienced it a lot as well. Growing past that moment and living through it to the next phase of acceptance is how you have to do it. You can be wonderful and great, too.

13. Stay single until someone compliments your life in a way that makes it better. Otherwise, it’s not worth it. This subject is one that comes up often when you’re female and you’re 28. It also indirectly comes up a lot through social media as I have watched all of my friends settle down, get married, buy houses, have children. I’ve watched as they’ve posted pictures of engagement rings, first-home keys, holiday kissy photos, ultrasounds, baby bump updates. But you have to be stronger than all of that when you’re on the other side of it (you know, the single and focused-on-work-and-school-and-self-development side). Please know, I am not saying that my friends are not focused on work, school or self-development while also doing all of those things. I know they are, too. Just in a different way. I have let this subject bother me even though I vowed to never let it. But the truth is, I’m waiting until I find someone who compliments my life. And I think I’ll just know when that time (and person) comes.

14. Create the things you wish existed. I have followed this rule many times during year 27. For example, I wanted there to be a camp for children of prisoners. So I made Dance Camp. I wanted there to be a clothing line for dancers with fun, motivational sayings. So I made one. I wanted there to be a collaboration of dancers spreading cheer to other dancers around the world. So I made Dance Swap. I wanted there to be a book club for dancers to learn more about dance history and technique. So I made Dancer Book Club (#DancerBookClub). I can’t say all have been super successful, but I keep trying and I keep working until they are. Mostly, I began to believe in the power of making dreams exist.

15. There is still so much I have to learn. Year 27 brought new opportunities to my life. Opportunities I never imagined. For example, I would have never thought Answers.com would ask me to be their Dance Expert writer. I never dreamed I’d be writing dance reviews for newspapers. I never thought I would take and pass the exams and become a member of Dance Masters of America. These were all magical things, and they are still magical to me. I carry them in my heart; little sparkles that make me smile and realize hard work pays off.

16. Accepting feedback (I mean REALLY accepting feedback) is not easy. We can all sit here and say, “I love feedback! It makes me better!” We can all say that because: 1) It may be true 2) It does make you better. But actually accepting feedback and changing your actions or your product is the difficult part. I always thought I was fabulous at accepting feedback until I moved up into higher levels of work which meant the feedback got extremely detailed and very real which translated in my head to “very personal.” I would find myself mentally in defensive-land holding a stick with glaring eyes (when really I was just listening), but I felt my heartbeat racing and my mind kept thinking, “How dare they?!” But once I went back to review my work: they were right! *gasp* My work could use work and then a little more work and then even more work. Really learning to listen was difficult but it has been pretty fantastic results wise.


17. Spoil me with consistency. As I have grown older, I find more and more that I enjoy when someone is consistent. I like when someone does what they say they will do. I like when they show up on time and they bring positive attitudes every time. I like when they work hard every day. I like when people respect deadlines and follow through. When other people are consistent, I find that I understand the world and the rules around me a lot better. I am, therefore, more consistent.

18. You will know when you’ve made the right decision because you’ll feel the stress leaving your body. I have learned that running your own business and running your own life takes a lot of decision making. Sometimes these decisions have to be made so quickly, you can’t even think about the pros and cons. I have learned how to trust my gut and move forward. I know when I’ve made the right decision because my lungs fill with air and I can breathe. Stress leaves. I know when I’ve made the wrong decision because I can’t sleep at night, my heart flutters (in a bad way) and I feed this need to find solutions. The good thing is, solutions can be found.

19. I hope I never stop changing. I know I just wrote about consistency, and I mean all of that. But what I’ve also learned is that I enjoy changing my work and growing every day. I love learning new concepts, reading new words, finding new inspiring people. I love growing up.

20. Sometimes it’s OK if the only thing you did today was breathe. This is a lesson I am still trying to learn, but it has pressed upon my heart lately. I’ve actually felt (I can’t believe I’m going to say this) tired. And I had to reserve days for rest and breathing. And I had to learn to accept that is OK.

21. The ideas and thoughts we send to ourselves are powerful. This lesson is something I remind myself every day. How I think about everything (my day, myself, my plans, my goals) sets a foundation for how I build on everything in my life. The ideas that come into our brains help inform the way we approach life. So I made sure all of my ideas stay positive. Some days, it’s hard work to stay positive. I made a dance about this called “Intransigence.” And that dance was chosen to be performed at the American College Dance Festival in 2014.

22. Running your own business is hard work. There is so much to running a business that you don’t know about when you have “an idea.” But then you start putting together the idea and it starts manifesting in front of you and you are proud and happy. That’s when all of the things you didn’t know about come out! But you can’t let the hoops of life scare you from life. Learn how to jump through the hoops and start jumping! Preferably, with grace.


23. Sometimes people around you won’t understand your journey, and that’s OK because it isn’t for them. This is always a difficult process for me to move through. If I’m experiencing something, I like to fully experience it whether that be sadness, happiness, joy, loss, pain or pleasure. But sometimes it is difficult to figure out how selfish one should be in a journey and how aware of others one should be. For me, I strive to always be aware of others and – if I can – I take them on whatever journey I’m traveling if they want to travel with me. But the hard work, I keep for myself. The analyzing of situations, the learning of lessons, the changing. It is with their support that I am successful, but it is through the personal journey that I learn.

The last four lessons, are very personal lessons that I’ve learned about myself this year.

24. I love work where I feel like I’m making a difference in someone’s life. I like my work to show demonstrable results. I also like that my work may not show these results until years later, but I like knowing that – however small my work may be – that it’s making a difference. This kind of work doesn’t pay the big bucks (and I’ll never understand why society doesn’t place HUMAN WORKING WITH HUMANS as a priority). But it means a lot to me. And if I never “make the big bucks” but I can help inspire, change or motivate someone else’s life… I’m happy.

25. I have stayed single until I find the kind of love that my family and friends think I deserve. The kind of love that inspires me and helps me flourish. The kind of love that feeds my personality instead of distracting it. This hasn’t always been easy. I attend weddings, engagement parties, events alone, and when everyone walks home with someone special, I walk to my car alone. But learning how to be alone has helped me learn about who I am and what I want and what I need. It has allowed me time to achieve my own personal goals and decide what I want out of life. But it has also taught me loneliness and that sometimes you need someone where to support you when you’re weak. These lessons have been difficult. It isn’t easy turning 28 and answering everyone’s questions. But I know that waiting has been good for me, and I trust that someone amazing will come into my life – one day.

26. I need to learn how to say “no” better. I love working, and I love supporting my friends, small businesses, programs, people. I love moving forward and submitting things, financially supporting things, writing things. The list goes on. I say “yes” to every opportunity that comes my way, and that has been lovely. But for the first time in my life, I’ve felt tired and overwhelmed and stressed out more than I should be. I forgot to live and I only worked. Next year, I am putting time aside for investing in life moments that have nothing to do with work. And I’m hoping this refueling will show through my work and continue to inspire my life.

27. Love and kindness are what the world needs most. In my work (paid and volunteer) throughout this year, there is one fact that remains: we need more love and kindness around. These two things are life-changers. When someone strikes out at you, it’s not because they hate it, it’s because they want to be heard or appreciated or loved. It’s there call for help. The children I work with want their observations, goals, dreams and questions to be heard. The adults I work with want to feel happy, accomplished and motivated. Showing them love and kindness helps them glow and then they pass that glow to someone else. It is so important.

So much I have learned in year 27. Here’s to Year 28!

Dance Camp: Day 2

November 3, 2013

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” – Ernest Hemingway


Day 2 of Dance Camp: The “Littles” learn demi plie at the barre.

Our attendance grew by 10, making a total of 13 dancers. They came in smiling and ready to go. Some of them couldn’t take their shoes off fast enough as their bodies darted ahead to find a place on the floor.

I was feeling tired (I had just returned from reviewing a ballet in a different city for a newspaper as well as morning rehearsals), so I had an extra cup of coffee and pulled on bright blue yoga pants in an effort to up my energy. But as soon as these bundles of energy bounced into the room, my energy flew through the roof. They were ready, and now – thanks to their hopeful smiles – I was ready too.

One boy in the class came in frustrated from the day. He told me he hadn’t wanted to come because everything was going wrong that day and he was “over it.” I told him I have days like that, and dancing always helps me. He said he finally came to the conclusion that he “had some things he wanted to get off his chest” and he felt like dance camp was the place to dance those things out. I didn’t inquire about “the things,” and he didn’t press to tell me, he simply found a place in the room and danced.

We started with introductions and a follow-the-leader warm-up. In jazz, I taught them fundamental dance technique and worked on rhythm exercises, pattern memorization and shifting weight. I use the French terminology with them, which they pick up quickly.

I motioned for them all to come close and they tip-toed into me. We created a “secret code move” which only they understand (and the secret code move shall not be revealed here).

My goal for today’s camp was to establish trust.


I wanted them to know:

… this is a safe place.

… this is a non-judgmental, fun space of learning.

… this is a place where acceptance, friendship and growth are encouraged.

… this is a place where we work hard but we aren’t hard on each other.

I placed many trust exercises throughout the class. The first was our “secret code move.” Every time I did the move, they did the follow-up action. The second way which I established trust was to show them that I trust them. I didn’t want to tell them I trust them, because that’s just words. I wanted to show them.


We learned about grand jete by jumping over a small mat (which I called the “ocean full of sharks”). They had a few practices jumping over the mat until they felt comfortable. I noticed each time they jumped their jumps got higher and higher as their comfort level increased. Finally, I said, “I trust you guys so much and you’re doing so well, I’m going to let you jump over me!”

Their jaws dropped to the floor and their little hands covered their mouths. Some of them were ready for the challenge immediately, their hands shot into the air with a “Me! Me! Me!” chant. Others weren’t so sure about this…

I lied down on the floor on my tummy and said, “Ready? Go!”


One by one little feet ran up to me and jumped. This was followed by a moment of sheer surprise and shock and then a huge smile.


As I was standing up and putting the mat away, a little girl came over to me and tapped my shoulder. She said:

“I just now realized… I can do that!”

Yes, yes, you can. You can do that and so much more.

Read about how Dance Camp got started and how you can get involved here.

Children of Prisoners: Dance Camp

October 27, 2013

“When you believe a thing, believe it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably.” – Walt Disney

I, like many of Netflix’s 30 million registered subscribers, watched “Orange is the New Black.” The comedy-drama series produced by Jenji Kohan and based on the real-life experience of Piper Kerman immediately grabbed my attention. The psychology of figuring out how to survive in jail, the friendships and the women’s stories of struggle, loss and patience revealed an entirely different person than the one the jail had incarcerated.

I quickly finished the first season, and I was hungry for more. I purchased the book written by Piper Kerman, and it was in the book that I latched onto something: These women were watching their children grow up from afar. They witnessed their children’s lives through photographs, stories, phone calls and letters but they couldn’t do much as far as providing for these children. It seemed their most pressing involvement in their children’s lives was their consistent absence. So I wondered….

What do these children do to work through the heavy hearts they feel of not having their mothers?

In the back of Piper Kerman’s book, she lists resources of ways to become involved. I looked for all of the ones that included children. I visited their websites and I read about their services. I finally came across one that listed services for children of prisoners by state. I scrolled down to locate my state and there I found a name and an e-mail.

Without hesitation, I wrote to that mystery name. I introduced myself and said, “I have an idea!”

I believe, implicitly and unquestionably, in dance’s ability to refresh hurting hearts, to spark curiosity in minds, to wake up a tired body and to motivate an exasperated soul. I explained, with probably too much passion, how I thought a dance camp for children of prisoners would be healthy, inspiring and helpful in countless ways. I wrote, “Thank you for your time and consideration,” typed in my signature, attached a resume and hit send. I didn’t know what would happen. I figured that national listing of state resources hadn’t been updated in years, and I didn’t know if the mystery person still worked there. I half expected the server to immediately bounce my e-mail back.

A few hours later, I received an e-mail back from the mystery person with a phone number. “We’re interested! Call me!”

Within minutes, a meeting was set up and I was sitting in front of my laptop putting together a proposal.


At the first meeting, I fell in love with the woman who runs the program for Children of Prisoners. Her passion for what she does was immediately apparent, as she took me around a tour of the 24-hour shelter. Two teenage girls were braiding each others’ hair and waved to me as I walked by.  The shelter takes in children who have run away, been removed from their home, or are facing a crisis. They work for reconciliation of families through counseling, communication training and offering hope, love and a neutral ground.

I knew 5 minutes into the tour that I wanted to do this program.

I had set out a simple plan during my proposal presentation:

  • 10 weeks of classes in different dance techniques: Ballet, Jazz, Hip-hop, Musical Theater, Ballroom
  • Volunteer teachers & donated studio space meant zero cost to the shelter or the children’s families
  • We will work towards presenting a showcase of dances
  • The showcase will be filmed and put on a DVD for the children to share with their families and friends

I didn’t know yet if I would be able to pin down any of this, but I presented it as if it wasn’t a problem. I listened to her explain their needs and the needs of the children, and I had no doubt in my mind that dance could take on such a huge responsibility.

I started planning.


I used social media to help me find teachers willing to donate their time. I called studios looking for someone who would donate their studio space. I tweeted Piper Kerman to thank her for inspiring me to put all of this into action.

And then Piper Kerman e-mailed me.

She loved this project and wanted to hear more about it. She thanked me for getting involved. I was so giddy, I did a happy dance in the middle of a line at Starbucks.

The momentum was exhilarating. I was receiving e-mails from teachers who live in different states willing to donate their time. I found a studio right down the street from the shelter willing to donate space. I organized people willing to send inspirational and motivational cards to the students involved. We opened the camp up the local youth and any legal guardian, parent or sibling who wanted to be involved. The project grew naturally and substantially.


On the first day of Dance Camp, I saw amazing work happen. It was me and one other teacher, a little girl, a teenage boy and his sister, two mentors and an intern from the shelter. With the door open, letting in the fall breeze, we danced.

The little girl refused to dance at first. She stayed close by her mentor, peeking out at the dancing. I kept waving to her, sending her smiles. Eventually, inch by inch, she came over and stood right next to me. By the end of the class, she was dancing her little heart out and using the French terminology of ballet. When we were doing plies at the barre, she would stand so close to me that her little hand rested ever so lightly on top of my hand.

On a quick water break, the teenage boy told me he had always dreamed of dancing like Michael Jackson. He has a natural movement ability but had never been able to take a structured dance class. I quietly slipped over to my iPod and changed the song to a Michael Jackson song. When I hit play, he jumped up and said, “This is my song!” He looked so happy, as if he wanted to cry but there was too much joy.

At the end of class, we talked about what we had learned and I passed out brand-new fancy pencils with designs on them (which I purchased from the $1 bins at Target). The children rolled the pencils around, examining each intricate design on the pencil, treasuring their gift.

“These are for you to take to school and work hard! They are also for you to write down your dance notes from today and write down any dreams and hopes you have.”

They smiled.

I waved goodbye to all of them, and one of their mentors came up to me and said, “I haven’t seen a smile that big on that little face in a long time.”

As I turned off the lights and locked up the dance studio, I felt nothing but love. Dance had worked its power, again.

If  you are interested in helping:

  • Purchase goodies for the children or send TAX DEDUCTIBLE funds to Seton Youth Shelters! Link: http://www.setonyouthshelters.org/
  • Send a card of inspiration to a child (e-mail balletshoesbobbypins@gmail.com for more information)


Something To Believe In

July 5, 2013

Here are some things that I believe:

An effective teacher stays in the hearts and minds of their students because they provide experiences so wonderful that they turn into lifelong memories. These same great teachers keep students wanting to come to class because the students are hungry for knowledge and they’re curious to know what their teachers will help them discover each day.

But here is what I also know:

It can be scary to be in such a position. There are many eyes and ears on you, waiting to see what you’ll do, what you’ll say, what’s next, and how you handle it. It’s a spotlight that follows your every move to the right, to the left, forward and backward. That light can get hot and full of pressure.

I am a dance educator who has worked with general education students and special education students. As I worked with my students, I began to see transition as a journey instead of a destination. I would ask myself each day: “Where are we today? How can we grow today? Where can move to?” My first experience was with general education students. The next year, we decided to have an inclusive classroom, where our general education students would work side by side with special education students. I was the “designated general education” teacher, and there was a “designated special education” teacher, but we were really, quite simply, a teaching team.

In my time spent working in classrooms, talking with educators and observing educators, I have witnessed some of the best and some of the worst. I have witnessed teachers take on Goliath-proportioned problems in educations, and win. I have also seen the opposite result. There are pros and cons, and perks and quirks to every classroom, and every classroom experience. So when I talk about “creating an inclusive classroom,” I am not talking about butterflies and rainbows. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t easy. It isn’t about being politically correct or even about overspecializing an idea.

It’s really about the kind of environment you desire to create, and the willingness to keep working at it.

Author Andrew Solomon wrote, “Defective is an adjective that has long been deemed too freighted for liberal discourse, but the medical terms that have supplanted it – illness, syndrome, condition – can be almost equally pejorative in their discreet way. We often use illness to disparage a way of being, and identity to validate the same way of being.” Solomon goes on to explain that physics research shows how light appears to be a particle if we ask a particle-like question, and it appears to be a wave if we ask a wave-like question. It can live as both, if we know how to talk about it.

Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “All I know is what I have words for.” Solomon suggests that it is this “absence of intimacy” that have starved different life experiences for language.

I want to dispel the rumors, demystify the fuzzy, clarify the fears because you can’t grow if you’re too afraid to try. Educators are more and more often being asked to create inclusive classrooms, and the first emotion they feel is not excitement. It falls under descriptors like fear, anxious, nervous, overwhelmed.

This led me to ask questions: How can we help our educators redirect these feelings to more pleasant feelings? How can we support our educators while they feel tossed into unfamiliar waters? How can we help them do a good job even while they are feeling they may not be capable of doing so?

First thing is first: Let’s put the fears of creating an inclusive classroom into words.

“I’m afraid I’ll say something wrong.”

This is a valid fear that isn’t solely about approaching special education. We are always a little afraid of saying something wrong at any moment in the day. But the feeling just becomes more concentrated in a “special education situation,” as I’ve heard it called. If you feel you lack the language to discuss something, or to ask a question, it’s OK. I’ve had to Google, and research, and speak with parents on countless occasions when I felt I lacked the words, or the knowledge. It is part of education, and the “Well, you should know that” attitude doesn’t help anyone in any situation.

My Suggestion

Create welcome packets for your parents and students. Let them tell you and show you who they are, how they communicate, how they problem solve and how they perceive their child, their child’s abilities and their child’s education. It’s important to know what the parents’ strengths and weaknesses were, as well as their child’s. I want to know what makes them happy, smile, curious and interested. The goal is to find find and provide opportunities for parents and students to find similarities and common ground. It is about becoming comfortable with differences from your personal life experience by hearing someone else’s experiences. In allowing them to show you their world, you are setting a foundation for community, open communication, and relationships.


“I’m afraid to ‘go there.’ I could do something wrong.”

True. You could. But you have to be willing to walk around in their world to better understand what is going on. The same way that they need to understand how you work, as a teacher and person, in order to understand your approaches and perceptions.

And here’s the thing:

Parents are just as worried about messing up and doing something wrong too! Many parents of special needs children are experiencing what is called children with horizontal identities. Vertical identities include traits that are shared with parents (ethnicity, language). But children with horizontal identities, which means they possess a trait completely foreign to their parents, are living lives completely foreign to their parents (Solomon, p. 2). They are learning to. They are experimenting with what works and what doesn’t work, and you are a member of that team. That is quite an honor! That is something to be excited about! Instead of repeating the question, “What if I do something wrong?” in your head, try on a new question. Something like: “How can we all figure this out together? Teacher-Parents-Student team unite!”

“What if the other kids are mean?”

Kids can be mean. They have bad days, they say cruel things, and they come to the classroom with preconceived ideas that they’ve picked up along the way from who knows where! The good news is that you are there to help them grow, and you live inspired, they will be inspired.

Know this

Know going in that you will have to deal with conversations that include racial tensions, gender bias, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLBT) youth, cultural differences, religious differences, and varying attitudes on individual differences. Know that you’ll have single-parent families, divorced families, adopted children, foster families, child abuse and potential substance abuse. The goal in helping students and families through tough situations and topics is to foster self-awareness, develop self-advocacy and leadership skills, promote self-esteem and always, always serve as a positive role model. If we can help our students and their families understand their feelings, fears, concerns and doubts, then we can better address the situations and lead them from high tension to peaceful learning experiences.


“How can I get the students involved and focused?”

This is a hard question for all educators. Some days we do a great job at keeping their attention, and some days… we struggle. Preteaching helps gets students excited. Tell them a story about what the material is “so cool.” Get them curious. Then, get down to business. Everyone loves a good story, and everyone loves to feel productive. Have the students write “I will” cards. This establishes what they will be doing and will do after instruction has passed. For each child, the “I will” bullets may be different, and tailored to their process of learning. Do not fear this. Let them help you by showing you what they need. If a special education student needs you to describe something in numbers instead of pictures or words, their “I will” card may state: “Write down the numbers the teacher says.” If a general education student needs to write down plot points instead of the conclusion, their “I will” card may state: “Write down points to form conclusion.” They are all learning how to learn, and what they need in order to do so. They are also learning clarity of thinking, of which, we are all capable.


“What if the special needs kids hold back my general education kids?”

This is one of those “full of fear” questions. It’s the question that creeps up because you haven’t put a lot of thought into it yet. Kind of like when you go skydiving, the first fear question is: What if my parachute doesn’t open? And yet, hundreds of people skydive every day.

My Suggestion

Stop assuming any of your students are going to do anything. Stop assuming the special education students will require all of your time and energy, and stop assuming your general education students will perform as stellar students every day. It’s just not how the day-to-day education process works. All of your students will have good days, and all of your students will have very bad days. Don’t change your expectations for anyone. Know exactly what behavior you will accept, and what behavior you will not accept. Know what you are teaching and how you will assess their learning of the material. Figure out what is “normal” for each student, and if they are not progressing, pay attention to that. The work is right there. If they are misbehaving, the consequences are the same. While your discussion or approach may be different, the consequence and the expectations remain the same.


Being a teacher is hard because it’s not just about delivering material. It’s about creating and helping little humans transition into fantastic adults, regardless of their individual differences and life experiences. You have to forget what and who society thinks will be successful. You have to believe in yourself and your teaching techniques. You have to stand firm on those bad days when students (special or general education) will step on every last nerve you have. You have to be willing to throw good lessons plans out of the window if they don’t work. You have to be willing to sit down, and say “Well hello square one. We meet again.” You have to smile when people think you’re crazy. You have to explain things in 100 different ways, and not lose patience. You have to trust, listen, record, track, and discuss over and over again. Every day.

But if you do this… if you keep an open heart and mind, you will see progress. You will see growth. You will see the good come out in everybody including yourself. You will see test scores rise, writing and reading skills advance, clarity of thinking progress and friendships you didn’t previously imagine develop. You’ll see people step up who you thought never would. You’ll see students make better decisions. You’ll see problem solving, and creative thinking. You’ll see kindness win.

If you’re scared, it’s OK. Say so. If you’re overwhelmed, it’s OK. Say so. But don’t fear the responsibility. Don’t pass up on the opportunity.

When you have the chance to create experiences which will turn into lifelong memories, that is a beautiful thing. Even if you feel like you failed, your effort and your positivity will be remembered. Try hard. Work hard. And keep going.

Inclusive classrooms are something to believe in.


Say Yes

June 6, 2013

“Say yes, and you’ll figure it out afterward.” – Tina Fey

This is some of the best advice. Go ahead, write it down. Live by it. It’ll change many things for you.

In the past two months, I have said “yes” to two amazing opportunities that I, personally, didn’t feel ready for. My friends told me I was being silly, and I shouldn’t doubt myself, and over many pep talks, I became a little more confident. But mostly I said yes because somewhere along the way in arts school, my acting improvisation teacher told me to always say “yes.” He said, “This continues things. It keeps things moving.” Things being ideas, conversation, emotions, topics.

Improvisation is also where Tina Fey learned this method. You say yes, and you figure the rest out after that.

And so the adventure begins of figuring the rest out… Remember! You don’t have to wait for someone to tell you you’re “special enough” or “qualified enough” or “ready enough.” Just say yes, and then figure it out.

Here we go!


Don’t Feed the Fears

May 22, 2013

The little girl sat with her back against the mirror. I watched as she crossed her arms over her bent knees, and rested her chin there. I walked over to her, and slid down to the ground right next to her.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, muffled. But she knew. So I simply sat and waited.

“It’s all too hard,” she began. “I have these tests at school. And if I don’t pass them, then they will hold me back. Then, I come to dance and you want me to remember all of these steps. I’m not smart like you, Miss Sheena. I’m just a girl.”

I stopped her there.

“But you are such a smart and strong girl. You don’t need to fear those tests. Those tests should fear you! You are prepared and ready. And same goes for these dances. I’ve seen you dance them; and you have them.”

We talked until she smiled and returned to the dance floor. But I took away a very important lesson from this conversation which occurred huddled in a corner of a dance studio in small whispers and ballet shoes.


I am a teacher. That means I’m in the business of worrying about the type of people I put out into the world. And I can promise you this: I am more concerned about the people my students are becoming and who they will be, than I am concerned about their test scores or the schools they’re accepted into.

We have to place the spotlight on their strengths, and help them understand how to work with their weaknesses.

We have to teach them how to see and preserve the good, while working through the bad.

Instead of pointing out all of the reasons they should be afraid, I like to point out all of the reasons they absolutely shouldn’t be. This is their world, and their time, and I want to show them how to make the most of that.


Photo Source

We all have reasons to be afraid. The world reminds us every day of everything that could go wrong. Statistics predict the likelihood of our failure. And then there are those who shake their heads “no” and back away, or find reasons not to believe.

But, what if through all of those reasons we still… just believed? What if we let something play out and see what happens? What if we trust our little people to make good choices, to help when they’re called upon, to allow kindness instead of hatred, to think clearly about a subject even if they aren’t quite sure how to express it yet?

Let’s not feed the fears. Let’s not feed our own personal fears, or project them on others. Let’s not terrorize our children with threats.

Let’s work hard to be still, to find the happy and to stay there. To encourage. To believe. To trust. To listen. To celebrate.

Advice to Graduating {Dance} Seniors

March 26, 2013

I recently sat in a room with soon-to-be graduating seniors. They are 22 years old, and completely overwhelmed. They all say the same thing: “I just cannot wait to graduate.” But if you listen closely, underneath of their excitement, you can hear a small twinge of fear.

What am I going to do? Where should I live? Should I audition? If so, for what companies? What is my special skill? What if it all falls apart? What if I’m… just not good enough?

I wanted to gently place my hand on theirs and say, “Be still. It will be OK.”

But that is hard to believe when you’re 22 and faced with a whole new world.


My {unsolicited} advice for graduating {dance} seniors:

1. Stop putting the weight of the world on your shoulders. Yes, you’re graduating. But that doesn’t mean you have to have everything figured out. No one expects you to have everything figured out. In fact, honestly, you’re just starting to really learn! Now begins your personal journey.

2. Be ready to work. This means be responsible for the energy you bring into the room. Arrive on time. Stay positive and motivated. Ask questions. Learn.

3. Say “yes” to opportunities. Even if you don’t consider the opportunity to be “all that great.” We tend to come out of college with a lot of ideas of how our life will look. Then, as time goes on, we realize our lives are shaped and molded into something very different than we expected. Say yes to job opportunities that are not in the dance field! It will help you step outside of what you know, and it will inform your dance work in a new way. Say yes to auditions, workshops, classes in areas you’ve never studied before.

4. No one comes directly out of college knowing their place in the world. This takes time to discover, and that takes experience and working with others. It takes being placed in difficult situations and figuring out how you are going to handle it. It takes being asked questions you’ve never been asked before, and walking into situations that are foreign to you. Little by little, a clearer image of who you are, what you’re capable of, and how to show the world these new-found strengths will fall into place.

5. Give life time to do its work. Your degree will only do so much out in the world. What matters now, is how you put that degree to work. Be a go-getter and don’t give up when things get tough, because – trust me – they will get tough. Practice patience (and not stress), and keep trying.

6. Create a flexible life. This means, if you must sign a lease, sign one where the room can be subletted. This way, should you need to up and leave when you get that audition for a job that is sending you to Europe, nothing is holding you back! Try not to put things into your life that will hold you down financially, physically, emotionally. Save money every time you get the chance.

7. Become very familiar with planning and scheduling. The dance life is multitasking to the extreme! Learn how to market yourself and your strengths, and then how to schedule them. In the dance world, we have to know where we will be and when and for how long and for how much. We have to know what paychecks will carry us through until the next job comes in, and so on. We are expert planners. Figure out a system that works for you!

8. Collect skills. Learn other important skills, like how to write a press release, or how to HTML code! Learn how to edit music or put together videos. These are important skills that dancers need in order to reach audiences about their works. Become a stronger dancer by adding to your skill set. This will make you more valuable to dance companies (where we have to play multiple roles other than “dancer.”)

9. Enjoy it. This is the life you’ve been studying for, rehearsing for, grand plié-ing for! Now is the time to go out there and make a difference. Build the life you’ve always wanted, but give it time to develop. And enjoy every single moment of it. The ups and downs. The times when life is full of people and greatness, and the times when you will feel very, very alone.


And most of all, happy dancing, happy living.

Like My Mama Does

February 14, 2013

People always say I have a laugh like my mother does.
Guess that makes sense, she taught me how to smile when things get rough.
I’ve got her spirit, and she’s always got my back.
When I look at her, I think, “I want to be just like that.”

When I love, I give it all I’ve got… like my mother does.
When I’m scared, I bow my head and pray… like my mother does.
When I feel weak and unpretty, I know I’m beautiful and strong because…
I see myself like my mother does.

I never met a stranger; I can talk to anyone, like my mother does.
I let my temper fly, and she can walk away when she’s had enough.
She sees everybody for who they really are.
I’m so thankful for her guidance, she helped me get this far.

She’s a rock. She is grace. She’s an angel. She’s my heart and soul.
She does it all.

I hear people saying, I’m starting to look like my mother does.


Song lyrics by: Lauren Alaina

Learning Patience

January 31, 2013

I spent an entire year of my life learning patience.


Photo by: Alexandrena Parker

That may sound funny, and you may immediately think, “Ha! I’ve spent my entire life learning patience, and I still don’t get it.” And you’d be correct. I’m still learning. But there was a year of my life where, lesson after lesson, I started to realize that the intended goal of these lessons was to teach me patience.

At night, I would lay in bed, tense from the frustrations of the day. Someone wasn’t doing something on my timing, or the way I wished them to. Someone hadn’t called or I had forgotten something. Regardless of what happened, the result was the same. I ended my days frustrated and asking, “Why?!”

Silly me to assume I deserved an immediate answer to my rather ridiculous questions. And crazy me to feel like I was in a place to demand such answers.

The year of “Learning Patience” (as I call it) stripped me of these darker human emotions.

But it took a conversation.

Me: I just don’t get it! Why?! I’ve thought about it over and over, and it doesn’t make sense. AND I’VE PRAYED FOR IT.

Friend: Well, what are you praying for?


Friend: You’re praying for the wrong thing.

Me: ….what? How can you pray for the “wrong thing?” There is no right and wrong in prayer and hope.

Friend: If you pray for patience, you are asking God to put trying moments in your life so that you are provided the opportunity to learn and practice patience. You can’t just pray for patience and get it. You have to do the work in the moments that call for it.

This was the moment that I realized how silly I had been. I thought I was the “bigger person” praying for patience, when really… I was getting exactly what I was praying for and I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t willing to do the work. I wanted patience wrapped in a box with a polka-dotted bow to apply to my life as easily as spritzing Chanel No. 5 on my neck and wrists before work.

I will never forget that year of my life or that conversation. Each day that has passed since then, I ask myself what am I really praying for? What am I really in need of? What am I really hoping for? And why?

Instead of closing my eyes, clasping my hands and demanding answers from the man beyond my bedroom ceiling, I started asking myself the hard questions. I started to cut away the fat from the meat of the situation.

And it has made all the difference.


Spring Healing

January 15, 2013

Today started my second semester of graduate school. My overly-excited self woke up two hours before I was even supposed to just because I wanted to pick out my leotard and put my hair into the perfect bun. New year, right?

I sipped coffee on my way to school, and drove in silence to collect my thoughts. Besides… only 5 hours earlier I was getting off an airplane from Vegas.

Flashback to Vegas:


I needed to collect my thoughts.


For curious minds, my Spring 2013 schedule looks like this:

Ballet Technique: Monday – Friday

Modern Technique: Monday, Wednesday, Friday

Conditioning for Dancers (which focuses on dynamic movement, body alignment, strengthening created by Li Chiao-Ping): Tuesday, Thursday

Jazz Technique: Tuesday, Thursday

Children & the Family (and how this effects their learning)

Anatomy & Kinesiology: Monday, Wednesday, Friday


I am very excited about all of these classes, as well as some fun dancing opportunities that will come up throughout the semester (including the American College Dance Festival, which I cannot wait to attend!)

I am still healing from my injury of “turf toe” last semester. Today’s classes went great, and it felt wonderful to be truly dancing again! But my professor could tell I wasn’t putting full weight on it. She told me to slowly re-work my muscle memory and let go of the fear. This is something that will take time, to which she responded (and I loved this) “Give yourself time. I understand you’re scared. You’ll overcome the fear.”

That’s the thing about injuries: we, as dancers, are so terrified the injury will come back! I’m so afraid to feel the pain I was feeling again, and I’m afraid I could potentially damage it further. This holds my dancing back, which also creates more fear within me. What if this never gets better? What if I have to live with this pain?

But for now, I will put the fear aside while still listening to my body and mostly… stay positive!


1) Please consider purchasing a Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins T-shirt (featured above) to help us raise money for dancers in need of funds to continue their education.

2) Also, please vote for Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins to win Top Dance Blog.

3) You can enter a contest where you could win a FREE handmade dance bag designed by anne b.

Whatever You’re Facing

December 16, 2012

The little girl was twirling around and accidentally bumped into the wheelchair of an elderly lady who had just watched the little ballerina perform a holiday show at her nursing home.

“I’m sorry ma’am. I was being a wild girl,” the little girl said, a little embarrassed.

“That’s the only kind to be,” the woman said, with a quiet smile.


So many beautiful moments have been happening in my life, and I want to capture them so I never forget them.

My first semester of graduate school is completed! I cannot even believe that. It was exhausting, and I was moving full-speed ahead the entire time, but it was actually lovely. I met wonderful people who made me smile and challenged me. I accomplished what I wasn’t sure I could, in a city away from my family and friends. It was good for me. It forced me to live outside of everything I had become comfortable with.


Mostly, I can feel myself becoming a better teacher. And I love that so much. I take what I learn in class, and apply it in my dance classes at night. I can feel myself understanding the psychology and process of teaching better, and it’s helping me develop my personal philosophy and approach. This is all creating good energy in my classrooms, and I can see my students reacting through their dancing.


And when life gets hard… we take a moment to feel better.


There have been many things during this semester that tried to break me. I’m healing from a foot injury which has really messed with me physically and mentally. I also got strep throat randomly which took me down and out for a week with a fever of 102. I’ve had to say goodbye to people, and watch people I care for move on without me. All of these things made me cry at some point (even if it was just in my car on the way to get coffee between dance classes).

But there have also been fantastic things!

I choreographed for the Virginia Beach “Light Up the Town” parade! Organizing over 100 kids wasn’t the easier thing in the world to do, but they ended up doing a great job and we all had a (freezing) blast.


I attended Movement Lifestyle’s workshop in Washington, D.C. which challenged me and re-inspired my personal dancing. I’ve watched people I love get engaged, get married, announce pregnancies and career advancements! {It’s fun watching life grow on my friends and family}

I also worked with Chris Owens on an awesome photo shoot!

in the studio with sheena from Chris Owens on Vimeo.

In exciting news! I’ve re-launched what began right here! I’ve separated my “DANCE” posts into its own identity: Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins

With the re-launch came the opportunity for me to interview New York City Ballet Principal dancer, Sara Mearns. As well as the start of a new initiative! We are selling T-shirts to help raise money for dancers in need of dance supplies (like ballet shoes, leotards, tights)!


T-shirts are $20 and they can be purchased HERE: http://balletshoesandbobbypins.com/store/

I’m so beyond thankful for dancers who have purchased T-shirts already! You guys are making dancers’ dreams come true (which is also making mine come true!)

My birthday is in 2 days, and yet I already feel like I’ve received so many wonderful presents! I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season. Hug your loved ones close!

Project: Let it Be Beautiful

October 9, 2012

I am inviting you to be a part of my most recent life project.

Project: Let it Be Beautiful / #LetItBeBeautiful

Photo: Emma Watson photographed by Vincent Peters for Glamour UK, October 2012

If you are anything like me, you probably think on a constant basis. Your brain works overtime to identify, define, direct, categorize, label. This doesn’t just stop at “the big things,” like relationships, events at work, or life decisions. Nope. This happens with coffee (was it good or bad?), performances (was that modern, contemporary or neoclassical?), strangers (who is this person? What do they want?), music (really not wanting to hear that right now), books (I don’t like that cover), and so on.

Every single day our day (thus our life) is shaped by these “brain thinks” that often times can kill a beautiful thing before we even realize it’s beautiful. These “brain thinks” change our direction, decide the characters in our life, and write our life story without us realizing what is even happening.

It has been a personal goal of mine since August to let it be beautiful. What does this mean? What exactly are the “rules” to this project?

First some definitions:

“Let” means to not prevent or forbid; allow. Focus your attention on “allow” and “not prevent.”

“It” can be anything. Literally anything. Something as simple as coffee to something as complicated as moving cities and starting a new life, or moving through grief.

“Be” simply means exist.

“Beautiful” can be anything. You get to define this word for yourself. You set the temperature, the look, the design of this.

There really are no rules to this project. For me, the hardest part is overriding my prevent-prevent-prevent alarm. But here are some guidelines I focus on:

1. Stand back. In a complicated world, bring simplicity. While everyone is talking, just listen. We spend so much energy “setting boundaries” or “making it clear to others who we are,” that we completely miss who they are, or worse, who we could be. We only give someone so much to work with, and we only grant them so much space to be alive in. We establish, before we even know what there is to establish. Take a pause on that. #LetItBeBeautiful

2. Actively listen to your thoughts, and then let calmness in. If you start feeling rushed or like you need answers now, that’s the exact moment to let calmness in. Why do you feel like you need answers? Why now? What answer are you looking for? Shhh… calm. Life has a funny way of giving us answers, if we’d stop obsessing over timing. #LetItBeBeautiful

3. Figure out your brain thinks. When you feel yourself wanting to categorize something, dive deep into those categories. Why is that category a thing? Is it fair? What will the results be of placing someone or something into that category? Once you start thinking about this, you’ll realize maybe it isn’t fair or time or even right to do that to someone or something. Maybe it’s just you being controlling or silly or needing something you think will bring you answers. Figure out your brain thinks before you make a decision. #LetItBeBeautiful

4. Remember what you’re creating here. This is your life. This is your community, your future, your daily intake and output. Remember things like kindness is a language, categories can hurt, and jumping to conclusions can be, well, wrong. #LetItBeBeautiful

5. Give space and time. To people, ideas, moments, experiences, consequences, punishments, pain, happiness. There is a whole lot of living to be done, and it doesn’t have to be done right here and right now. #LetItBeBeautiful

6. Be aware of your energy. You are responsible for what you bring into the room. #LetItBeBeautiful

7. Be curious, but don’t judge. Judging is what leads us to categorize and jump to conclusions and demand answers. You can be curious without being judgmental. #LetItBeBeautiful

8. Expand who you are. If previously you were only “OK” with this, try to discover more. Do what you need to do, but actively try and make an effort to expand your thought horizons. Maybe you’ve never thought something before, because you’ve never allowed it? Maybe you always shut something down, but don’t know why? #LetItBeBeautiful

9. Be willing to walk through new doors. Go places you’ve never been, see things, hear things. Have a conversation with someone you’ve never imagined. “Doors” are everywhere in our life (new people, groups, events, classes).  All of those things you say “no, thank you” to or don’t make time for, those are doors you turned down. But they are doors. Why not walk through one? #LetItBeBeautiful

10. #LetItBeBeautiful

We’ve all been hurt before (I can see it in your eyes). That is why we have our internally wired system of overriding potentially beautiful things and people. We shut it down. We categorize. We jump to conclusions. We worry, and want answers.

Try, just maybe for one day, to override that internal system and let it be beautiful.

Tweet me your efforts to #LetItBeBeautiful @SheenaJeffers

A Full Heart

September 18, 2012

There are days when our bodies are aching, our emotions are spent, our mental states are questionable and we aren’t even halfway through the day!

From my 8 AM classes which have me dancing until 3 PM, and then teaching from 4 – 9:30 PM, my schedule is extremely physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding.

I think an automatic human response is to start accenting the negative or whining or picking things apart or asking “Why me?!” (I mean, honestly, why must ballet be at 9 AM? I’m so tired! My feet hurt! Stupid traffic. I should have found a place closer to work, blah, blah, blah).

When I find myself throwing a fit over pointless things, I immediately make it stop. I tell myself, “Don’t you dare take this for granted! You worked so hard for it, and now you are living the life you dreamed up!”

I have been learning so many valuable lessons from amazing people, that I needed to write them here! Maybe they’ll help you too! But really, I couldn’t risk forgetting them.

~ RECOVERY: Just today, a fellow student with me in my ballet class (who is recovering from surgery) came in crying. Her eyes were red and puffy, and all she could say was, “I regret having the surgery! I completely regret it. My doctor never told me it would take this long to recover.” *FLASHBACK* I said these exact words – also with red and puffy eyes full of tears – just a month ago. My mind was consumed with thoughts that my knee would never be the same. Which really only stressed me out more. So I learned: Recovery takes time, for which there is no set time table. I learned to give my body time, space and the proper attention it needed to heal. I learned that this was something I could not control, and I simply had to wait.

~ BEING GRATEFUL: I have recently been more accepting of people, places, events, disappointments, and challenges in my life. Whereas before, I would get irritated and allow that to consume time in my mind, heart, and steal from my energy bank. I’ve made conscious efforts to stop that negativity. I’ve also made efforts to place creative, intelligent, strong people in my life who keep pushing me in the right direction. (I think those people know who they are, and I owe you so many thanks!)

~ IDENTIFYING THE “SMALL STUFF” SO THAT YOU DON’T SWEAT IT: Finally, at the age of 26, I am becoming more aware of what is “small.” I am freeing myself of stressing over the things that really… don’t matter one way or another. It’s about keeping going, and letting life do its work. I finally accept that I am the one with the power to make something “small” or “large” in my life, and I am the one with the power to choose my reaction to it. Will I address it? Maybe. Maybe not. Will I give that time to grow into something more solid before I react? Absolutely.

~ LOVING EVERY THING: I was recently talking with someone who said to me, “You have wins every day.” He doesn’t know how much I appreciated him saying that, because I forgot to tell him, but I so held on to that, tightly. I loved it. He was right. I do have wins every day, because I have come to a place where I count everything as a win! Did I make it to class on time, even though traffic is awful and I’m tired and I had to pack 3,000 snacks to keep me alive throughout the day? YES I did! That’s a win! Did I land that triple pirouette? YES, win! Did I smile/laugh/feel joy? YES, win! Did I remember how blessed I am? Win! Is my mom (and entire family) still the best ever? YES, win! Before, events (good and bad) were just things. They were blips on radar, but I couldn’t experience them because I was already preparing for the next potential blip (good or bad). While I still plan ahead, I have removed the tension from the process and I’ve allowed my life to breathe. To exist. To be cherished.

Let this be the time you start:

… embracing what you love.

… reminding your friends & family how much you appreciate them in your life.

… letting go of what makes you feel irritated or weak.

… placing new things and people in your life.

… trusting life to do its work.

… accept that you are still growing and it takes time and effort.

… love life as it unfolds.

In the upcoming months, I have some new ideas and new goals that I will be working really hard on, and you know what?


Do work. Be awesome. Go.

The Many

August 23, 2012

Packing up, moving cities, starting new jobs has produced within me… many emotions, trials and tribulations, stresses, and so on. I’ve found myself frustrated, lost, overwhelmed but completely content on where my life is headed!

I’ll walk you through it.

Over the last four years, I’ve done a lot of pondering. Ponder this. Ponder that. Reverse the thought. Flip it. Re-think it, until I figured out what I wanted my life to be about.

So I applied for graduate school to study my dream field. I was accepted so then I quit my full-time job (which was challenging, but helped shape me into who I am, for that – I’m forever thankful). But then I wondered, “Now what?!” I constantly asked myself, “Was this… a good move?” I obsessed over these thoughts, until I made myself STOP IT.

I started packing up my house, held a super fantastic yard sale, and started preparing for an entirely different-looking life than the one I had been leading. This required a lot of patience and coffee and conversations and support from my family and friends. Day in and day out were full of packing boxes, going through memories, stressful hoops to jump through. I often wondered if this period would ever… go away. I felt completely disheveled (even with amazing people serving as my solid foundation). But it’s an uprooting time! The best thing to do is embrace that, but it isn’t easy for someone like me, who enjoys schedules and plans and organization.

I finally reached the day where I was set to move. I packed everything into my car (literally, not a single bobby pin could have fit into my car) and I moved. Then I found myself in an entirely new city, where I knew no one, with two new roommates and two little kitties, no food, new jobs, packed boxes and chaos! I went to the store, I bought: Wine, Ice cream, Peanut butter and Jelly and bread. Then I sat in my room in the middle of the boxes and just… took a moment. I wasn’t going to let this get to me, though it tried.

As time is passing… I’m starting to feel more comfortable in the space and the new life that I have put into place. These were, in fact, all of my plans. I had actively participated in the happening and materialization of this very moment. The chaos that I was feeling, the anxiety, the stress, is slowly starting to melt away as I realize…

I was creating a lot of my own stress. Mentally, I was creating “problems” (by simply labeling them as such). I was feeding negative energy into these problems, granting them larger space in my mind. I stopped that mess.

I focused on the things that were holding me together instead of the things that were tearing me apart. Leaving my hometown, my family and people who inspire me was difficult. It made my heart ache. But I made myself think of the wonderful new things that I haven’t discovered yet. I am so curious to know who I will meet, what I will do, what I will learn.

I granted myself time to process the changes and learn how to feel comfortable again. It’s a process that everyone travels at different speeds. I move slowly, but I’m getting there. These things take time, and I had to learn to be patient with myself. I work so hard on being patient with others, that I forget to give myself the same luxury.

So here I am! I’ve arrived in a new place and space in my life. The pieces that I’ve been pondering and working so hard to gather are finally falling into place, and I’m excited to see where they lead me. Cheers!

And if you can’t find me in a dance studio or stuck in a book somewhere… I’ll be here, in my new backyard:

Good —> Great

August 14, 2012

My life was good. Really good. I had a job I was proud of, with work that challenged me. I had health insurance and money going into a retirement plan. I had vacation time, and money to spend during my vacation time. I had two perfectly framed degrees, which (thanks to the job I was proud of + hard work) were completely paid off. Life was good.

But here’s the thing…

The easiest thing to do is to just keep going the way it’s going, especially if it’s not perfect, but it’s not broken. You just… keep going… because… it’s good.

And here’s the thing about that….

When you have it good, you can actually talk yourself out of great.

My good life was good, until it was only that. My heart began to yearn for greatness. Living in good, while waiting for great led to a lot of this:

So things were good. But I decided I’d rather destabilize them, because they can be much better, and should be. (YOLO, right? My immediate apologies for the use of that).

The chaos that follows once you’ve initiated destabilization is hard to put into words. The world is simply not set up for salmon who prefer to swim the opposite way the stream pushes them. But, ever so slowly, I can see the dust settling.

My advice to move from a good life —> to a great life:

1. Decide what “great” means to you. I spent years trying different “lives!” Did great mean lots of money? No. Figured that out. Did great mean living on my own? No. Did great mean having a 8-5 job? Not necessarily.

2. Don’t be afraid to do something besides what you are doing. Be smart about it, of course. I am a huge fan of calculated and informed risk-taking. But then take it!

3. Learn patience. This 8-letter word can be quite a {insert your own word choice here}. By definition, it seems simple: The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. It’s that last part that gets ya! But that is all part of the journey. Moving from good to great doesn’t necessarily happen on your timing.

4. Know where you are and where you want to be. Be aware of each and every step of your journey, because life doesn’t stop simply because you are on a mission. That mission is your life, even the destabilization phase.

5. “Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They are different processes.” I once heard this rule, and I always remind myself of it. When I get an idea, or when I think of something, I allow it to follow through to completion. Then I analyze. I try to keep the same outlook on decisions. Yes, I go ahead and calculate to make an informed decision, but I try to keep my over-analyzing self away. I bring her in later to either a huge success or disaster, either way… she’ll decipher through it. But what I really appreciate about this rule is that it makes me sit back and trust both parts of myself: my creative and my analytical selves. They both have unique strengths and are used at different times to help create my life.

6. When people don’t believe in your dream, simply smile and then keep working. Don’t let someone else serve as a hiccup to you. If you know what you are doing, well then by all means… proceed!

7. Have a strong family and friend network. There will be rough times, that comes with destabilization. But loved ones pull you through those times when you question yourself, or need a shoulder to cry on, or just need someone to sit across from you and eat sushi while talking about their life. It’s important.

8. Be willing to put yourself out there. Meaning, that if it doesn’t work… you will be OK with that. Not many people follow their dreams or risk the good, so when someone decides to do so, you have an audience of people watching to see “how it turns out.” Be OK with that. Love that. Don’t fear that.

9. Don’t be afraid to admit when you are stressed / scared / lost / overwhelmed. I admit this to myself and to others as often as I need to! I am human, you are human, and you are going to feel somewhere between an upstream-swimming salmon and a circus act. You chose something different than the masses, and that is stressful, scary and overwhelming. But it’s also fantastic, freeing and full of joy.

10. Drink good coffee; listen to good music; read good books. Stay inspired, so that you keep your momentum and passion for the great life you imagine.

Begin. Giving up the good isn’t easy, but go ahead. Dare to dream of a great life.


Holding Together

August 11, 2012

“Some people are so poor… all they have is money.”

I pulled a box across the grass, staining the cardboard. Sunburned and exhausted, we were packing up and closing down what was left of the yard sale that began at 6:00 AM. Tea cups, bath towels, clothes, movies, miscellaneous this and thats.

I look up and see a family walking toward us. A man, woman and two little girls wearing T-shirts and pants that were torn. Their hair was disheveled, but they waved and smiled, and began rummaging through the boxes.

As I sat there chitchatting, I learned that the family had lost everything in a house fire not long ago. They did not have renters insurance, so nothing was replaced. The mother was on disability due to an injury, and the father was struggling to find work in this economy.

Source: Smashing Magazine

“We are trying to rebuild yard-sale item by yard-sale item,” the mother said folding bath towels. The young girls sat near by, petting my little dog. The mother wanted to buy her little daughters Disney movies (which I only had available in Video Cassette). She didn’t mind. She simply asked, “How much are these? My girls deserve to grow up with Disney movies.”

I hand the little girl one of my old blankets covered in ballet slippers. “This is for you.” She immediately wrapped it around her body, and wouldn’t let go of it. She walked around wrapped in a blanket. It was 90 degrees outside.

Suddenly, my mother comes over. She hears their story, and helps them sort through everything. She made them a deal: “You can have everything.”

Their eyes light up! I help them collect boxes, tape them shut, and carry boxes to their truck.

Then I see my mom walk over to their mother. She whispers, “Do you need food?”

The woman looks down, afraid to say yes but it was clear… that was the answer. She needed food.

My mother tells her, “Please, come inside. We have to be out of this house by Sunday because new renters are coming in. You would be doing us a favor.” (Note: My mother owns the house, and the “new renters” coming in are my little brother and his wife. She didn’t mention any of that.)

The woman stood there on the verge of tears. My mother helped her into our house. She shyly poked her head around the corner, peeking into the pantry.

“… are you sure?” She hesitated. “Are you really sure? I can’t take your food.”

My mother and I promised her she was helping us. We pulled two huge boxes over to her and said, “Fill them up.”

As she pulled from the shelf brand new boxes of cereal, pasta and canned goods, she kept whispering, “There is a God… there are angels… there is a God…”

She stopped when she reached the paper towels. “Do you mind… if I take some paper towels? My little girls haven’t had toilet paper in… awhile.” I helped her pack them all.

My mom came in to talk with the mother, so I scooted outside to find the girls. I had clothes, and I wanted them to have clothes for their first day of school. We sat around a box pulling shirts, pants, dresses, hair bows, belts. We laid out a sample outfit on the grass, switching out shirts/belts/shoes occasionally. I could feel their excitement for their first day.

Buy the Jeans here

After we had settled on the first-day look, I found my mom and their mom inside of the kitchen. The boxes were full of food, and she had a bag full of frozen food.

“Look!” The mother said to her little girl. “Chicken nuggets! Your favorite!” The little girl ran over to hug me.

As we helped the family pile boxes into their car, the mother pulled me aside and gave me the largest hug I’ve ever felt.

“Your mother… is a Saint,” she said. “I was so afraid to say we needed food. But your mom… she just asked and offered and I can’t tell you how much we need it.”

She told me she recently visited a church asking for help, but she was turned down due to the fact that she didn’t live in the correct zip code.

Our yard sale was a tremendous success. At the end of the day, we had $500, but that didn’t matter to any of us.

What we will never forget about today is that family. The eyes of parents trying their hardest for their little girls. The hugs of genuine thankfulness. The excitement of little girls who just got something “new.”

This is a family that is holding themselves together (yard-sale item by yard-sale item) through a very rough time.

We will never forget that family. They will be in our prayers every day.

Now… my house/pantry/refrigerator/closet are empty.

But my heart is full.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

As the school year quickly approaches, my mother and I (with the help of a very special donor) went out shopping for the little girls who will be facing an entirely new school with little to nothing.

We are sending them off into the new school year with:

2 pair of jeans and 2 shirts for each girl

1 pair of shoes for each girl

School supplies (markers, crayons, paper, notebooks, glue, pencils, highlighters, and a nifty pencil holder!)

We are hoping these items will help the girls transition into their new schools and community until it is called “home.”

Staying In Touch

August 10, 2012

My house is all packed up, and I’m ready to take the next huge jump!

It is time to create the world I’ve always imagined for myself! Time to build my dream, piece by piece… starting with a solid foundation.

That leads me to YOU! My solid foundation for years has been my family, friends and dear supporters (some of which I have never met), but they believe in me and support me! For this, I am forever thankful.

So I want to invite you to PLEASE STAY IN TOUCH WITH ME! Join here, so that I have your e-mail address and I can stay in touch!



Back to the Barre

July 22, 2012

Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it. -M. Scott Peck

The journey has been entertaining. I certainly can’t argue with that. And now, here I am, sitting on the floor, packing up years of my life to place into boxes labeled “Donate,” “Storage” or “Move.”

I have found cards, old homework assignments, papers from college, test prep books full of scribbles and highlighted passages. I’ve donated old dance costumes, stuffed animals and old prom dresses to local organizations for children. I’ve experienced moments of not wanting to let a memory go, and moments of shaking my head where I couldn’t throw a memory away fast enough. Everything I’ve collected reminding me of good times and bad times; moments I was proud of and moments I would rather forget (but keep with me internally, filed under “life lesson.”)

Seeing these snapshots of my life have only reiterated my decision to uproot it all and start a new chapter. It’s time that I find myself back at the barre.

The ballet barre, as defined by American Ballet Theatre, is: The horizontal wooden bar fastened to the walls of the ballet classroom or rehearsal hall which the dancer holds for support. Every ballet class begins with exercises at the bar.

To me, this ballet barre has always represented: Pain, focus, stress, struggle, frustration. But most importantly, it taught me how to overcome pain, distractions, stress, struggle and frustration. It has always brought me right back to where I can breathe through everything and try again. It taught me to believe in my ability and achieve what I never thought I could. The ballet barre helped transform me physically, mentally and emotionally.

For dancers, it’s easy to “get away from the barre” (emotionally, not physically) because the barre is only “where things begin” and we like to think the “real dancing” happens in center floor. For me, I cannot wait to get back to the barre. For me, that is where my real dancing will re-connect, reinforce, revise, refresh and revitalize itself. Working with the barre is not easy; it’s very trying, in fact. But just as the definition says “…which the dancer holds for support” the barre is always there for us to come back to, when we are ready.

And now I’m ready!

I never imagined I would answer, “Going back to school for dance” if you asked me what I’m doing with my life at age 26. I know there are opinions floating around of doubt and “I’m not so sure why she’s doing that.” But I’ve let those be as they are. Once I started to value my life and my time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it and I haven’t stopped pressing forward since that moment.

I don’t think people listen to their hearts enough. I get sad when I hear stories of people who gave up their passion in order to pay the bills. Your creativity was traded for efficiency. The real world took away what you used to believe in. Make time for yourself and for your passion. Make time. Don’t let people tell you how something will play out, instead… just listen to their opinions and then show them how it will play out.

While rummaging through old memories, I found a poem that was inside my graduation card from my Aunt Cindy. As I read it, I realized not enough people hear these words when it comes to trying to live the life they dream. So here it is, dreamers. This is for you:

With all of my heart and all of the support I can ever give, find your passion and follow it. And if you don’t know yet… don’t worry. You will recognize your own path when you come upon it, because you will suddenly have all the energy and imagination you’ll ever need.

Excited Nervous Scared Happy

June 18, 2012

It’s the final countdown! I’m only a few days away from ending the old and starting the new.

People have been asking me, “Are you excited? Nervous? Scared? Happy?” My answer to all of these is: YES!

I’m so excited, equally nervous, totally scared, and completely happy.

So here is my new schedule for life!

The professors that I’ve met are really fascinating, and I know they will challenge me. I’m excited to learn from them, soak up their wisdom! I’m also very exciting about new teaching opportunities: new people, new places, new levels, new talent!

My plan for all of this looks something like this:

I’m leaving a city that I adore and where I’m completely comfortable, to start all over again in a new market. But as you can see my plan above {Hint: I’m the fish!} I really do plan on embracing every minute of this experience {not matter how scared I am} and really make it my own! It’s MY life! It’s MY experience! I want it to be amazing, straight out of a fairytale. That is my intention!

I want to wake up every morning so thankful for the opportunity to dance, that you may see me like this:

Who gets to determine when the old ends and the new begins? It’s not on the calendar, but it’s an event; Something that changes us. In my case, I didn’t decide. I waited for life to show me I was ready. I waited for 4 years, and then suddenly pieces started falling into place and I realized… if I ignored the signs, I would miss the path life has set out for me.

Life is simply too short and too unpredictable to not live it exactly as we please. We must, I must, listen to exactly where my heart is calling me to go.

Live with your eyes wide open, so you don’t miss a thing. And when you find your calling… go.

In my Hometown: Love Letter to RVA

June 14, 2012

Photo by: Trevor Dickerson

I was born in Richmond, Virginia. You know… “The Old South” and “the former seat of the Confederacy” where our “sepia-toned legacy” watches honeysuckle grow, and thinks even then time is moving too quickly.

My childhood was lovely (and definitely included honeysuckle hunting with my little brother). Open fields, wild flowers, summer reading, digging for Civil War bullets with bare hands in our front yard, church every Sunday (white hose with ruffled socks, and little old ladies in flower-print dresses). Gigantic trees. Loud bugs. Driving 30 minutes on winding roads to pick up milk. This was my life.

But then, I grew up and Richmond transformed itself before my very eyes. I saw things I had never seen in Richmond before: Taxis, tall buildings, creative, innovative, modern architecture, new business models, off-the-wall and out-of-the-box ideas. People who ask the right questions which lead to amazing results; people with brilliant ideas and the confidence to execute them. Richmond was in a river of change: new refreshing, daring, collective change. I have so enjoyed watching people make things happen for our city! I have squealed when I see Richmond, VA show up in the New York Times or on television! This city, my hometown, is being noticeably amazing every single day. How lucky am I to have been born and raised here, while getting to see all of this progress.

Since I’ll be leaving Richmond for a little while to finish my Masters, I’ve been very reflective on my love for Richmond. Thus… I wrote a love letter to RVA!

Dear RVA,

I know we had a rough start. I was only a few minutes old, and I had no idea who you were or what the heck you were capable of. But along the way, you have captured my whole heart. And here’s how…

I love everyone you put into my life. I had public school teachers who inspired me, and dared me to believe in my talent. They challenged me, encouraged me, and held me to very high standards. They chipped away, added, and polished who I was as an individual for years. I also love everyone you placed into my life that made my life difficult. You know, the haters. The ones who didn’t believe in me, tried to break me, embarrassed me, or crushed me. Those people made me stronger. I see now they were strategically placed in my life at perfect times to make me stronger; to make me discover the strength within me. Thank you for everyone I fell in love with, even if it didn’t work out. I still carry their hearts with me. Also for my parents. My mother, who is still teaching Richmond, VA’s lovely children as a teacher in the public school system. My father, who taught me to be social, friendly and funny, and who has been working with Philip Morris since the day I was born. He taught me to work hard, even through the tough times. My grandfather, who I watched preach every Sunday and who inspired me to read, study and share my discoveries with others. My grandmother, who has rocked hundreds of Richmond, VA babies to sleep in the nursery of churches all over Richmond. Her comfort and peace is unmatchable. My family, my very large and beautiful family, for which, Richmond, serves as our home base.

I love how you stay so strong and stable, but you’re willing to be flexible. You are always growing, even when that comes with growing pains. You may not always make the right decisions, but you’re willing to listen. And if you don’t listen the first time, you’re willing to try again at another time. The people here have strong opinions, and you know that. You secretly love that, and I love that about you. At the end of the day, you still stand strong. The river keeps flowing, the sun lowers itself to rest, and the people relax. You are the gravity our spirits need.

I love how you are home to so many small businesses and big businesses. You welcome people’s ability to dream and celebrate with them as they put up an “open” sign on day one of their dream business. I’ve seen the sparkle in business owners’ eyes as they watch their business grow. You help nurture that energy and productive flow. You have venues that hold people who share ideas and create new ideas to celebrate. I so appreciate that about you.

You know what’s important. Races for charities. People hanging off buildings for fundraising. Conferences for learning. Festivals for music, beer, Irish people, everything. Wine tastings. Poetry readings. Art shows. Fashion shows. You know how to celebrate a good thing, and that is an important quality in a city.

You don’t make mountains out of mole hills. Well, actually… sometimes you do. Sometimes you can be a little dramatic… but we all have rough days.

Most importantly, you keep me inspired and you keep me happy. I love this city: the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the obnoxious, the unforgettable. I’m going to miss you while I’m gone. Hold on to your spirit and your drive. Keep pushing for progress and success.

And don’t you worry…

I’ll be coming home.

Love always and eternally grateful,




Great Changes are Preceded by Chaos

June 12, 2012

Right now, I am living my life off of check lists. As I prepare to close one chapter of my life and begin a new one, that (as it turns out) requires quite a lot of… planning.

And so I keep a running check list of things that must get done:

o Create summaries for all of my cases at work (so the new paralegal can take over)

o Look for an apartment

o Interview potential roommates

o Sign a lease

o Send a check for a security deposit

o Attend placement auditions at school

o Solidify school schedule

o Ask for overrides, then sit and wait, and wait, and wait

o Interview for new dance jobs

o Solidify dance jobs (pay, hours, classes)

o Buy individual health insurance (for which I was denied, thanks to knee surgery!)

o Look for health insurance somewhere else

o Donate clothes

o Figure out what of clothes/furniture/books/shoes is going and what is staying

o Book private lessons and summer dance intensives

o Prepare classes and choreography

This check list requires massive amounts of coffee, white-out (for when I’ve scheduled something only to have to re-schedule it), gasoline (for traveling back and forth between cities), deep breaths, my support system of family and friends, and strong doses of faith.

I keep reminding myself that “All great changes are preceded by chaos.” I repeat that to myself often. Many times I do so after I’ve made myself tea and I’m sitting there trying to clear my head of miscellaneous thinking… I prefer the leather ballet shoes, so I’ll take those… Did I water that plant?… I need to fold laundry… What is that noise?… I’m pretty sure the guy on Breaking Pointe is crazy for not signing his dance contract…

But then I make myself stop thinking. I, instead, make myself start breathing. Because I know what I’m doing is right. I know with all of my heart. This is my calling. This is the meaning to my life, and this is exactly the question I’m supposed to spend my life answering: “How will you, Sheena Jeffers, make dance positively affect the lives of others in your community?”

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, a design consulting firm, once said, “I spent too much of my career feeling like I’d done a really good job answering the wrong question. And that was because I was letting other people give me the question.”

Now that I’ve discovered my own personal, Sheena-Jeffers-specific question, I can begin living my life answering my own question. That is huge. There are days when I’m overwhelmed by the responsibility that comes with my Sheena-Jeffers-specific question, but there are also beautiful moments where I feel nothing buy pure joy.

Photo by: Rick Bancroft Photography

Now, whenever I’m feeling stressed about why someone hasn’t called me back or where the heck is that e-mail I’ve been waiting for?! I make myself stop and breathe and think of everything lovely.

Like this: I was recently featured in Grid Magazine as a Richmonder in their LIVE BOLD section!

My photo and my story of bringing awareness to Arts Education in Richmond ran right next to the photograph and story of VCU President Michael Rao! *Enter huge happy dance here*

When awesome things like this happen… I am reminded why I love what I do so very much! How lucky am I to have a job that helps change lives? But also, this served as a reminder to me to CONTINUE TO LIVE BOLD!

Sometimes the momentum can be too much. Sometimes people don’t believe in me. Sometimes I doubt. But then, I remember… my question, my dream, my goals.

Bring it on chaos. I will live bold!

I Will Not Take My Love Away

May 23, 2012

As I packed my bags to walk away from the theater… I was overwhelmed with love from my students, their friends and their parents. I sat and listened to everything they said to me, but it was hard to believe they were talking about me. Had I made a difference in their lives? Had I improved their dancing? Had I made them smile or feel better on a bad day?

I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I wanted to keep making a difference in their lives, improve their dancing and make them smile. I wanted to stay.

As I walked to my car, tears were running down my cheeks. I couldn’t decipher if these were sad tears or happy tears, so I decided to accept them as both. I decided I was one very lucky girl to be standing outside a beautiful theater, after pulling off a fantastic show, and being showered with gifts and feeling this right here, right now.

I love my students and their families and here is why:

1. My students made me grow up. Being a teacher forced me to dive into the material in a different way than I ever had as a student. I had to learn new ways to communicate and express. I had to manage schedules, emotions, different levels. I had to learn how to read each one of my students and help them through whatever they were going through. I had to put my exhaustion aside and be there for them, with equal energy and passion. My students taught me, that as a “teacher” you are a default role model, and you should serve as the best example you can for them. Show them, don’t tell them.

2. My students helped me through a broken heart, and then through a really broken heart. They were always there, even on the days when I wasn’t there. They knew when I was hurting and they would listen, or they would distract me – whatever they felt I needed. They helped me more than they’ll ever realize, just by being their smiling, loving, energetic selves. They showed me how loved I was even during times when I felt very unloved. They’d remind me of my strengths (sometimes without having to say a word). They give the best hugs in the world, and they bring me Starbucks coffee. They sit in a circle around me and let me talk it out, or they dance my choreography which expresses my feelings – and ask no questions.

3. My students work their little booties off. They make the dances I see in my head… a beautiful reality on stage. They have no idea, and may never truly know, how honored I am to have them dance my choreography. They make my dreams tangible. What better gift could a choreographer ask for?

4. They accept me, even on my very bad days. I never have to explain myself to them. Their presence in my life has been precious, constant and filled with unconditional love. I could have had the worse day ever (which happened frequently) but it all fades away into happiness when they enter the studio, prepared to dance, prepared to work, prepared to create. They are always willing to try this or that, even if it looks goofy. They are always open to new ideas and new movement, and I love them for that.

5. They have made me a completely different person. They have filled me with love, strength and they have taught me to trust my instincts. The 22-year-old they met back in 2008, is now a 26-year old who is stronger, more efficient, more clear minded, and more loving than I ever was before. I owe that to them. Their beauty rubbed off on me. Their joy, their innocence, their energy, their lives.

6. They showed me how to be a leader, and not just a boss. They taught me cultivate the strengths of others, and listen, and understand. They taught me how to lead in a supportive way and not tell in a demeaning manner. They taught me to believe in everyone and everything. They gave me their trust, and it was my responsibility to lead them, and I… I am in awe by their trust in me. On days when I didn’t trust myself, they would look at me, and I knew they were waiting for an answer or guidance, and in that very moment, I would pull it together and lead. They taught me how to do that. They also taught me that it takes a group willing to participate to have an effective leader.

7. They were constant reminders that I always had 400 reasons to be happy. Each and every one of them is joy in my life. A little beacon of life that emits positive energy into the world. Then there was their siblings and their moms and their dads. Everyone touched my life. Everyone gave me advice on life, love, finances, relationships, teaching. I love them all.

The truth is… these students and their families are one of the best things to happen to me. They, along with the studio owner, have changed my life. They took me from a lost 22-year-old, unsure of what I want in life, to knowing exactly what I want in life. Where would I be today without them? I don’t want to know. Because I know I was meant to be right there with them, in the studio every night, growing and working toward a bright future for us all.

The support I have felt over the past few weeks has been nothing short of enchantment. Every night before I sleep, I have to pinch myself to make sure this is really real.

To every single one of you:

Thank you is not enough.

I love you is not enough.

I admire you is not enough.

I adore you is not enough.

You have changed my life is an understatement.

You will always be with me is an understatement.

There simply are no words to describe how I feel about each one of you; there simply are no words.

As I move forward to tackle a new adventure, I know I would have never been strong enough to do this without each and every one of you. Know that, please.

“Before you walk away, don’t say goodbye. Look in my eyes, so that I always will remember. Frozen in time, always be mine. You’ll be young forever.”



Announcement of Joy!

April 23, 2012

Since graduating from college in 2008, I have been waiting for 4 years to say what you are about to read…

I have always loved dancing, but I didn’t fall in love with teaching dance until I was 22. But when I was 22, the economy had just crashed and I was kicked off my parents health insurance the day I accepted my degrees from VCU. Eek!

So I took a full-time position with a local law firm downtown with only four distinct goals in mind:

Buy a brand new car and pay it off in one year [check!]

Pay off all undergraduate school loans [check!]

Get health insurance [check!]

Grow up, figure out what I want in life, become a stronger person [check!]

Throughout my four years with the law firm, I have met some amazing people and some crazy people. I have had great days and horrible days. I have laughed and cried, loved and hated, experienced success and failure. I have learned lesson after lesson, each of them shaping me into a stronger, better person.

Then, the best thing of those 4 years happened; something amazing that changed my life: I got a dance job teaching children and adults at night.

Teaching my students, my beyond-amazing, full-of-love, truly inspiring students, captured my entire heart. I fell in love with seeing their smiling faces, guiding them through their dance education, and tracking their progress. I adore my conversations with their parents, and it is those very parents who helped me grow up and talked me through life challenges in those 4 years. And boy, were there challenges!

For 4 years, I have worked 60+ hours a week, dividing my time as a full-time paralegal and part-time dance instructor. I have worked from 8:00 AM – 9:00 PM. I have changed clothes, eaten meals, cried, taken naps and choreographed in my car on the drive from Job #1 to Job #2. I have worn ballet clothes under office clothes, transitioned from hair down to hair up, streamlined my coffee intake, switching to tea at 2 PM. I have snacks stashed everywhere to keep up my energy. By 10:00 PM, I fall into my bed, completely exhausted but fulfilled.

I did all of that hard work because I knew what I wanted: I want to dance full-time.

I knew my dream, but I knew the timing wasn’t right. The logistics had to be figured out before making such a drastic change in my life. I wanted to be strong enough to face the change and I wanted to be ready for my dream.

So I kept working my crazy schedule, but I did everything I could to keep my dream in focus.

The first thing I did was to post sayings around my office:

You can buy this print HERE! Side note: The artist of this print, Mae Chevrette, was able to quit her day job and paint full time due to this very print! I’ll take that as a good sign!

“It is in all of us to defy expectations. To go into the world and to be brave and to want, to need, to hunger for adventures; to embrace change and chance and risk so that we may breathe and know what it is to be free.” – Mae Chevrette

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do it ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I also hung up all of the drawings my students made for me. Covering my office walls are ballerinas, ballet shoes, the word “dance” in all types of fonts, and a golden star with the word “DANCE” scribbled in the middle.

When I received my acceptance letter from Old Dominion University telling me I had been accepted into their Masters of Education, specializing in Dance Education, program… I think I stared at it for a very long time. Emotions are hard to label when they are running all over the scales from ecstatic to scared to sad to overwhelming joy. So I stood there, holding the piece of paper and blinking.

I have given myself months of marinating on that piece of paper. Should I go? What about my students? What about my job? What about the life I have created here? What about the people I love? How will I survive? How will I pay? What if I fail? What if I don’t?

Last week, I delivered the news to my students first; they are my heart. I took a deep breath and told them my decision: I would go and get my Masters in Education. Their encouragement instilled within me a joy and strength I didn’t know I was capable of!

The next day, I told the shareholders at my law firm. Their support touched my heart, and I knew – finally, without doubt – I had made the right decision. I also realized that – finally, without doubt – I was strong enough now for my dream: to dance full-time.

In 50 business days, I will be transitioning from being a full-time paralegal/part-time dance teacher to full-time dancer.

Sure, the details will shift as opportunities come or go away. But I am so beyond thrilled to take on this adventure!

In July, I will be moving to Norfolk, VA to get my Masters in Dance Education. I am so thankful to everyone who has loved me, hated me, shaped me throughout these 4 unforgettable years. Leaving Richmond, a city I have fallen in love with, will not be easy for me but…

To my co-workers: You have helped me grow up. You’ve taught me how to focus on details, hold my tounge, speak up, stand up for what’s right, plan, cover my booty, and accept difficult times as growth opportunities.

To my students: You are why I want to be the best dance teacher I can be. You re-sparked my heart’s passion. You put me on track. You have blessed me beyond what I can put into words.

That being said… this isn’t goodbye, and it never will be. You are all a part of my life and always will be.

To dreaming! To being crazy enough to think I change the world! To being patient! To trusting my heart! To every single person who has stood by my side when I wasn’t strong enough to stand on my own! To those who believed in me! To those who have had to listen to my frustrations and exhaustion over the last 4 years!

I will never be able to re-pay you for the time you invested in me to help make me who I am today. But thank you, thank you, thank you…


The Forests of Life

April 16, 2012

A letter that meant so much to me and held so much inspiration for all who are needing strength…

I’ve been meaning to share this with you for some time and have just been so busy I didn’t get to it, but it has been one of the greatest motivators for me that I’ve ever known:

Epictetus: “Men are not disturbed by the things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen.”

Whenever the walls have felt like they were falling in, I would remind myself of these words.

The Epictetus quote–I referred to it in my book Colors of the Mind in the chapter on Disappointment. I’ve had a lot of disappointing, discouraging things happen to me over the years, but I always hold on to that thought. It helps me get through the forests of life.

YOU are going to be a winner; it doesn’t matter what has happened. It’s going to be tough for a little while, but you’re going to be a winner; I’m absolutely sure of it. You are not a quitter. You never have been, and you won’t start now. Take your own advice (one day at a time) and mine (Epictetus), and soon whatever the mess may be, will be a memory.

Love you,


War in Sudan

March 8, 2012

With the recent social media push to make Joseph Kony famous (prompted by Invisible Children in an attempt to bring down the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army) I wanted to share with you a piece I wrote in 2006 about my friend’s life growing up in a refugee camp after being chased throughout Sudan and Uganda, only to end up in the camp in Kenya. This is a true story.

Born in the midst of Sudanese Civil War… my friend shared with me his story.

Awer Gabriel Bul spent his childhood running from flames and bullets only years after he learned to walk.

Bul, a self-taught artist, is now a sophomore painting and printmaking major planning to double major in kinetic imaging. To Bul, who grew up in the midst of the Sudanese civil war, “there is no limit to school.” He plans to teach art in America as well as return to Sudan throughout his life to teach art workshops.

The war tore Bul from his parents when he was 7 years old. Many different people raised him, which paved the road to his future in art.

Photo by: Cynthia Merchant

“What brought this art to me was the war,” Bul said. “I was not under a special training or anything. I just used it to express my ideas.”

As a young child, Bul sat in refugee camps confused about the war but unable to ask about what was happening. He passed the time perfecting his art.

“It’s a way for me to speak out,” he said. Bul used whatever art tools he could find to draw his point of view of the wartime suffering. He drew “people in danger and war and tired,” Bul said. “I started to draw my life story and tell people who I am by doing art.”

Sudan was established as a British colony in 1899 and declared independence in 1956. The Sudanese were over­joyed, but the celebration was short-lived. After the British occupation ended, Sudan was left vulnerable and unprepared to brace itself for what happened next.

Arab Muslims moved in and “assassinated many people,” Bul said, especially their tribal leaders. The Arab Muslim majority of northern Sudan, who wanted to enforce Islamic Sharia law, took over the country, Bul said.

“They took over the schools and tried to make us become Muslim,” he said. “We didn’t want that to happen.”

The Sudanese rebelled against the government in 1983, and civil war between northern Islamic and southern Christian groups raged into action. That same year, Bul was born.

Bul lived four years untouched by the war. He passed the quiet days with his family in the self-sustaining Dinka tribe, embracing the traditional culture and beauty of Sudan.

But in 1987, the northern forces attacked Bul’s village and the Dinka tribe scattered.

“People were just running from any direction,” Bul said.

The entire village was burned to the ground. Bul, only 4 years old, stayed with his parents while his older brother, Abraham, fled to Ethiopia. He and his parents hid behind the safety of bushes and “tried to establish a new life,” Bul said. They started farming and lived in a mud house. When Bul was 7 years old, Arabs found them and shot at them.

“Animals were killed,” Bul said. “People were get­ting killed.”

The family left what little they owned in their mud hut and didn’t look back.

“People just kept on running, and I just kept following them barefoot,” Bul said. “I didn’t have any shoes or clothes. I just kept on running, running, running.”

Once again, everything was burned.

Bul was separated from his parents in the rush. He walked through flooded areas, night and day with strangers. There were no clothes to protect his skin from the sun and no shoes to protect his feet while running over sharp rocks and through muddy water.

The only thing he knew was to stay with people who looked like him and to keep moving. He ate wild foods, not knowing if they were safe, but he had to eat to keep running, he said.

Bul and his fellow refugees, which included many young children, headed to Uganda, which is south of Sudan. There they found a refugee camp congested with thousands of shattered and starving people sit­ting and waiting.

After days of running, Bul thought he could disappear in the mass of people and rest. But as the sun slipped below the horizon, anti-government rebel groups attacked the camp.

“They come at night and run into the camp,” Bul said. “They shoot people and take away our food.”

Exhausted, Bul ran from the camp back to Sudan in hopes of finding his parents.

“I didn’t know where my parents were,” he said. “I kept thinking I would see them one day, but it never happened.”

When he arrived in Sudan he saw his country still overwhelmed with war, so he continued on to Kenya.

Bul arrived in Kenya in 1994. Another camp, similar to the one in Uganda, welcomed him.

“The life was the same,” he said of the camp. “They didn’t have anywhere to go but just sit in the camp. It wasn’t happy.”

One day Bul was sitting with thousands of other refugees when a group of them recognized him. They found a strange boy and brought him to Bul.

The boy was his brother, Abraham.

“I didn’t even recognize him,” Bul said. “People recognized us as brothers, and I was excited because I had forgotten him for most of my time.”

Together the brothers would share what Bul called “silent moments” and think, “Where is my father and mother? And the rest of the children?” The brothers waited for someone to recognize their parents among the thousands of people in the camp. No one did. They waited for a letter, but none came.

“We kept on praying that someone would come to us and say, ‘We have seen your parents back in Sudan, and they are here,’” Bul said. “It never happened.”

The boys passed their days by attending school in the morning. But the schooling was poor and inconsistent, Bul said.

“In the camp was a boring life,” he said. “There was nothing to do.” So the boys helped find food, dropped from United Nations airplanes, for those in the camp.

“They would drop food anywhere,” Bul said. “Then we’d go and find some food in the bushes. But the food was not enough for the people,” he said. “We used to support ourselves as a group. If I ran out of food, somebody may just give me a little bit of his food so I could wait for when the food would come.”

The camp was lo­cated in one of the most arid parts of Kenya, meaning they also went without water. During the rare times it rained, the harsh wind blew dust into refugees’ eyes and lungs.

But more severe problems brewed.

A Kenyan tribe claimed the land on which the camp was located. They used the trees for charcoal to sell, but with so many people clut­tering the land, the resources were unreachable.

The frustrated Kenyans began attacking the camp at nightfall, to which the defenseless refugees could not respond.

“They would come at night and shoot people,” Bul said. “And we didn’t have a choice to go anywhere, so we just sit there and wait for your day to come and see what will happen.”

One day Americans came to the camp to offer aid. Language, however, created a barrier between the refugees and the Americans, so the refugees had to pantomime their pains.

“We had to show we’re here in the camp. We don’t have parents; there’s no good life,” he said. “And we proved to them that we didn’t have any good life.”

After witnessing the lives of the refugees, the U.S. government labeled them “the lost boys of Sudan.”

There were no young girls in the group, as they were sold into slavery and prostitution, Bul said. Men were killed by the northern forces, which feared reprisal.

“The Arab people think we may come back later to them, and we may establish another government or kill them,” he said. “So mostly guys ran away.”

Bul and his brother decided to go to America after American volunteers proposed the idea to them.

“We didn’t have a dream of what America looked like or a good place looked like,” he said. “Coming to America was only for the rich people.”

In 2000, Bul and his brother came to America under the care of Catholic charities. Bul lived in the Virginia Home for Boys in Richmond for three months and attended J.R. Tucker High School. The charities put his brother, 18, in an apartment and supported him for six months until he found a job to support himself. While his brother searched for a job, Bul struggled through high school.

“I couldn’t really speak any English,” Bul said. “The first test I did, I didn’t do well.” Though his limited English made classes difficult, he was determined to finish high school. He worked for hours every day on math, English, history and science until he graduated in 2004 at the age of 21.

Then, with the help of vol­unteering churches and his friends, Bul applied and was accepted into VCU’s School of the Arts as a painting and printmaking major.

Five years have passed since Bul lived in the camp. In the summer, he returned to Sudan to meet his father, whom he could hardly remember after 12 years. He no longer has contact with his father, but hopes one day his father will travel to Kenya where he can access a phone.

After arriving in the United States, Bul learned that his mother was alive, but other family members had been killed in the fighting, he said.

His mother came to America in July with his two younger brothers and sister. Another sister lives in Australia. Bul and his family are saving money to bring her here.

The Rev. Dr. Fred Skaggs, a minister at County Line Baptist Church in Ruther Glen who Bul considers a hero, said Americans know little about the problems facing Sudan.

“So much of what’s gone on in Sudan, we have not known about,” he said. “We knew about Af­ghanistan. We knew about Iraq and Somalia, but we’ve not really known a lot about what’s gone on in southern Sudan.”

Skaggs’ church and others helped raise funds for Bul to attend summer school and for his recent travels to his Kenyan camp to hold an art workshop.

Bul used money from selling his paintings to purchase art tools for people in the camp. His goal was to teach the people still suffering how to express their feelings and communicate, he said. He wishes for them to see what they have never seen before.

“These people are blind,” he said. “They have never had a chance to do what they want to do.”

Bul continues to paint his feelings and observations to complete his studies at VCU. “Everything you see around you is all art,” he said.

I met Awer Bul while I was in college. My grandfather had been helping him raise money for his efforts, while helping him with miscellaneous expenses throughout college. I was instantly inspired by his spirit and his drive. Today, Awer Bul is a husband and father. He travels back and forth from Richmond to Sudan in order to create opportunities for those suffering.

You do have the power to change the world. Start by touching someone’s life in a positive way. And then keep going.

January Reflection

January 31, 2012

It’s the last day of January 2012. So far, my Life Chapter: January 2012 breaks down like this:

0 hair cuts

1 massage

1 sinus infection

1 good cry

1 legitimately stressed out day

1 new Camelbak (from my boyfriend!)

1 new iPod speaker for my office (from my boyfriend!)

1 facial and makeover

1 birthday celebration (for my amazing cousins)

2 hot yoga classes

2 nights of editing dance music

2 new dance tank tops – which I adore!

2 photoshoots

Lots of chocolate

Lots of dancing

Lots of days serving as a mediator

I’ve purchased:

This fantastic poster reflecting my fabulous city from a local printing company! Buy it here.

A camera strap for my new camera! Buy it here.

I put over $600 in my savings for my future, and I may or may not have splurged on some Girl Scout cookies.

I went snowboarding with my boyfriend, and good friends.

I was in a video for VCU about my college experiences:


Upon reflection and review, I can now close Life Chapter January 2012, and proceed to what’s next!

26 Acts of Kindness

December 18, 2011

For my birthday, I decided to start the next 25 years of my life off right. I wanted to spread some joy, send some smiles someone else’s way. I have been tremendously blessed in my years 0-25, and I wanted to share the joy! Below are my 26 Acts of Kindness (which I will carry with me always). I met some beautiful people and learned of some amazing organizations. I received some letters of thanks (which made me smile) but mostly… I was able to make a difference in a stranger’s day.

Since starting this project, I’ve received e-mails from people who have also completed kind acts! This brought me even more joy.

Thank you to everyone who helped me during this project, and thank you to everyone who has made my life so beautiful. I can’t wait for the next 25 years of my life! Here’s to Year 26! I’ll take it!

My 26 Acts of Kindness:

1. Ballet shoes: Purchased a gift card ($22.05) in the amount of a pair of ballet slippers and left the gift card with the store owner. The next time a dancer comes in to buy some ballet slippers… they’ll use the gift card! Now there’s another pair of ballet slippers out in the world. Let the hard work begin! Thank you to Ellman’s Dancewear for helping me with this project!

Update: I received an e-mail from the recipient of the gift card. She is a small business owner in Richmond, who has been struggling lately (so much so she will be forced to search for employment in January 2012). She said she walked into the dance supply store knowing she couldn’t afford the shoes, but needed them for her performance at church for the holidays.

2. Writing Journals: I sent writing journals (composition notebooks) and color pens to Richmond’s Full Circle Grief Center, an organization with trained grief counsels who work with children struggling with loss.

3. Coffee Needed: Paid for the car behind me in the Starbucks drive through (in honor of this stranger).

4. Tutu for a New Family: Bought a brand new family a gift card to Target and, of course, a little tutu for their baby girl.

5. Groceries for a Family in Need: Purchased a $5.00 box at Food Lion of pre-boxed food which will be given to a family in need. This so inspired the person behind me in line, that they purchased a box too!

6. Push and Pull: Helped the Food Lion employee push the carts back into the store.

7. One Roll of Tape: Bought a roll of tape ($3.49) and went to the Post Office to help people close up boxes and send gifts to their loved ones this season.

8. Holiday Greetings and Chocolate to Overcome Addiction: After speaking with the Executive Director about what the patients may need and want, I sent stationary (so they can write to their families) and chocolate candies (for a delicious treat) to Human Resources, Inc., a local non-profit organization offering substance abuse treatment to individuals suffering from opioid addiction, illicit substance addiction, cocaine abuse and alcohol abuse.

9. Book Inspiration: During my Kindness Project, I ran across the book You Changed My Life: Real Stories of Real People With Remarkable Hearts. In the book it says, “Kindness not only makes the coffee. Kindness says good morning.” I made the coffee and I said good morning (but mostly, I make a daily effort to be smiling, friendly and kind to my co-workers.)

10. Car Repair: After an unfortunate, minor accident I had to have some work done on my car (silver lining: this allowed me to drive a 2012 car for 2 weeks). On the day I went to pick it up, I brought the rental car guys and the repair guys some M & M’s! They were so happy, they opened them immediately with a huge smile.

11. Gave up my Perfect Parking Spot: I found THE perfect parking spot (in the midst of holiday shopping chaos). I moved on, and waved for the car behind me to take it.

12. Happy Hair: I gave a stranger a compliment on their hair (which was perfectly curled and made me green with envy!)

13. Water Bottle Relief: I brought a man on crutches some water, as he sat down to rest.

14. Feelin’ Good: I sent beauty products to female troops serving overseas. (I may have slipped some chocolate candies in there too, post-photo!)

15. Camp Items: I sent sharpie markers and little tubes of sunscreen for the children who participate in Comfort Zone Camp. A bereavement camp that gets kids out and moving in nature! I spoke with one of the volunteer coordinators for the camp, who went through the camp as a child after losing her father, and she said little gifts make huge differences, and the camp changes lives. I hope my small gifts help children have fun on their camp!

16. Surprise Moments: I wrote sticky notes, and left them on the driver side of cars parked at the busiest mall! Notes reading: “You are appreciated!” and “You are loved!” and “Stay amazing!” and “Your Dreams Will Come True!” and “Happy Holidays!” I’m hoping these happy notes will make some people smile!

17. Holiday Cheer: I sent holiday cards to a nursing home for residents who don’t receive holiday cards.

18. Cookie Delivery: I made cookies for my mailman!

19. “New” Clothes for someone: I donated barely used clothes to Goodwill.

20. Buying Time: I paid for a stranger’s parking meter.

21. Tortillas for Education: I donated $25 to Luz Idalia from San Lornezo, Honduras (via Kiva)! Luz is 36 years old and lives with her three daughters. She makes and sells tortillas for a living. She makes them in two shifts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Her customers come to her every day (from Monday until Sunday). She will use her loan to buy supplies to make tortillas. At the moment, her clients’ orders have increased and she hasn’t been able to meet all of their demands because she needs more capital to be able to produce more. Luz Idalia’s goal is for her daughters to graduate from school.

22. Pizza Delicioso: I took a piping hot pizza to my local fire station. They work long, hard hours and risk their lives daily to keep our lives and our property safe.

23. Never forget to tell those you love that you love them: I reminded my family how much I love them (by an e-mail / card / hug / just saying it!)

24. Conversation: I sat and talked to a little girl for an hour while her parents worked. (Note: Her parents own a business next to the dance studio where I teach. They work 7 days a week, 10 hours a day. Since she is little, she stays where her parents work and occasionally comes by to visit). I learned about her school, her hobbies, her day, her ideas, her dreams.

25. Go ahead of me: I let someone go ahead of me in line at Target.

26. Playing Santa: I helped purchase some gifts for a family in Idaho (two young girls) who had a family member who was wounded in battle. (If you want to be involved, check out: Code of Support)


So what did I learn?

1. You don’t have to be rich to make someone’s life a little better.

2. There are beautiful people and organizations right here in my city.

3. People, regardless of who they are or where they are from or what language they speak, people appreciate kindness.

4. Kindness is infectious.

So go on. Spread some kindness. Show some love. Give some smiles this holiday season. You won’t regret it, and you’ll make someone’s day / life.

Happy Holidays all! And thank you for being a part of my life!



26 Years/Acts of Kindness

December 7, 2011

Well, on December 18, 2011, I will turn 26 years old. Yes, that’s right. I’m moving into a new bracket of age! No longer will I be in the lower 1 – 25 quarter of life. I’ll be in the 25 – 50!

Now this is something I’ve learned during years 1 through 25:

So I’ve made a decision: I want to bring in the next fabulously, wonderful quarter of my life with kindness.

I will complete 26 acts of random (by random I mean: deliberate and planned out) kindness.

Please leave me a comment with your ideas on kindness acts that I should do! For example, buying a gift card at the grocery store and then giving it to the person behind me.

I’m excited for the next quarter of my life, and I want to share the joy! Help me come up with some ideas! 

It’s going to be worth it

November 5, 2011

The world is going to want you to be a lot of things. At some point, you’ll have to tell the world, “Shhh… this is what I will be.”

She set her dance bag down and sighed. She had so many questions she wanted to ask. She wished someone could tell her how to feel, but for this there was no answers.

When you are stuck in a moment, anything outside of that moment is a distraction – even the solution.

I watch her body lying on the studio floor. Her 9-weeks exam resting in front of her. She struggles over the spelling of sissone, slipping her pencil through her hand over and over again. Her mind drifts away.

High school: Why must it be so… so… what it is? I watch the kids ask for assistance on their test. No. I watch as they shoot each other glances, roll their eyes, and fish for hints. No.

I want you to work hard. I want you to know you are capable. I want you to know you have all of the power in this world right there within you: your heart, your body, your mind. I will not, I cannot, but mostly

I will not make things easy for you. As your teacher, I will not commit such a disservice.

Part of my job is to toughen your skin so that when the world tells you that you cannot… you won’t believe them.

I know the emotions that run through us are difficult: Learn to use them for good.

I know you get left out sometimes, and I know you will get embarrassed: Learn to move on from it.

I cannot be your best friend, because there may come a day when I have to be your enemy, and say something you don’t want to hear. I am your teacher. I will always adore you, but I may not like you every single day; like on a day when you’ve decided to try on a new attitude and talk back, or give up, or curse yourself and your ability. Or on a day when all you want to do is make excuses for yourself to not accomplish or do something. I will not like you these days.

We have to grow to be wise. It’s tougher than you ever imagined, yes. Teaching is tougher than I ever imagined. Living is more difficult than I ever imagined. And every time I think, “this has to be it. This has to be as tough as it gets.” I am surprised all over again. Life does that to us. Testing us, always.

It’s a process. And it’s hard.

I won’t always be there to help adjust your point of view, or re-align your knee with your hip.

I carry my lessons with me in my heart, along with each teacher who put them there.

Remember this:

Worry less. Listen to your body. Smile more. Be kind. Look where you are going. Breathe it all in, love it all out. Extend. Feel. Don’t rush. Trust someone. Warm up. Take a moment when you need a moment. Forgive. Watch closely. Be ready when it’s your turn. Say “yes” more than you say “no.” Try. Don’t give up. Reach. Focus. Show up. Be precise. Write. Listen actively. Do what you say you’ll do. Speak. Overcome. Show compassion. Allow yourself to be: upset, beautiful, depressed, excited, nervous, genuine, honest, happy. Participate.

I’m OK with being the “bad guy” some days… as long as you succeed. I succeed. We succeed.

So worth it.


What You Think You Cannot Do

October 25, 2011

I will not lie to you. I did not think I could do it.

When I started fundraising for the Special Olympics months ago, I did so because my heart believes in everyone. I did so because everyone deserves opportunities and life-changing, memorable moments they will carry with them forever. I did so because many of the Special Olympics athletes never get the chance to be seen as individuals, instead they are seen as their diagnosis. Most of their lives people will try to “fix” them, instead of simply changing the way we approach education and / or changing the systems we have in place in our environments.

But I didn’t believe I could really rappel down a building that stands 400 feet in the air.

The day of the event, I still had in my mind, “Well, if I’m too scared, I just… won’t rappel! For safety reasons!”

I knew my “for safety reasons” was the hobgoblin of my little mind. But I practiced my speech should I decide to not rappel 400 feet.

“I simply, for the safety and protection of myself and future fundraising efforts, I simply cannot rappel down this building.” I even practiced in the bathroom as I changed out of work clothes to my Super Hero costume: A ballet leotard, pink tights, and pink tutu.

Once in my Super Hero costume, I felt a little better. I felt a wave of confidence rush over me. And then I looked up. The building was huge, and I mean monstrous. It stood there staring at me, daring me, but not caring for me. I couldn’t trust it; no way, no how. This building didn’t care who I loved or what I was doing. I suddenly got nervous. So nervous that I couldn’t even remember my backing out speech!

I found myself fiddling with the necklace around my neck. This necklace had been given to me by Hannah. Keep in mind, I’ve never had a sister but I’ve always secretly longed for one, so when this full-of-life, spunky, witty, but full-of-sass redhead came into my life, I secretly knew she was my sister. We spent nights dancing together, coloring together, watching movies, and she helped me exit a bad relationship. Now, she had made me a beautiful necklace telling me she believes in me, and yet once again, here I am… doubting myself. Hannah had seen the building. It didn’t frighten her.

After getting suited up, I was given a few lessons and then ushered up to the top of the building. We were able to sign a poster on the inside of the freight elevator. I simply wrote, “OMG – Sheena” in shaky, most likely illegible writing.

When we were on the roof, my partner (a complete stranger to me) kept me calm by talking about my passion: dance! I even showed him a move or two!

Photo by: Craig Carper

But as the time creeped closer and closer to stepping off the edge, my heart started to beat faster and faster. My doubts started to close in around my throat. My entire body was shaking.

I spent quite a long time like this…

Photo by: Craig Carper

What if the rope breaks? What if my mom has to witness me fall? What if I panic and forget which rope to pull and which lever to push? What if this defeats me?

That’s when the crew in charge of the rappel came over to me. “You ready?” I hear the question from far away. The wind is blowing. The sun is shining. There’s a helicopter with a camera circling above my head. There are seagulls. I could see buildings and rivers and cars, and I couldn’t figure out which dot my mom was but I wanted her up there right that instant. I needed someone to hold my hand and tell me, “It’s OK to step off the edge because it’s impossible to fall.”

Just then, Matt, the guy responsible for helping me off the edge says, “You know it’s impossible for you to fall.”

I instantly think about Titanic.

After a few minutes of chaos and me saying, “No, no, no!” Matt somehow got me off the edge. And when I finally felt secure, I smiled.

“There’s that smile,” he said.

Photo by: Craig Carper

Even though every muscle in my body was screaming and stressing and straining… I smiled. I don’t know where this smile came from because I can tell you now my brain was focused on other things (400 feet of the ground, the orange rope, the blue rope, the red handle, death). So the smile came from my heart: true genuine feelings of overwhelming adoration for everyone and everything in my life.

And so my descent began. It was one movement at a time and then I’d breathe. I’d move. I’d breathe. I’d move. I’d breathe.

My partner stayed strong and talked me through the entire process. I never once looked down. I hated passing the windows because I could see how high I was. My muscles ached.

But beyond all else I kept saying to myself: Sheena, I think you can actually do this.

Photo by: Craig Carper

I was and still am overwhelmed with the feelings that I felt. I went from breakdown terrified, tears welling up in my eyes, to clarity and strength in 2.5 seconds. I went from horrified to calm and peaceful. I went from not believing to feeling like I’ll never question myself and my abilities again.

I did it. I mean, I really did it! Who would have ever thought?! When my feet touched the ground, I was too in shock to cheer. So I did what I love doing: I struck a pose!

Hannah ran over to me and gave me a high five, and I said to her, “We did it!” And we always will. I will always be there for Hannah and she’ll always be there for me. Even when I’m a ball of anxiousness and walking down a busy street in a tutu.

I could sit here and gush love for hours over this event and for everyone who made it possible: You are something else. I don’t know you, but I love your hearts and your patience and your belief in all that is lovely in our world.

Keep doing what you are doing and keep loving the way you love.


The Love Story: Part III

September 30, 2011

Together we had struggled through eight long and hard years to finish a three year course. Graduation was a day I sometimes felt would never come, but it did. My brother and his family were there as well as my mother and father. After the ceremony, coming out of the auditorium, the graduates were swamped by family and friends, and so was I.  As the hugs were shared, I glanced around and there was Jane, standing off to the side so others could get to me.  A piercing emotional pain hit me… here is the one who made so much of this possible, and she’s standing off to the side, not being noticed or getting any credit for it.

I went to her, kissed her and said with all the conviction of my heart, “Honey, we made it.”

I later finished three masters degrees and a doctorate, but none of them had the emotional impact of the first one, and Jane was always there—in the shadows—but she was there for every one of them.

Dr. Fred R. Skaggs

My grandparents have been married for 58 years, and they are still in complete love. My grandfather opens every door for my grandmother out of respect for her strength and patience and endless love. My grandmother adores and listens to my grandfather’s stories, of which she always remembers the little details. I watch them with such admiration, and who I am today is because of the solid foundation my grandparents have created for everyone – starting with their love and relationship, then moving to what they created for my mother and her 4 siblings, and then for all of my cousins, my brother and myself.

So what is the secret to such deep, unwavering love? I asked them:

(1)  Be sure it’s true for each of you: “I love you as I love no other.” There are a lot of people who can’t say that to the one they are marrying, unfortunately.

(2) Remember:  Lovers turn into strangers when they stop doing the things that made them fall in love. Set aside some time, even if it’s just going for a walk, in which just the two of you can be together, can talk and share as lovers, as friends.

(3) Be openly honest with each other. Tell the truth. When you’re hurting, say so.  If things are not going well for you in any area of your life, share that with the one you love. When they’re going well, share that too.

(4)  Learn to listen. Most of us try to come up with an answer for a problem when there may not be an answer to the problem; your mate just needs you to listen to how they’re feeling.

(5)  Agree that the two of you will not always agree about many issues, but that’s okay. Unless it’s an issue that demands an immediate decision, for which outside help may be necessary, you can agree to disagree and move on to other things.

(6)  Practice good manners. Never be nicer to strangers or outsiders than you are to your mate. Thank your mate for ALL the nice things they do for you. Don’t assume they know of your appreciation. They don’t.

(7)  Look your mate in the face everyday—outside of the bedroom— and say, “I love you” and mean it.

(8)  Work hard at being “best friends.”

(9)  Make the practice of your faith a major commitment in your life.

(10) Participate, as much as possible, in the interests of your mate.

(11) Develop a sense of humor. Life can get awfully frustrating at times. A sense of humor will not only help your marriage, it’s good for your heart.

I hope my grandparents know how much I adore them and need them in my life. I hope they know THEY are my example of true love; THEY are my example of Romeo and Juliet. And since there is no physical gift I could give them to show my appreciation, I will live my life to the fullest every day and do my best every day to make them proud and carry on everything they’ve taught me.

I love you both, to the edges of the world and back.

The Love Story: Part II

September 27, 2011

Part Two of the Love Story: Those who told them not to get married

There were many of my male friends who told me I was wasting my time trying to establish a relationship with her because she was just biding her time until her boyfriend returned from Korea.  I was told that many times, and naturally I had some serious questions about that issue myself.  It was a huge struggle for me. I was told many times that “You’re going to get your heart broken” when he gets home. I had some say, “She’s just using you. Why do you keep hanging on?”  (I’ve since wondered why they were so concerned about me. I’m now convinced that they wanted to go with her, and they wanted me out of the way.)

On several occasions, when it was clear to me that she was not going to make any decisions until this friend came home from Korea, I began to feel that maybe these “friends” were right and that I probably should go on with my life because after a few weeks of dating her, I was absolutely sure that “this is the woman I want to marry.” (She was cuddly, like a little rabbit, and the sweetest person I had ever known.) I had gone with a number of fine girls, but there was not one that I was sure I wanted to marry…until I met her.

Guy Mitchell had put out a beautiful version of Hank Williams’ popular song, “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love With You.”  The words went like this:


Today I  passed you on the street

And my heart fell at your feet

I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You

Somebody else stood by your side

And he looked so satisfied

I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You.

I used to sing that to her as we waited on the corner for the bus to come. (I didn’t have a car at that time.) She didn’t care much about my singing, but she liked the song.

The struggle about what I ought to do about this relationship got harder, but my final decision to stick with it and fight as hard as I could for her regardless of the outcome hung on two things:

I prayed every day “Lord, if this is not the right thing for me (us), please bring it to an end as hard as that will be.”

Then one day I heard Merle Haggard’s song, “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and that absolutely settled it for me. “I can’t quit now.” Win, lose or draw I determined to fight to the end. AND I GOT HER!

When I learned the morning after she had told him that she was choosing me, I felt like I’d won the lottery. I walked on air the whole day. I kept thinking, “She’s mine! It has been worth it all.” And she still is mine! And she is still very special to me.

We were told—at least I was told—that I was too young. I was. I was 19 years old when we got married. We were told we shouldn’t get married at that time. That was true. I was a junior in college. We didn’t have any money. That was true.

But through all of the hard times, I’ve never regretted marrying Jane. Never.

Looking back on all of the struggles, it has been worth it. I think, and Jane agrees, that we are most proud of five wonderful, smart kids whose lives today demonstrate the character, the principles, and the morals we dreamed and prayed that they would have…and eight precious grandchildren who are perfect in every way.


The Love Story: Part I

September 23, 2011

Today I went to lunch with my grandparents. This may not seem like a big deal to many, but to me: It’s a huge deal.

You see, I love my grandparents more than I can express. Any time I get with them, I treasure. They have been my example of true love, romance, encouragement and trust throughout the years. They are my vision of a successful, nurturing relationship. They have been my solid ground since the day I was born. They have inspired me, listened to me cry, watch me grow, help fund my dreams. They have picked me up from school, clapped for me at the end of shows, purchased countless bouquets of flowers. They are not just my mother’s parents. They are so, so very much more.

A while back, I asked them some questions about their story. I was going to re-write it, but after reading their responses, in their own words… it is too beautiful to tamper with. I will be telling their story in a series of posts.

Today is Part One: The Meeting {How my fearless grandfather and my beautiful grandmother met}

My Grandfather’s Story: In September, 1951 I went to the very popular Tobacco Festival Parade on Broad Street in Richmond. At that time, it was the biggest thing in town every year. Princesses from many parts of the state vied for the title of “Tobacco Bowl Queen.” Jane {Sheena’s Note: my grandmother} was “Miss Blackstone.” I watched the princesses ride by, each seated on the back of a fancy convertible automobile. As she came into view, I saw her waving to the crowd and was immediately and absolutely smitten by her beauty. I thought and said to the one who was with me, “That’s the prettiest girl I ever saw.” I never expected to see her again.

In late October, 1951, Jane and her sister, Jackie, visited at the evening discipleship session at Grove Avenue Baptist Church (in Richmond), were I was president and leading the meeting. My brother was there also. He greeted Jane and Jackie and before the night was over had their telephone number. I didn’t know her name, but I remembered that beautiful face. It never dawned on me that I would be able to date her. In fact, I learned that she was “pre-engaged” to a fellow who was serving in the armed forces in Korea. He was not expected to return for at least another year.

Hoping that I might get lucky and have a date with her, I asked my brother for her telephone number. He wouldn’t give it to me. I tried several times but to no avail. I offered him $5.00, which was a lot of money in those days, for it, but still he refused.  Determined as I was, I knew that she and her sister had signed a visitor’s card when they visited the church, so I got two of my friends to go to the church office with me to look through a large stack of cards. “Bingo!” I got it!

I was shy around girls in those days—I was seventeen years old and a freshman at the University of Richmond, and I thought that it would be a waste of time to call and ask this girl if she would go to a movie with me (I was into big time entertainment in those days), but I wanted to try. I figured she was booked up for weeks and wouldn’t have time for me, but I called her. We talked for a while, and I asked her out. Just as I thought, she couldn’t go. She was going home to Blackstone to see her parents that week-end. Disappointed but not surprised, I asked about the next week-end, and holy mackerel she said, “Yes!” I like to have fainted. I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know what else to say. I thanked her and hung up the phone, so excited I felt like I had climbed “Mt. Everest” on my first try. All of a sudden, it dawned on me that I hadn’t suggested a time to pick her up. So I had to call back and apologize, but we got it settled. I don’t remember a lot about that night, but I do remember it took me a long time to get to sleep.

My Grandmother says: It was in a discipleship group at Grove Avenue Baptist Church, and Fred had the program; it was good. Dating him never crossed my mind as I thought I had found the one I wanted. He was in the service, stationed in Hawaii, finally ending up in Korea. However, Fred called and asked me out, and we had a good time. I continued going out with him until it got to be every night he would come over.

After he got a car, he would come in the mornings and take me to work and sometimes meet me for lunch. He “grew on me”, and I was falling in love with him. But first I felt like I had to wait for Jack to come home before I made a decision, even though I knew what that decision would be. I had been praying for God to lead me to the one I was to marry, and he did.

When asked, “What was the first thing you thought when you saw each other?” My grandfather said, “Infatuated, stunned.” My grandmother said, “Impressed with his leadership; and I thought he was a nice guy.”

My grandparents recently celebrated 58 years together. One of their mutual, lifelong friends said this: “I’m not family so I can be a little more direct about what happened 58 years ago and suggest they are qualified to serve in high places.  Considering what Fred pulled off, the country needs him negotiating for the State Department.  And, Janie has proven to be qualified to address the United Nations on world peace.”

Read Part II here!

Read Part III here!



September 19, 2011

“In the midst of movement and chaos… keep stillness inside of you.”

-Deepak Chopra

Photo by: Dean Hoffmeyer

I praise the dance,

for it frees people from the heaviness of matter

and binds the isolated to community.

I praise the dance, which demands everything:

health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul.

Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people,

who are in constant danger of becoming all brain,

will, or feeling.

Dancing demands a whole person,

one who is firmly anchored in the center of his life,

who is not obsessed by lust for people and things

and the demon of isolation in his own ego.

Dancing demands a freed person,

one who vibrates with the equipoise of all his powers.

I praise the dance.

O man, learn to dance,

or else the angels in heaven will not know

what to do with you.

– Saint Augustine

Remember Today

September 11, 2011

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln

-Letter to a mother who lost 5 sons during the Civil War, read today in memory of lives lost on 9/11.

Please remember everyone who struggled this day, determining whether they should jump or wait until the buildings fell. Remember the families who have had to pick up the pieces and attempt moving on. Remember to love our country, every day, no matter the frustrations we run into. Remember. Remember. Remember.

First Day: Production

September 7, 2011

I don’t know about how first days of school went for you… but for me, they were a full-on production. There were costumes, hair, and photo shoots {I would say make-up, but I didn’t actually start wearing make-up until college.}

A quick glance at Facebook tells me that First Day of School productions are still happening!

This makes me so happy! Here’s why:

I am a full believer that the busy world CAN take a moment to PAUSE in support of EDUCATION. Just like stopping, no matter how late for work you are, when a school bus stops to pick up a child. Moments should be taken to show our respect and appreciation for education!

Yes, I realize that not all children react for First Day of School productions in the same way. I was the kid who pressured other kids to hurry up! “Come on! Get on the bus faster so that we can get to school!” I was the kid who had paper and pens placed strategically in my book bag, just in case something amazing happened and I needed to take note! But I have to give credit where credit is due. All of my passion and desire to learn came from my family. This is why families must remember their very important roles in a child’s education.

I grew up watching my grandfather draft sermons in his office; the walls were bookshelves, packed with books!

I grew up watching my grandmother read, book after book, and I’d listen to her personal reviews.

I grew up watching my mother organize thoughts for an organization: scheduling, marketing, accounting.

I grew up watching my father build and fix cars, engineering them just the way he wanted.

I grew up watching my aunts discuss their classroom methods, and my uncles discussing their business methods.

I grew up with cousins and my little brother to bounce ideas off of, and we even created an organization of our own {The Close Cousins Club} of which we took very seriously, appointing a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasury position. We even had our own pens made, with our Close Cousins Club emblem running down the side, to record our meetings.

I grew up in a world that intrigued me, and encouraged me – directly and indirectly – to learn as much as I can! I loved this world and this world loved me!

But things weren’t always perfect. I struggled fiercely in math. I got contacts in elementary school. I was basically the only redhead in the school. I had my friends, but I had my enemies. My feelings got hurt. I had braces. I broke my wrist, twice. I got the {rumored} worst teacher EVER in third grade, then ended up loving her. I’ve forgotten to do homework. I’ve failed tests. I got the flu. I had 10 teeth pulled. My education years weren’t always smooth sailing.

I owe so much to my family for helping me to… get through it! To grow through it.

My family stayed a constant, solid ground for me throughout the sometimes tumultuous years. They would push me, sometimes pull me, in the right direction, while allowing me to learn from my own mistakes. But the best thing my family did was {drum roll} allow me to put things on my own plate. If I wanted to take an AP class, fine, it was my responsibility. If I wanted to add an extra dance class, OK, but it was my responsibility. If I wanted to read the “extra thick” book for the project instead of the easy one, great, but it was my responsibility.

I put a lot on my plate. And my mom held me to it. Thank you for that.

So as you {Parents + Children} start your new academic year, think ahead! Think about what you, as parents, want your child to write about in a blog 20 years down the road.

Parents: What do you want your child to remember you did to help them through this learning process, pre-kindergarten through 12-year graduation?

Students: What do you want to look back on and remember? Feel proud of? Have record of?

Because you can’t get these years back. They are yours for only a special amount of time. So use them to the best of your ability. Create memories.

These are the years, this is the education, this is the life… worth fighting for.



New Year, New Students

September 4, 2011

As the new year quickly approaches, I’ve been spending a lot of time on refining my classroom rules, creating ways to provide new growth opportunities for my students, and ways to engage their minds, hearts and spirits, while teaching self-discipline and respect.

First thing I’ll do: Introduction! Hi, I’m Sheena. Your Jazz/Tap/Hip-hop/Musical Theater/Contemporary/Improvisation teacher!

Second thing I’ll do: I’ll tell them a little about my history in Arts and Education.

Third thing I’ll do: I’ll explain my expectations of my students.

Fourth thing I’ll do: I’ll explain the rules of the classroom.

Fifth thing I’ll do: I’ll tell them to have fun!

Because here’s the thing about my classes: They are about opening up to move further, no matter how hard that may be.

I create for my students a safe, comfortable place where they can try what they’ve never tried before. This allows them to reach beyond where they currently stand in life (physically, emotionally, spiritually). I assess each of my students the same way, so they feel the classroom is fair and just. I keep my students accountable for their words, work ethic and actions. I engage my students’ parents by asking them to quiz their children at the end of class. I encourage. I celebrate achievement. I do not tolerate giving up.

We come to class to be taken to the next level. And this is exactly what my students will get.

400 Feet in the Air

July 27, 2011

Here’s one thing you should know: I’m a fighter.

I fight for what’s right. I choose what corners to stand in, and there I stand.

I support my family and friends, co-workers, bosses, students, my students’ parents and my community. Everyone that makes up my circle of life: I support.

Did that sound like a pep talk to you? …that’s because that’s exactly what it is… because I may have to step off the edge off a 25-story building that’s 400 feet in the air! {All for a good cause}

I am honored to say that I’m currently raising money for The Special Olympics. I am doing so in honor of the Arts and all of the fantastic performers I have met along the way.

Photos from We Are Artists 2009.

But mostly I am doing so to create funds (which create opportunities) for growth and development and sharing. That’s what I’m fighting for.

Now, yes, walking down the side of a building 400 feet in the air is absolutely terrifying to me at this moment in time… But I can do it. For a good cause!

My nightmares currently looking like this:

What if I can’t let go?

Oh my gosh. No.

Maybe this was a bad idea…

But no. I won’t allow myself to think like that. Everyone deserves opportunities and the chance to thrive. I will do this. I will overcome my fear, breathe and do this.

{The Catch}

I have to raise $1,500 in order to complete the rappel. This is where I need you to be a fighter and believer.

If you would like to donate {remember, any amount helps and is directly sent to the Special Olympics!} you can donate here: I BELIEVE!

Send the link to your friends: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/sheenajeffers/dancerappeller

I cannot thank you enough for your belief in the Special Olympics and in me.



Peace is Hiding Within the Noise

July 15, 2011

Let’s face it; Life gets noisy.

There’s a lot going on, many to consider, options, options and even more options. There are other people’s feelings, timetables, expectations. Noise.

It’s far too easy to forget all of the beautiful things in life and how lovely our world truly is…

The other day I sat out on my porch to read. The weather was perfect, there was still enough sunlight, and I was tired of being inside. I started off with my nose stuck in my book, my mind veering off into the world the author created for me. Then I heard these little footsteps.

They were tiny, almost inaudible, so they couldn’t have been human. I stopped reading and looked up from my book. The steps stopped. I started reading again about the storms in Bali and how that effects the rice farmers. The little steps started again. This time, I didn’t move my book or make any sudden movements with my head. I simply peeled my eyes from the pages and looked out of the side of my eyes: sharply left, sharply right. I tilted my book in just the slightest degree, eyebrows raised, eyes open wide. It was a little grey bird. Looking right at me. Just as curious as I was.

The second I said, “Awww” aloud, the little bird scurried away into a bush.

So I returned to my reading. It wasn’t long before I had to put the book down again. And not in a “stop disturbing me” frustrated plop-the-book-down manner, but because I couldn’t help but notice… I was being rude. There was so much life going on around me, showcasing its beauty, and here I was reading?! Every insect had decided to play their instrument that night, which somehow blends perfectly together to form an entire symphony. Bugs that I couldn’t identify, have probably screamed at and run wildly from [and quite possibly have squished its relatives] were all playing.

A little girl in my neighborhood was learning how to ride her very first bicycle.  Covered in pads from head to toe, she would never have been able to get back up had she fallen, but she didn’t care. She just peddled along. “Daddy, look!”

Then the couple who always walks their little fuzzy dogs. The two women have been life partners for years; own a house together, support and love each other, along with the little dogs and their family members who occasionally come to visit. I waved. They waved. Every night and every morning, they walk together, talk together. It pains me that this love, their love, is not recognized in our Commonwealth.

A little bunny rabbit dashes across the front yard, sending the fuzzy dogs into a frenzy.

I can smell the family behind my house is grilling, and I can hear their laughter and the clinks of their wine glasses (the clinks also in rhythm with the insect orchestra).

As the sun withered away into darkness, I picked up my book, opened the door and walked inside.

All is well. All is as it should be.

Creating Home

July 11, 2011

At some point in our lives, we’ve lost the feeling of “home.” Perhaps that was when we left for college, or moved out the first time. Regardless of when, or what age you may have been, there is a gap between having the home that was created for you, and creating your own home.

I am in that gap, and it’s been an interesting journey.

It’s included emotions, trial-and-error, fears, confidence, then vulnerability. It’s included confusion, questions, analysis, frustrations, freedom and untouched territory. It’s very odd, and there have been days when I feel like Lewis and Clark: lost, overwhelmed, but completely fascinated by this new land [except I don’t have an awesome guide with an awesome name who speaks the language and tells me what not to touch].

But that’s OK, because I believe there just some things you have to go through alone.

So I’ve been…

1. Focused on yoga; practicing ahimsa [non-violence, compassion to onself].

2. Reading. I like learning new things and discovering how certain topics effect me. Reading broadens knowledge and helps us realize our opinions on matters.

3. Allowing silence. I’m such an on-the-go type of person, I dreaded silence and inactivity. Lately, I’ve been welcoming it.

4. Living colorfully. I’ve been trying new things, new restaurants, new foods. When was the last time you did something for the first time?

5. Staying true to my passion. Never letting it go. Nurturing it. Giving it my time and attention.

6. Letting go. Not worrying. Trusting. No anxiety. No stress. Just believing the ground will be there.

Photo by: Thomas Spiessens


Through all of this, I found a place to call “home.” I am finding myself; finding what I believe in and what I’ll fight for, what I’ll defend and alot time for. My own beginning version of “home.” You know… until I can afford furniture.


Dancing on Cloud Nine

July 7, 2011

Here’s the thing: I’ve had a lot of people doubt me. I’ve had many people believe in me too [thank you beyond thank you], but I’ve had many days where I felt deflated, depleted, like I was the only person in the world thinking, “I actually believe it might be possible.”

So excuse my jitteriness throughout this blog post… I just can’t stop jumping up and down!

First and foremost: I dream up a lot of ideas, and then I do things that I think will add up to the final goal without having the slightest clue as to what will result. I never know. I move forward on my own faith in myself, my community and my idea. I trust that if something doesn’t go exactly like I had planned, that it’s for the best.  I trust that if the idea takes a sharp, unexpected turn, that is what’s supposed to happen [either as a lesson to me, or as a way of a higher power directing the idea].

Either way, I usually get the reputation of being rash, overzealous, insane, never satisfied…you get the point. [Note: I always make my ideas happen though! Regardless of my mother telling me, “You know Sheena, as a human being you do have to sleep at some point!”]

Since the time I pulled on my first ballet slippers, I knew I wanted to dance, and bring dance to the community. As I grew older, I felt the tug to merge dance with community healing, inspiration, encouragement. I wanted dance to serve as a catalyst for activity, thought and sharing [I still want this].

So one day, I applied for a grant. You can learn more about the history of this application process here. I applied on a whim! It was a Tuesday. I had a lunch break. Why not? I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew I wanted dance to make it happen.

My grant traveled through some rounds, and crossed some lawyers desks and finally made it to the voting phase! You can vote here.

But then something magical happened. My friends started writing about the project [because I have amazing friends who listen to my crazy, overzealous ideas and still don’t go running], and eventually it made its way to SnagAJob!

I thought that was cool enough as it is! I was appreciative that they told their fans about my project in a simple tweet. I walked around smiling like a kid with an icecream cone all day.

But then, to my complete surprise, SnagAJob did this.

They provided my idea with exposure, but best of all… they made the very first investment that’s ever been made to me based on my idea alone.

The second I saw it, I felt moved into a different realm. I felt validated beyond any validation I’ve ever received. A business had read over my idea and believed in it enough to financially support it.

No longer do I feel as if I’m dancing on cloud nine alone. This is real; my dreams are now tangible..


I will never stop believing. From here…

“It’s all very straightforward. We can do this. We can do this. We can do this.”

photo by: chris owens photo

Baby, you’re a firework

July 5, 2011

I hope everyone had a lovely 4th of July!

I, like many of you, spent a lot of time staring at the blank space right above the trees, waiting for a loud bang and a release of beautiful exploding powder. As I sat there watching fireworks with the person I love, and with complete strangers who had stopped to witness, I looked around and thought, “Look at everything we have built.”

It was 235 years ago, in 1776, that the United States issued the Declaration of Independence, and since then we have been working to build everything we live in, purchase/sell, pass along, eat/drink, share, protect, all of which we celebrated yesterday. We haven’t always gotten it right. Our country has made its mistakes, had its financial troubles, fought in its wars, experienced its depressions. But we always come back strong, and that is beautiful.

Yesterday, we celebrated what people 235 years ago celebrated: Our chance to build something that is our own.

Our country, now 3.79 million square miles with over 310 million people, started simply as an idea. We haven’t rested since that idea came to fruition. We have been pulling all nighters, fighting for our beliefs, saving others, correcting our mistakes, manufacturing vehicles and other helpful household items, paving highways, finding cures to diseases, educating our young, the list goes on and on, and will continue on and on.  

Because that’s the beautiful thing about living in America: We watch the open space, just where the treeline ends, waiting for something surprising and magnificent. We dream. We respond. We will always fight for our country and for everything we’ve built with our own two hands.

Through the good and the bad: This is our country. This is our past, present and future. This is our home.

Photo by: Dean Hoffmeyer

Freedom’s natal day is here.
Fire the guns and shout for freedom,
See the flag above unfurled!
Hail the stars and stripes forever,
Dearest flag in all the world.
~Florence A. Jones 


June 30, 2011

Forgiveness is a pretty large concept for such a chaotic, relentless world. Lately, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this huge idea, not because anyone wronged me, but just because I now feel… mature enough [old enough] to accept it. Fully. No “but I” attached.

The first thing I did was track my personal experience with forgiveness.

Little girl phase: Forgiveness 101

“Sheena, your little brother said he’s sorry for taking your toy. Give him a hug.”

School-age phase: Intermediate Forgiveness

Person A: “I’m sorry I read that note.” Person B: “It’s OK. No big deal.” Person A: “Still friends?” Person B: “Sure.”

[For those who grew up with a religious background] “Jesus loved you so much, and he forgave all of your sins. Washed them away!”

Note: This is where things became a little confusing. Washed them away? But… my mom’s still upset that I talked back to my teacher, so God-slash-Jesus forgives me but my mom doesn’t? But it’s washed away? Am I getting this all down? [I learned the power of all of this later in life].

High-school phase: Forgiveness Angst

“Listen, I didn’t mean to kiss him. It just happened.”

College phase: Forgiveness?

Professor: “So actually, how your parents have been voting is completely wrong.”

Young-adult phase:Welcome

So I’m in this phase now. I’ve spent a lot of time unlearning and re-learning lessons (I’ll call them “baggage”) that weren’t necessarily positive influences on my life. Is that forgiveness? I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with the “baggage” of my family members, friends, boyfriends, students, on and on. Is that forgiveness? In that case, a third party is involved. No one has directly “injured” me but I’m having to deal with the results of the injury through someone I love; so I too am called to forgive whomever / whatever caused the person I love to be the way they are.

I’ve come to the conclusion that forgiveness goes hand-in-hand with acceptance, which then frees me from guarding the wall I had put up.

Dr. Frederic Luskin, of the Stanford’s The Forgiveness Project, says there are “core components of forgiveness: taking less personal offense, blaming the offender less, and offering more personal and situational understanding of the offender and of oneself.”

I think the key words in his components are: taking less, blaming less, offering and understanding more.

There are many times I could have taken less [time, energy, focus, offense], while blaming less [you, me, time, God, love, bad day], and offering more [time, space, understanding, listening ears], in order to understand more [oh I get it now].

The problem is, our body has a physical reaction to whatever it may be, so we don’t have time to process. Our heart starts beating fast, our mind starts pulling examples from the past to put on as evidence, adrenaline and cortisol [released by our nervous system] shoot through our body, our muscles tighten, our breath quickens, and suddenly… we have the senses of the super hero! We can hear, see, smell, taste, feel anything. We are now in “survival mode.” What are you going to dare say next?

So see. Just like that we lose sight of a situation. Then we say and do things that will require more of this magic potion called “forgiveness” later.

I’ve thought about everything forgiveness could be: Glue, Water, Sunshine, Fairy dust

I’ve thought about all of the tools we use while attempting to execute forgiveness: A hug, a smile, a beer, a joke, a nudge, a gift, a letter.

But really, forgiveness is so much more than a thing that needs to be done. It’s more personal and intimate than that.

Dr. Luskin’s advice:

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace.

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.

8. Don’t focus your wounded feelings, thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

[Read more about The Stanford Forgiveness Project here]

I am learning to let go of whatever object I’ve focused my wounded feelings on. Because, hey. I am tired of guarding the walls.

“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.”

Flashmob for the Arts

June 26, 2011

Bucket list: Be a member in a flashmob… CHECK!

I was honored to be a member of a flashmob supporting local music, visual arts, theater, historical and dance organizations in Richmond, Virginia. Organized by Barksdale Theatre, we had two “under cover” practices, distributed T-shirts, and then… we just let it be whatever it was to be! For something as… unpredictable as a flashmob, I can honestly say it was well organized and brought together.

I had a blast! I met interesting people who work in fields that have nothing to do with the arts! Accountants, lawyers, doctors, nurses, business professionals, teachers, car salesmen, students, everyone donated their creative energy to support organizations educating our community on the arts and history! What more could you ask for on a beautiful Saturday afternoon?

Below is a video of our flashmob for the Arts! I hope you enjoy!


June 19, 2011

“If you wish to experience peace, provide peace to another.”

-Tenzin Gyatso

When I think over my life, there have been so many wonderful people. One of the main reasons I hold them in such high regard is because they were willing to be so giving to me. Little me. Before they knew if all of their effort and exhaustion would be “worth it,” these people put their time, finances, energy, opportunities, wisdom, creativity, love into me.

My own personal example here is lame, and it’s absolutely nothing in comparison to everything my family, friends and teachers have done for me. But it was the first time I gave of myself (my physical self) to a stranger, and I was so far beyond nervous I couldn’t speak.

I’ve always given money to charities and projects I believe in. I’ve donated my time and energy to organizations I believe are doing fantastic things for our communities. I’ve purchased a goat for a family in Africa, I’ve donated to save abused animals, research for diseases, and to help little seals during oil spills.

But when it came time to physically give something of myself (beyond time and money), I panicked.

I used to have this really long, flowing hair. Bright red and fantastic, I loved it! Every inch of it.

I had always told myself, “After graduating from college, you’re going to cut it all off and donate it.” This was a goal, but… more personal. More like something that has always been on my bucket list.

I graduated from college, and my hair appointment was set. I cancelled and re-scheduled that appointment at least 5 times. [Note: I knew how silly this was, considering there are people out there who schedule appointments to donate kidneys and bone marrow.] Here I was, 22 years old, and so vainly concerned about myself, that I couldn’t follow through with the donation.

Finally, I told myself, “No more of this. You’re going to do it.” She asked me if I was ready. Snip-Snip. Done.

The long hair that had taken me years to grow out was now sitting in a plastic bag; twelve inches of it. I felt like the old Sheena was also in the plastic bag. I felt as if a new life (a new perception of who I am) was about to hit the streets. Was the world ready for a new Sheena? Shoot, was I ready for a new Sheena? I had no idea… I mailed my hair off to Florida, and attempted to reconcile with  my new short-hair life in Virginia. [Again, completely silly considering there are people who have shaved their heads for Cancer research.]

But what I learned throughout this completely lame example [in comparison] was that it takes a lot to give of oneself. You have to be ready, but you can’t allow yourself to make excuses or rationalizations for yourself. You have to know what you want, and then go for it! Giving my hair helped me to understand that people need us; for the little things and for the big things.

Giving is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. Yes, it does move your life from one stage to another. Yes, it does count.

Challenge: Pick someone or something to give to, and watch how it changes who you are and the life you live.

Donate your hair

Become a bone marrow donor

Donate your clothes

Donate your blood

Donate your old computer

Be active! Give, give, give!

“You give me but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” – Kahlil Gibran


Happiness is a Rather Large Task

June 13, 2011

Within the last two years I have realized something that I was never told would be my own responsibility. My parents, my school teachers, my Sunday school teachers, the girl who taught me how to swim, my dance instructors, the teenagers who came in as part of the DARE program telling me to “just say no” to drugs, my college professors: Nobody, not a single one of those, told me.

How was I supposed to know I was responsible for my own happiness!

Growing up, it was always something or someone else that made me happy. The cartoon character on TV made me laugh, my mom’s pancakes made me feel good, my Sunday school teacher told me God was here to make me feel good (which, when you’re a little girl, means you equate God to mom’s pancakes). 

We spend a large portion of our lives allowing, then expecting, other things and people to make us smile, laugh and feel complete. 

About two years ago, I had one of those moments. “Whoa wait. Something is way off here.” My parents told me college would make me happy, so I expected college to make me happy. It did. Then college told me a full-time job would make me happy and be a sign of success, and I suppose it did and was. My full-time job told me to keep working hard to make more money, and that would make me happy. That’s when I had the moment.

I had been on a train of happy expectations. I moved from one external source of supposed happiness to the next, like a child expecting magic from every stranger they meet. Focus was never my problem, oh no. I could stay focused and achieve whatever was required of me to unlock the happy (like I was playing some video game).  I kept moving to each new level, slaying dragons, following directions, until I held the prize. What I began to realize was that somewhere along the way the prize and the feeling of happiness lost its relationship. So while my life looked good on paper…I wasn’t genuinely happy…but I had nothing to justifiably complain about.

That’s when it hit me: Happiness is a rather large task; and it’s my own personal task, nobody else’s.

I have had to dig down deep to figure out exactly how I’m going to approach this task, seeing as the end goal (of being happy and then being content with that) is very complicated. Here’s what I’ve mapped out thus far:

1. Forgive yourself… thank yourself… live again. A choice is just that, a choice. Yes, it changes our lives’ path and requires investments (which take time and money) but in the end, it was just a choice. It may be good or bad, but we learn from it regardless. What we must be careful of is to not let a choice water us down. Whatever results a choice has produced, deal with it accordingly and then, live again. Make another one.

2. You must allow yourself to be inspired by everything. Our world is packed full of beautiful things, which includes grief. Grief, though we hate it, is a step toward healing. All of the dark and dirty and ugly things in our world need our attention, as much if not more than all of the beautiful things. So while you’re off taking photographs of a raindrop resting on a flower petal, remember to be inspired to act when one of the dirty, ugly things comes into your radar.

3. You have to chase down all your demons. Why do you do what you do, say what you say? What made you do it/say it? What makes you angry? What makes you cry? What makes you nervous? Figure out what’s holding you down, make peace with it, so that you may carry on. You can’t fully love the world around you if you don’t fully love yourself.

4. Understand, that if you keep comparing yourself to others and their situations, you will always end up losing. You are not them. You don’t come from their background; you aren’t working with the same game pieces. Different rules apply.

5. Make up your own definitions for the following words: Success, Happiness, Relationship, Love, Marriage, Career. And then live your life, and adjust your expectations, by your own definition.

6. We are the only species that must start planning for their retirement (60 years in advance) at the age of 22. That’s a lot of pressure, and a lot of feeling like we’re doing something wrong. Be willing to give up some control when it comes to your future. Stay aware while trusting at the same time.

7. Understand how the grass works. When we first imagine or see or hear about a new idea, the grass looks sparkling green! Fresh! Inviting us to roll all around it, run through it with our shoes off! But after all of that activity, the grass is smooshed. Then the grass runs out of rain and starts to brown. It becomes lifeless, crunchy and it hurts when stepped on at the wrong angle. Ideas, jobs, imaginative play works the exact same way. Don’t mentally torture yourself; educate yourself before jumping onto unknown lands.

And when you still feel like something is missing and you just are not and cannot be happy…

8. Sit down and think really hard about putting that something into your life. How would your life change? If you make that phone call, if you quit that job, if you sell that house, if you give up, if you hold on…what will that change? If you don’t know the answer to that, play it out in your head both ways: Positive and Negative. If you are still lost, sit down and write out everything in your own current life: Positive and Negative.

Happiness is a task and it takes work. It takes work to be content and at peace. If you’re exhausted and drained…you aren’t doing it wrong. In fact, you’re doing it exactly right. You’re on the path to creating and maintaining happiness within yourself. It’s a dizzying, tiring task. But it’s the task we’ve been given, and it’s only ours. No one else can figure this one out for us.


Happiness is, by nature, a subjective quality with a definition like a moving target.


Dance Me Home

June 9, 2011

She sits in class trying to focus. The teacher is talking about our alphabet and numbers, but she can’t see why any of that is important because she has bigger problems. She is homeless. Why doesn’t matter, because what’s done is done. She has no where to return to after school. At first, she and her mother stayed in their car, hoping things would get better. Soon, her mother found a shelter where they could stay for a little while, but either way… a car, a hotel, a shelter… none are home to her

I recently applied for a grant through the Pepsi Refresh Project. I asked for $5,000 to reach out to the children of our community, currently living in shelters, to teach them the art of dance. The idea of homelessness brings about a certain image: An adult, ragged clothing, holding a paperboard sign asking for help/work/food/prayers. The children of homelessness are not seen, but do exist.

According to the National Center of Family Homelessness, one in every 50 children will experience homelessness. That’s 1.5 million children. Of those children, 58% of them worry they will have no place to sleep. By the age of 12, 83% of those will be or have been exposed to a least one serious violent event. Children of homelessness are 4 times more likely to be developmentally delayed, and their self-image can be severely damaged in the meantime.

Why do I believe dance can help?

Dance holds a special power to those who watch a performance, and to those who perform.

Dance can melt away insecurities and disbelief in oneself. It shows you that you can, regardless of any situation, emotion, twist of fate… you still can be active, be productive, be stellar and successful.

Dance replenishes what is lost. If you feel you’ve lost the ability to smile – a child dancing and happy will make you smile. If you’ve lost the ability to believe – dance will guide you back to believing. If you’ve lost the ability to let go, dance can do it for you.

Dance teaches confidence. Standing in front of anyone can be overwhelming and nervewracking, especially to families who feel they have nothing to stand up for. Dance will prove that not only do you have something to stand up for, but you have something to dance for: Your family, your future, learning from your mistakes and moving forward.

Dance teaches discipline. Dance encourages children to work as a group while pushing them to be the best they can be as individuals. They must mesh as a group, while instilling within them healthy competition to better themselves individually as well.

Dance reminds you there is something bigger than yourself. While our problems may be big, our community and our support systems are bigger. Dance instills faith in people, programs, projects, families that are far more powerful than any current problem. Dance reminds us that we can overcome and we can recover.

Dance is freeing, and loving, and accepting. Dance is something to experience by yourself or in a group and it’s something that can be passed along.

Dance creates memories, physical strength, emotional stability and spiritual awareness. It’s something these children can carry with them always, while teaching them how to accept and deal with life struggles.

Maybe my application for the grant will be accepted, and maybe it won’t be. I will keep trying, and I will keep believing that this project is possible.

My application has moved to the second round. If it progresses to the next round, it will be open to public voting. I need your help to make this project move from idea to reality.

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”


Letter to Mothers from a 25-year-old Daughter

June 8, 2011
“A mother, a real mother, is the most wonderful person in the world.”
–Wendy (Peterpan)

I remember staring at it. Bright orange and very strange. My mother looked down at me, holding a pot in her hands and said, “See that orange thing? Don’t touch it. It’s very, very hot.” I bit my lip; well now I’m curious. My mother turned to the sink, separating water from pasta, and I reached up. Miliseconds later I was screaming, holding my tiny finger, now puffy and white from a serious burn.

Dear Mothers:

From the time we, your children, are born, you have a very difficult job. I didn’t understand this when I was little, because when you’re little you think of the “Mommy” job as something you asked for! I was always told by my mother, “God gave me you and your little brother.” Well, then, if that’s the case, we were determined to make her thankful for that!  Now that I am 25, I see the world of mother differently. Not because I am one, because I’m not. But I’ve just come to be very appreciative of… “the way I turned out” (for lack of better words). And credit needs to be given where credit is due.

Ann Taylor once said, “Who ran to help me when I fell, and would some pretty story tell, or kiss the place to make it well? My mother.” Thank you for all of the boo-boos you fixed, and thank you for every time you just had to throw in there, “Well, now I told you this was going to happen.” It’s true. You did tell me it was going to happen. But thank you for letting me learn the lesson myself.

When we are young children…

You create our memories. You establish our beliefs. You design our holidays. You direct our logic. You feed us. You tell us when to brush our teeth, when to change the TV channel and when to cover our eyes. You show us how to forgive, save money and stand still. To my own mother, you were my universe by creating my universe and helping me walk through it.

When we are tweens…

You allow us to try new hair styles and clothing styles. You encourage us to be brave and unique. You listen to our sob stories of embarrassing moments. You share with us your sob stories of embarrassing moments.  You take us shopping. You analyze our friendship choices. You pay for our extra-curricular activity of choice. You make us do the finger-tip check on our skirts before we run out the door, and you remind us to use our manners. To my own mother, you helped me feel cool when I was feeling very uncool. You told me when my outfits were ugly, and you helped me create an identity I could be proud of.

When we are teenagers…

You teach us how to drive. You explain the importance of multi-tasking and weighing options. You help us through the tough math homework, and you agree when we point out we’ll never use it. You fight with us, because you’ve been there. You worry for us, and watch the clock waiting for our curfew. You photograph our prom. You wave as we drive away.  You give us just enough space to grow. To my own mother, you stood firm when I tested you over and over again. You never stopped loving me, even when I thought maybe you had. You proved to me that you aren’t going anywhere, and that I was just going to have to deal with that.  

When we are young adults…

You edit our resumes. You suggest options. You call your connections. You help us fill out our tax forms and benefits paperwork. You explain direct deposits, 401k, taxes, IRAs and why bonuses are taxed. You go car searching with us, for our first big purchase. You photograph the moment we bring home our first big purchase.  You let us mess up, but you are always there when we do.

When we become parents…

One day, I will be a mother. I can only hope and pray that I will be like my mother. Strong, courageous, inquisitive, energetic,  inspiring, creative, business-oriented, and loving, so very, unimaginatively loving.

To all of you Mothers out there, regardless of what stage your child may be in… please know, everything you are doing will not be forgotten and it is so very appreciated, even if it causes us, your children, to throw a fit. We love you. We love your crazy sayings (that never really make sense, and yet they do). We need your discipline. We need your guidance. We need you to make us angry, because that makes us think which makes us learn which makes us never forget.

We, your children, won’t be able to fully grasp who you are and what you’ve been doing all these years until far, far down the road. But as our lives change and people go their separate ways, you MUST know…

Home is where our Mama is.

Keep on fighting for us, even if that requires fighting with us. Because we will always love you and we will always need you.
The work you do is priceless. From cutting the crust off of sandwiches to beyond: You will always be amazing.

Future Investments

June 5, 2011

“This is what it’s all about: to make a child happy. And you know it.” –Woody (Toy Story 2)

I’ve recently been attending weddings like it’s my full-time job. There’s so much to think about (even if you’re not in the wedding). There is showers, parties, gifts, what dress to wear, shoes, how are you going to do your hair? The list goes on and on.

Last night, I sat at my table, twirling my glass of wine, and watched the children. They ran, barefoot and free, throughout the reception hall. They were solving some mystery, but I couldn’t hear enough to figure out the details. The little girl’s puff of a dress trailing behind her as she ran. The little boy blew out the candle on the table next to me. They both giggled. The little kids were the first out on the dance floor and the last to leave. Their world is different.

I remember that world, but what I can’t recall is the feeling. I remember selling lemonade and cookies. I remember the mysteries I tried to solve as a little girl (I still think there are dinosaur bones in the lot next to my childhood home; I just never got around to proving that to my mother). The freedom that is right there in childhood eventually becomes… not encouraged.

The rules our society have created in order to sustain itself doesn’t have a need for imaginative curiosity the childhood way. Businesses may encourage “creativity” and “curiosity” but it must fit into a budget, program, bullet points and time frame. Children know nothing of such things, nor do they have time to worry about something as unnecessary as a budget. They live in a different monetary system.

As adults, we can attempt to re-create this world, but it’s impossible. My mind has already shifted into a different mode. Worries. Stress. Bills. Work. Telephone calls. Faxes. E-mails. Pressure. Chaos. Traffic. You can’t go back.

But you can believe in childhood, and fight for children’s right to experience it.

Show Me Heaven…

June 1, 2011

Last night, a little less than 60 people said goodbye to their families. They double checked their bags to make sure they packed the usual: A lap top, an iPod, a cell phone, a good book.

The passengers, ages 2 to 77, boarded a bus, ready for the long trip ahead. They spend hours on the road, dozing off between sleep and awareness. A few glances out of the window reveal the same thing; still traveling, not there yet.

Around 4:55 AM, the bus driver fades into sleep. The bus roaring in speed toward New York City. The bus creeps sideways; the passengers completely unknowing.

Within seconds, the driver snaps back awake, over corrects and flips the bus.

Four people: Dead. The rest injured and left with a horrifying memory they’ll never forget.

This happened just today: May 31, 2011.

Stories like this, among the thousands of other devastating stories our history holds, are difficult to reconcile. Innocent lives were stolen when it could have been prevented.

As I sat in yoga today, my mind drifted away to thoughts of Heaven. Suddenly all of the horror I pictured these people witnessing, washed away… into something at peace, calm, serene and welcoming.

I became unafraid for those we lost. I’ve always believed things happen for a reason. And I’ve always believed it’s deeper than the surface reason (which, in this case, would be “driver fatigue”). We all have our time and our place; our entrance and our exit. God, the Universe, or whatever higher being you may believe in, decides who needs to go and who needs to stay. Today, He took four angels. The reason: Is not meant for us to understand; only to respect.

I know it will be difficult for the families to find the peace their deceased family member has found. I know if I had lost a loved one, I’d be beyond inconsolable. I am sure the pain they feel is beyond any kind of aching I can imagine. I mourn their loss with them. But I pray they will find peace and love, instead of hatred and darkness. Those four angels feel no more pain, and their presence needs to live in our hearts.

We are all here to figure out this life thing together. We all are here to support each other when the life thing runs out. But, I must believe, that when this life thing runs out… that is just the beginning to something beautiful, peaceful, and overwhelmingly loving

Fly, fly little wing
Fly beyond imagining
The softest cloud, the whitest dove
Upon the wind of heaven’s love
Past the planets and the stars
Leave this lonely world of ours
Escape the sorrow and the pain
And fly again

Fly, fly precious one
Your endless journey has begun
Take your gentle happiness
Far too beautiful for this
Cross over to the other shore
There is peace forevermore
But hold this mem’ry bittersweet
Until we meet

Fly, fly do not fear
Don’t waste a breath, don’t shed a tear
Your heart is pure, your soul is free
Be on your way, don’t wait for me
Above the universe you’ll climb
On beyond the hands of time
The moon will rise, the sun will set
But I won’t forget

Fly, fly little wing
Fly where only angels sing
Fly away, the time is right
Go now, find the light

Another Dance Season Completed

May 28, 2011

What an adventure it has been.

Thank you for dancing for me, even when you didn’t feel like it. Thank you for trusting me when I said, “You can do this.”

Keep your love for dance in your heart always!


Yoga Goals

May 26, 2011

“Training your mind, body, and breath, as well as connecting with your spirituality, are the main goals of the yoga lifestyle.”

Tonight is my first night of Yoga class! I’m going to be the “new girl” in class. I don’t know the poses, nor do I know how to properly execute or pronounce them. I’ve read blog after blog about how yoga changes lives, and I’m a little overwhelmed by all of this “power” I’m reading about. What should I expect? What if I do it wrong? What if I increase my chi flow in the wrong direction? I’m not actually that good at breathing…

Rewind. Let me explain what has brought me to sign up for yoga.

Since graduating high school in 2004, I have been on the crazy train, speeding me toward what I thought would be “success.” This train derailed a few times as my definition of “success” began to change, forcing all of who I am into a new direction. It has been an exhausting journey. It’s involved completing two degrees, a minor, dancing on a dance team, working at a newspaper until 1 AM, serving as the editor for another newspaper, counseling young adults, teaching dance, taking my own dance classes, traveling, applying for jobs, getting a job, working my little booty off at my job, getting a second job, adding extra hours, getting lots of coffee and… and… the list goes on into the early mornings and nights and all across the day. I have to remind myself to eat, sleep and breathe.

I knew was over-stressed when I started waking up in the middle of the night with my heart racing. There was so much to think about: Deadlines, project timelines, was I on track? Did I remember to do this? Call them? Respond to that e-mail? Oh my GOSH, I forgot to do that, so that means I’m going to have to do this in order to fix that and, oh yeah, I need to go to the post office. 

This happened a few more times until I finally got out of bed, went downstairs and drank a glass of water.

Simple. Pure. Quiet. It calmed me down and cleared my mind. I needed to chill out.

But how do I do that and continue everything I’m doing in my life? (Because, hey, a girl’s gotta pay bills and save for my future!)

In the middle of the night, out of no where, I suddenly thought about yoga. And not just because it looks pretty nifty, but I thought about the history and the science of it. There must be something in yoga that I haven’t tapped into that everyone keeps talking about.

I’m going in with these goals:

1. Learn the history

2. Learn the science.

3. Be honest with myself.

4. Be patient with the process.

5. Be open to the ideas.

6. Be stable standing outside of my comfort zone (It’s time to adjust to a life not smothered with stress).

If anyone has any advice for me… I’d love it! I’m walking into this completely oblivious. I don’t know what I’ll find along the way; but I’m excited and eager to see what yoga holds for me personally. Not the whole world, just me…

On the Go, Go, Go!

May 16, 2011

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that life is happening.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the commotion of details that I forget the travels to connect all of the details… is life!

This weekend I sat and watched my little brother pack to leave home for good. He is getting married to his high-school little lady. He’s loved no other heart than hers.

This weekend I watched my really good friend marry her best friend. I watched as rain fell from the skies, with lightening and thunder, and cascaded into the wedding party and all of the guests.

This weekend I watched my students rehearse for the last time before their big show. Exhausted, hungry and bruised from rehearsal.

What I realized while I sat and watched all of these things happening before me is that LIFE is what I was witnessing. I wasn’t watching my brother pack a simple suitcase, normal mid-May percipitation, or a typical rehearsal.

This are the moments that define the history we will forever tell.

My little brother is marrying the woman he’s always loved and he’s choosing to share his life with her; the suitcase was just a prop in the story.

My close friend married the man of her dreams; someone she cannot live without, and someone she will always support; the rain just made everything sparkle and made family and friends huddle closer.

My students were learning discipline, and hard work; the rehearsal will be a lesson they will carry with them always.

So while life carries on, I must remember to step back and remember that’s exactly what it is. It’s not the plans, it’s not the speed with which things travel, it’s not the stress. It’s just this thing that we’ve been given that we must remember to not overlook.

Because it can be missed.

Wedding Photo By: PhotoLadyLove

Little Things

May 10, 2011

It’s always the little things that get you. A simple touch from someone you love. A sip of water when you’re thirsty. A hang nail. The coffee you spilled on your way to work. The red light you always hit. A phone call from a friend when you need them most. I’m waiting for a little thing known as summer.

The first five months of this year have been a blessing, disguised as challenges.

But the lessons you learn from the little things are always the keepers:

1. Learning how to let someone in.

2. Remembering how to stay a child at heart.

3. Sometimes you must let go.

Photo by: Rosie Hardy

4. When your problems are big; you’re bigger.

5. Sometimes… it’s OK not to be OK.

6. The sun will come out again, and you’ll get another chance to paint the future you desire.

Photography: Willow & Frank

Love On & Off the Shelf

May 9, 2011

Love. I’ve been thinking about this word a lot lately. In April, my mother got married. In May, my brother is getting married. There have been a few other weddings here and there of my friends, of my friends’ friends. Some of them I witness, some of them I see in pictures after the fact. For a long time I’ve put this word exactly where I felt it needed to be: tucked away on the shelf. I felt very little need to deal with all that.

So here I am, 25 years old, and just now pulling love off the shelf to attempt to figure out its intricately layered… concept.

Step One: Loving Me! I laid it all out on the table. All of my strengths? Fabulous! All of my weaknesses? Ehh… not so fabulous. All of my quirks? Random. All of my problems? This is where things got ugly. So I put some cookies in the oven, made some tea, and sat back down.

Random thoughts that crossed my mind while drinking tea and smelling cookies…

I have two ways of thinking about trust. 1) I trust until given a reason not to. 2) Once given a reason not to, I won’t. I can be mature enough to forgive, but that doesn’t mean I have to let someone back in. Feelings. I have a weird way of dealing with feelings. I grew up in the harsh environment of the dance world. My teachers didn’t hold back their thoughts on anything about me, my talent, my work ethic or ability. When I went home, my mother didn’t spare my emotions either. It was always a morning vitamin with a hard dose of reality to wash it down with. I carry that with me today. If I notice something… I’m going to say it, even if I haven’t thought it through, and even if I haven’t thought about the feelings it will provoke. I’m painfully honest. I ask way too many questions. The more I ask, the more I know, but that’s not always a good thing. The cookies smell delicious. I’ve been by myself for along time. I work all of the time. I have big dreams. To make those dreams happen, I must work harder. How do you love and work that hard? How do you love and make your business goals arrive at the same destination? I’m a complete perfectionist. I get overwhelmed, and it’s always my fault because I can’t say no. There’s so much I need to… work on… about myself.

I pull my lap top over to me. I know exactly what I need to do.

“What is love?” Search.

“Love is one of the hardest questions for the mankind.” Well, great. I’m not looking for the answer for the mankind, I’m looking for the answer for me, the Sheena! There’s always the Bible verse that provides great guidance…

None of this was working. Granted, I know what I feel when I’m with my dance students, when I see my mother, and when I’m with my boyfriend. Those are all different types of love. So I’m not looking for the definition of a feeling, I was looking for the logistics of it! How do you keep this love thing living and breathing and beautiful?

Step Two: Realizing life changes, and accepting that is a cause+effect relationship, so with that comes love changing.

With people getting married and moving their life into new directions, I am watching this cause and effect relationship unfold, and I am watching the ripples effect my life as well. It has sparked all of the inevitable questions: What is love? Is it worth it? What if it doesn’t work out? How big is love? How small is love? Love can’t pay bills, so then what? How do I deal with this love thing?

It has made me question my own approach at love, and I’ve come to the following conclusion of where I am in the process of discovery.

I am still learning what love will mean and be to me. I am still working on my personal definition; one that Google won’t be able to index.

And I’m OK with that!

This summer I will be taking Yoga classes, and the main thing I’m focused on: Me, myself and I. Because I owe it to myself to find my center, to find my focus, and my inner strength so that I can continue to define love and what that means to my life.

To all of those people supporting me along the way… you mean the world to me.

To My Students…

May 8, 2011

Our journey started in September. You came into my class nervous, a little scared, insecure and not sure of yourself. Some of you had no idea who I was. For months now, I have seen you every week. I’ve been there on your good days and your bad days. You, return, have been there on my good days and my bad days.

I need you all to know how thankful I am that you’ve allowed me to be your teacher. Through all of the chaos I’ve experienced in the past year, I always knew there was one thing that wouldn’t change: My dance classes. Regardless of how bad my days were, I always knew my students would be there smiling and waiting for a new dance class.

You all inspire me and encourage me push on. You help feed my desire to be a better dancer/person/teacher.

Pretty soon, you will be on stage under the lights performing the piece I’ve been working with you on for months. Pretty soon, you’ll be showing your families and friends how much you’ve grown. But I can tell you this: I’ve seen your growth. I’ve seen timidness melt away. I’ve seen little girls turn into young women. I’ve seen my boys step up and help lead. I’ve seen friendships blossom.

So when the lights in the audience dim, and the curtain rises, I know you’ll go out there and show me everything you’ve already shown me throughout our season.

Your energy. Your passion. Your artistry. Your friendship. Your love. Your wisdom. Your strength. Your hearts.

Thank you for another unforgettable season. Each and everyone of you have been the solid ground in my life, and a light in my world. Thank you.

To purchase tickets for our show “Let’s Go to the Movies” (May 22, 2011 at Landmark Theater, 1:00 and 5:30 PM), visit: TicketMaster

10 of the Best Things to Happen to Me

May 6, 2011

1. My mother. She is my best friend, my role model, my confidant, and my guidance. “I’ve been beaten down. I’ve been kicked around, but she takes it all for me. And I lost my faith in my darkest days, but she makes me want to believe.”

2. My family. They love me, always. They challenge me and encourage me. They laugh at my jokes, and they call me out when I need to be called out. They support me through bad choices, and they catch me when I fall. To the women in my family, you’ll always be my example of strong, successful wives and mothers. To the men in my family, you’ll always serve as my example of loving, understanding husbands and fathers.


3. Dance. My life was changed once I fell in love with dance. I so strongly believe in everything dance has taught me and shared with me. Dance has opened doors in my life to opportunities and people that I would have never met. I am forever thankful for dance.

4. My teachers. Your passion, dedication and inspiration has helped me grow into the person I am today. You dared me to ask the difficult questions, to discipline myself and never give up. You taught me how to take my life into my own hands, and you taught me what it is to be a teacher.

5. Traveling. When I was 16 years old, I went to Japan to perform “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” Stepping out of my country and into a new country showed me that love and education pushes through language barriers and touches lives. I will never forget the families who supported me, a complete stranger to them, in an unknown world. Also, to all of the oceans, mountains and cities I’ve visited. You all reveal God’s work.

6. Reading and writing. My grandfather, a preacher, has his own library. He always encouraged me to read as many books as I could, and to use language to express everything I observed. My mother loves writing poetry, and always gave me time to finish a chapter or write in my journal. Their undying respect for the written word taught me a great deal.

7. Music. It has the power to change your point of view and mood. Music helps us better understand our lives and work through our problems. I grew up singing with my little brother, which later turned into music history classes, and how to read/write music. Having grown up in a musical family, I have a deep respect for music and everything it does to alter our reality and change lives.

8. Broken hearts. To all of the relationships that didn’t work out… thank you. You helped me learn what I want and what I don’t want. You freed me from insecurities. You helped show me what love isn’t. To all of the people who hurt my feelings or embarrassed me along the way… thank you. You helped me pick myself back up and become stronger.

9. Friends. You know who you are. I need you when I’m down. I need you when I’m scared. I need you when I’m lonely. You deal with me when I’m working through things. You never leave my side. To all of you: Thank you.

10. Faith. From faith in God to faith in myself and others. You must have faith; always believe in what’s waiting for you just under the horizon.

Richmond Ballet Studio 4

May 5, 2011

As the lights slowly came up, you could see the silhouettes of the dancers. Richmond Ballet’s Studio 4.

I’ve been honored to be an audience member of Richmond Ballet’s studio performances many times before. But this time… was different. I was not only beyond impressed, but I was overjoyed with the Ballet’s risks they took. Ballet + Contemporary + Hip-Hop in a city that still walks on cobblestones? And to push that even further the amazing choreographer, Val Caniparoli, said, “There is no deep story here…” His piece was simply about loving dance.

I watched as the audience members, regardless of age, bobbed their heads and twisted their shoulders with the beat. It was contagious. It was unstoppable. I watched as women tilted their heads to the side feeling the loss and the hopelessness the dancers portrayed in Jessica Lang’s piece, Women and the Sea: A Tribute to Will Barnet.

As the years have gone by, dance has evolved into something… ef·fer·ves·cent. It touches you, tingles inside, and leaves you walking away revived and aware. But ballet companies don’t have to follow the bends and curves that trends make of dance. They can stick to their always beautiful, can’t-go-wrong classical ways. Who doesn’t like to see an elongated leg, a fabulous pointed foot, and arms in a perfect fifth position?

Richmond Ballet has both honored their classical roots, while jazzing it up… adding a hip there, some shoulders rolls there. While the dancers still wore the proper tight buns, they had little smirks on their face, and a little sass in their step.

I am honored to be living in a city that has a Ballet company and Artistic Director who reach beyond, and not only perfectly execute a bold piece, but leave every single audience member smiling on their way home, aching for more.

Studio 4 runs until May 8: Purchase tickets and support your local artists

One Year + A Bug

May 4, 2011

I have a completely fantastic boyfriend. And the reason he is completely fantastic is because… he’s nothing like me.

I am the workaholic, go-getter, stress ball who won’t accept anything less than perfection. I ask 4 million questions, debate 3.5 million of those, and I’m still willing to work more! He, on the other hand, is far more calm than me, an amazing cook (whereas I’m over here working 60-hour weeks forgetting to eat), a loyal friend and brother. I wish I had his ability to be kind, forgive, laugh and move on from any situation with the ease and swiftness that he does. He puts up with me when I can barely put up with myself. 

(And he’s cute too!)

All of that being said, he and I recently celebrated one year of togetherness! We’ve had some great, priceless moments, and we’ve had some struggles. But we’ve spent the past year getting to know each other’s habits, red flags, moods, and way of handling life. Now, about the bug.

Recently, the boyfriend broke his ankle while being his normal fun-loving, die-hard VCU-fan self. We ended up leaving the hospital, still rocking our VCU gear, at 5:00 AM, with crutches and a doctor’s note giving our relationship an entirely new challenge: “No weight bearing for 6-9 weeks.” That’s 2+ months.

So I put on my good girlfriend outfit and went on Thai food runs, cleaned dishes, collected ice cubes, made cookies, stocked up on ice cream, rented a movie from RedBox for the first time by myself. I do this because I love him and he’s hurt and he’s “on crutches.” I hear the line, “But I’m on crutches” many times. And it’s true, so at the beginning I was more than happy to do whatever was needed.

Days…weeks go by… He’s working hard from home and I’m off doing my way-too-hectic life.

I will tell you, and he would tell you, that “having patience” is not on my resume. If I played in the NBA and had access to the magical healing medication they have, I would definitely give him that because I’m all about right-here-right-now-let’s go. So after weeks of hearing that he’s on crutches, only two facts remained: 1) I know this already 2) I’m over this already.

So then there’s this bug. I went to go take a shower, and there was a humongous bug sitting on the sink. There’s absolutely no way I can SHOWER with that BUG on the sink. As soon as I see the bug, I turn right around and say, “Umm… there’s a giant bug in the bathroom.” AND WHAT DO I HEAR?!

“What do you want me to do? I’m on crutches.” (Still, totally true).

This is where the crazy redhead temper came out. After a few minutes of, “I obviously know you’re on crutches! That doesn’t mean you can’t do ANYTHING. You obviously walk to the bathroom throughout the day! Blah blah blah.”

He reluctantly gets up and goes into the bathroom to save my life from this bug. I follow, still making it VERY clear that I understand the crutches situation but this is our anniversary and I NEED him to get the bug so that I can shower and I don’t understand why………..

The bug was gone.

We spend the entire next day in one of those “relationship conversations” where neither one of us is really MAD, per se, but we have to figure out how to get past the fact that YES you are on crutches and NOW there’s a giant bug in the house. This conversation is now known as “The Bug Fiasco.”

I think The Bug Fiasco sums up a lot about relationships. In a relationship, you’re dealing with two different people + their feelings + their background + their quirks + their expectations + their over and under reactions and on and on. One situation can pass by with a breeze, but everything will come out later, even if sparked by something as silly as a bug chilling on the sink.

That night, I was closing up the dance studio; exhausted from the day-long relationship talk, the dancing, the working, the everything. I hear my phone buzz in my purse. I sit down and pull it out:

“I hunted down and killed the bug.”

I couldn’t help but smile. He loves me, he really loves me. And I really love him in return.

I almost wanted to hug the bug for reminding me that through all of the stress that is our individual lives… he and I will always be right there together accomplishing big things and working together.

So here’s to next 365 days of learning and loving each other, and for all of the little fiascos we’ll run into along the way.

Thank you for putting up with all of my overreacting, drama, and for killing the bug. But mostly, thank you for being you and for loving me.

Letter to the Man Who Married My Mom

April 22, 2011

Dear Bill:

I remember, vividly, the first time I saw my mom cry because of a man. I had walked into the kitchen, and she was standing by the sink. She didn’t make a sound, for I had entered the kitchen completely unaware of what I was stepping into. Little did I know, I was stepping into a – seemingly – lifelong position of protector and best friend.

Since that day, I have watched my mother grow into the very strong woman she is today. It has taken time, heartache, challenges and many lessons for her to be as fabulous as she is today, but I have watched every step of the way.

The amount of love my mother can give is literally limitless. The sacrifices she has given and the opportunities she has provided for Shane and me are unimaginable considering she did a lot of it on her own. Love her unconditionally, and she will love you back.

Like all women (and men for that matter!), she has her bad days. You’ll learn how to read her, when she wants alone time and when she needs to talk through every single, sometimes completely meaningless, detail. You’ll start to pick up on when she needs to get out of the house and when she wants to order Chinese in. Just be there for her, and remember that sometimes women just need to cry, and she won’t want to hear a “solution.”

She has been through a lot of heartache, and as a result has adopted a “worst-case scenario” mentality. Don’t let that scare you, just prove her wrong.

When she gets mad at you (and trust me… my brother and I have dealt with this on many occasions), sometimes it will be justified and sometimes it won’t be. She’s a Sagittarius. She’s like that. She’s blunt, to-the-point, and she can be impossible. Learn to love her stubbornness. Give her time. Let her cool down and re-connect with reality. She’s not going to shut you out or stop loving you. She has a process and a journey she has to travel with every new idea or challenge or change that presents itself.

Most importantly, she will be the best thing to happen to you. And never forget, YOU can be the best thing to happen to her too. Love her beyond all reason and logic, and commit to yourself (not only her) that you aren’t going anywhere no matter what. And you’ll see, through all of the ups and downs and crazy days – and there will be crazy days if it involves Mama, my brother and me – that she really is everything you need in life.

She’s that opinion you’ll always need (but may not always want). She’s the best cuddler in the world (until she gets too hot). If you make popcorn without her knowing, be prepared to share and go ahead and bring her water, because she’s going to ask. Spoil her, because she deserves it. In return, she’ll spoil you.

My mother is my best friend and she always will be. She really, truly, without a doubt, cares for you. Don’t doubt that. Take her love and trust in you, and cherish it forever! Because you’re both so deserving of the love I know you can show each other.

I never thought I would have to pass over my protector position. And it’s with hesitation that I do. But I believe you love my mom, and I believe you will be there for her, even when it’s just to watch “Sweet Home Alabama” and eat ice cream. But, just like when I was a little girl, I’ll always be there making sure she’s smiling. I’m thankful, however, that she has you to smile with.

With love,


I am my mother’s daughter.

Love v. Money

April 15, 2011

There have been two times in my life where I can say I felt completely lost.

The first time, I was 18 years old, graduating from high school, applying and auditioning for colleges. I received acceptance letters and rejection letters. But mostly, I was hit with a myriad of decisions and painful ideas. I had decided to not major in dance, which in many ways… shattered me. Today, I am thankful for the path I chose. I ended up attending a college I adore, continued dancing, met my best friends and molded my life into a happy and complete life. I still, however, remember the wounds from that difficult time, and while the scars have faded, I remember them.

The second time, I was 22 years old, single and yet again graduating from another major event in my life. I had finished 4 years of college with two degrees and a minor, made spectacular grades, and here I was once again facing decisions, except this time it was far more serious. My health insurance ran out the day I walked across the stage to accept my degrees. I needed to find a job, and quick. But for me, a job wasn’t good enough. I wanted a career. So I convinced myself that love didn’t matter, only money. Focus on only myself. Focus on money.

Well, I was wrong.

In my quest for the logical-only pathway of moneymaking, I ignored my heart. I sold my soul to working 9-5, and while I was able to purchase and pay off a brand new car within a year… I was miserable. I would sit in traffic on my ride home and cry: What had I done all day?  What had I really accomplished? What had I become? I felt numb, physically and emotionally.

Two years, an unhealthy relationship, and many tears later, I realized changes had to be made. I returned to my heart: Dance, family, God, music, reading. I found a way to put dance as much in my life as my day job. I restored my life by creating a balance between love and money. The “Real World” had beaten me down, and it had won. I needed to take back control of my priorities to keep going.

Now I’m 25; and even though I still work 60+ hours a week, I now have my heart back and I know that all of my hard work is pushing me to my final goal. Every time I clock in at my day job, I know I’m handling my business and saving for my future. Every time I pull on my leotard, I know I’m nurturing my body, spirit and soul. At the end of the day, I sleep. I sleep knowing tomorrow I’ll do it all again, because that’s the life I’ve created for myself: one of financial and spiritual balance. Looking back, I had put myself in that situation by expecting money to solve all of my problems. I should have never looked to money or someone else to fill a void I had created in my own life by ignoring my heart and passion.

“Why am I doing this to myself?

Losing my mind on a tiny error.

I nearly left the real me on the shelf.

Don’t lose who you are in the blur of the stars.

Seeing is deceiving; dreaming is believing…

Sometimes it’s hard to follow your heart.”

Know yourself. Keep what you love close to your heart and high on your priority list. What you love, and who you love, are part of the building blocks that make you who you are. No amount of money is worth giving that up.

You can still be a go-getter taking your heart along for the ride.


April 11, 2011

There are all types of relationships. Mother-Daughter. Father-Son. Siblings. Friends. Lovers. Business. Pleasure. Cousins. Aunts. Uncles. Grandparents. In-laws. Teachers. Loving from afar. Girlfriends. Boyfriends. Marriages. Dating. Recently, I’ve been thinking about relationships, and how they directly shape and influence our daily lives. I’ve come to the conclusion that everything boils down to a relationship and the relationship rules that guide that interaction. The below realizations apply to all types of relationships:

1. Our similarities bring us comfort, but our differences makes us who we are. We are not always going to agree on everything. In fact, who would want that really? The simple fact alone that I am different from the people I love proves that the love is real. Regardless of my bad days or silly ideas or crazy theories, these people remain. Because, hey, “That’s just Sheena!”

2. Patience with others is Love. Patience with self is Hope. Patience with God is Faith. The key word here being: Patience. Every relationship is going to have its curve balls and mountains. There will be times when your emotions roll down the wrong road, or the person you care for is on a different path. Patience, breathing, never giving up allows that person, and yourself, to grow and see the big picture.

3. A man who treats his woman like a princess is proof that he has been born & raised in the arms of a queen. Appreciating family and others’ families open a world of opportunities and possibilities for more love. Lessons are passed on through families and hugs and appreciation. Our families make us who we are. Share that.

4. Don’t make decisions when you’re extra angry, and don’t make promises when you’re extra happy. In other words, don’t fight dirty. Be aware of your emotions and your decisions. Relationships are strong, so they are meant to pull people through, but they aren’t meant to be battered and disrespected.

5. You can’t talk your way out of a situation that you behaved yourself into. Actions in a relationship build trust (or non-trust). Remember you aren’t the only one in a relationship. There are always other factors. When you throw a rock in a pond, it leaves ripples that go on and change the surface.

6. Love is when you take away the feeling, the passion, the romance and you find out you still care for that person. Life is going to throw a lot of challenging things at any type of relationship. The tests will try to strip all of the joy from the relationship, but if through it all you can look at them and think, “I still care…” then it’s real, it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth being patient for.

7. When the I in “I love you” becomes more important than the “you,” the word in the middle just fades away. Try very hard to not let your ego, insecurities, needs, wants, demands interfere with your relationships. Stay open minded, trust, give time, believe and most of all always believe in the factors of the relationship.

8. We need each other to have, to hold. It’s true. Can you live without a touch? A hug? A moment of care? Comfort from a parent or a friend? A puppy’s snuggling? I can’t. I need my family, my boyfriend, my boyfriend’s family, my puppy.

9. Take the time to figure them out. Make time in your schedule to learn who you love and who they love. You will end up blessed.

10. The person for you is the one who pushes your buttons, makes you mad on a regular basis and makes you face your issues head-on.  I am thankful for the people who bring me back to earth when I’ve lost it somewhere in outer space. I’m thankful for a mother who has always kept me grounded and helped me focus my over-dramatic dreams. These are people who were put in my life for a reason, and it’s for those frustrating reasons that I love them and need them.

The truth is… you just cannot give up. You cannot use “let’s break up” as a way to hurt the person you love. You can’t spit terrible words then run away. You can’t discredit their feelings. You can’t pretend it doesn’t matter to you. They do matter. They always will whether you believe that or not. Relationships are with us always, and they stay right here in our daily lives providing opportunities of growth, celebrating the wins, supporting through the lows. They lift us up, they knock us down, they chip away at us to make us a more perfect version of ourselves. Never forget who loves you, and never forget to love them.

Chelsea Millunchick Photography

I don’t really run…

April 6, 2011

Richmond recently had their famous Monument Avenue 10k. This is always a great time for the city. People accomplish lifelong goals, they celebrate together, and it brings around 40,000 people to our city to run forever and forever.

That being said, I don’t actually run. But I do support all of those who attempt this challenge!

My only relationship to this fantastic event of sweaty people accomplishing goals is that my 100 Portraits photo was in the Monument 10k booklet!

If you’d like to see more of Chris Owens’ work visit his Web site.



March 24, 2011

The other night I was laying on my bed, looking out of the window, and watching a thunderstorm light up the streets with its bolts and shake the house with its booms. It reminded me of thunderstorms I’ve recently been experiencing, that have nothing to do with Spring. It is easy to lose oneself.

My 3-years post-college have taught me a great deal. I was handed so many things; well, not handed. I worked very hard for them, but my hard work ended up paying off. I landed a full-time job that challenges me, then a part-time job that I adore. I have an amazing family, beautiful friends, hard-working students, and a fantastic boyfriend. To say I’m lucky is an understatement. To say I’m thankful is, again, an understatement. These are all facts of my life that I cherish.

But one of the lessons I’ve learned, and it wasn’t a peaceful lesson but more like a smack to the face, is that with beautiful things comes responsibility and thunderstorms.

There will be difficult days… days when everything goes wrong, your brain shuts down, you drop everything, and your entire body goes numb from exhaustion.

There will be bad timing… when something you need to happen just isn’t going to happen.

There will be missed opportunities… when you should have done something but just couldn’t (for whatever the reason may be).

There will be hurt feelings… you or someone else will get frustrated and say something or do something.

There will be defeat… that moment when you cannot do anything else and your body will not allow you to force it any longer.

But the great thing is: All of the above are temporary. Thunderstorms pass. The pressure goes away.

And there will be this moment of clarity when everything you’ve brought into your life (which brought with it the responsibilities + logistics + taxes + burdens + opportunities for things to go wrong)… all of that belongs to you… you’ll be genuinely proud that you are the owner who braved through the storms and was left holding it all.


March 20, 2011

As human beings we go through many transitions. There’s moving, divorce, new jobs, new schools, new siblings, new friends. There are things that happen that alter your current understanding, and then there’s a shift in your world. You are left to figure out the shift.

Spring is coming, and as the world shifts around us from bitter cold to warm sunshine, I’ve found my life shifting as well.

I have very fond memories of spring as a little girl. My mother used to go shopping with me to pick out an Easter dress. I’d always pick something pretty outrageous that could double as a costume in my self-created home plays later. I’m not sure what I was going for this particular Easter (see below) but that didn’t matter; what mattered was that I was surrounded by love and support.

Pretty soon, the woman in the picture above (my mother) will be getting married and beginning a new chapter in her life. This has forced me to look at transitions lately – mostly because, I’m terrible at them. My dealing with change is about as graceful as me learning how to swallow pills when I was little. It’s unattractive, anxiety-ridden, full of procrastination and usually involves me feeling like I’m dying.

I’ve grown up enough to understand my physical reaction to coping with change. I tend to follow my mother’s rule regarding coping: “Keep smiling. Fake it until it’s real.” The first time she told me this, I thought it was a pretty depressing rule. However, having been through break ups and heartache, I now understand what she means. Eventually, it becomes real.

So I’m giving myself goals:

  1. Trust / Believe
  2. Keep breathing
  3. Be excited
  4. Pray
  5. Keep dancing
  6. Smile

Deep down, I know all of the change headed my way is going to be good for me. So I’ll keep smiling and keep surrounding myself with love and support.

Dreamed in my life

March 18, 2011
“I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind…” – Emily Bronte
Beyond all else…

We shall be…

March 3, 2011

“We shall be everything to each other. Nothing else shall be of any consequence.”

Discovering Friendship

March 2, 2011

Growing up, I had a much skewed view of friendship. I would sit back in elementary school and pair up who I knew was “friends.” But as far as I could figure, all that meant was who would be sitting next to whom when our class was ushered into the cafeteria, or who would end up passing the precious time of recess with whom. Nothing more, nothing less; because let’s be honest. We all know the birthday invitation lists were influenced, produced and distributed by our parents’ choices.

In middle school, my family moved from Richmond to Virginia Beach. I missed everyone and everything, as one large collective idea. Once I reached high school and started at my arts school, friendship took on a competition-esque flair. Who could out perform whom? Who would be standing front and center? Who would be singing the solo or dancing the break? I let my trust in friendship go about as far as I’d let my little dog run out in front of me. It was a – mostly – controlled environment. Sometimes, when I got too comfortable and cozy, I was quickly reminded why I always chose to listen to my iPod or read a book instead of building a friendship. During those pre-driving days, I was the girl slouched down in the seat on the school bus with my knees on the back of the tall seat in front of me; I’d look out of the window or keep my head in my book. Eyes, mind, heart, goals, interests focused elsewhere. Even the bus driver couldn’t see me.

High school drained me. There are still sharp edges of memories that creep up, catch me off guard and hurt. There are also beautiful memories that I’ll never let go of.

I entered college with the same defensive mentality on friendship as I left high school with. Focus only on myself and what I bring to the table. I knew I wouldn’t join a sorority, and I felt pretty confident that my choice of major would keep me tucked in a corner of the library keeping the drama limited to Shakespeare’s tragedies and the struggles of female poets in 1800s publishing world.

I say all of this to show how very appreciative I am that certain girls have stuck with me through all of my attempts to keep friendship exactly where I wanted it.

It has been post-college that I have found my friends. A group of girls who I know this about:

If I ever needed someone, they will be there (whether it be via phone or e-mail, a hug, a martini)

When I’m being who I am (overdramatic, emotional, over-analytical), they will accept that and understand.

They are not afraid to ask the difficult questions to help guide me to a much-needed conclusion.

They celebrate the highs with me; they listen through the lows.

They inspire me, challenge me, and keep me guessing while maintaining their presence in my life.

They have made me a better person by learning how to accept and provide friendship.

These are the girls I will always fall back on, when I need to fall back; these are the girls who will share with me this life-thing we’ve been tasked with to figure out. Together, we will keep smiling, and supporting all of our dreams and goals, while loving and learning all the while.

The Business of Life

February 25, 2011

I recently sat across from a nurse while eating dinner with friends.

“So,” she began, swishing her wine around in her glass. “How exactly do you live?”

This was her response to my telling her I am a dance teacher. I smiled, laughed to myself.

“I didn’t mean that in any way other than: How did you turn something you love to do into an income?”

Thus, I explained my double life.

Yes. There are dancers who go on to join ballet companies or spend a few months on contract with a Broadway show here and there. There are dancers who get hired in universities, dancers who rock out the Video Music Awards, and dancers who contract a quick 3-minute appearance on “Dancing with the Stars.” You can find dancers on tours (national or International), on cruise ships and in amusement parks.

But you can also find dancers booking workshops at studios across the country, waiting tables, and – in some cases – sliding down poles (I had to include this because well, it’s sometimes true).

Since dance is not quite as defined as a desk job things such as 401k, medical benefits, PTO are not always discussed. (Side note: Unions do exist for dancers, in which benefits are discussed. Dancers in major opera ballet, classical ballet, and modern dance corps belong to the American Guild of Musical Artists, Inc. of the AFL-CIO; those who appear on live or videotaped television programs belong to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists; those who perform in films and on television belong to the Screen Actors Guild; and those in musical theater are members of the Actors’ Equity Association. For more information: Bureau of Labor Statistics).

But beginning dancers take opportunities because they feel it will lead to another potential opportunity, and that sometimes puts dancers in financially compromising situations.

I was 18 years old when I had the inevitable dancer wrestle: “Do I move to New York / Los Angeles and try to ‘make it’ or do I go to college and try to make it?”

I chose college. I chose making it.

But I also chose to continue dancing at least 20 hours a week to maintain my technique, flexibility and contacts in the dance world.

This began my blend of two worlds, while adding more skills to who I am as a person and what I have to offer.

So I learned to type as fast as I can bourrée.

I refocused the application and logistics of my dream.

I did some math: 24 hours in one day could break down to –> 8 AM to 5 PM job + 5 PM to 9 PM dance = Health insurance, 401k, medical benefits, solid income, dancing, paying off car/college education and saving for my future studio.

Throughout the process I’ve learned that businessmen and ballerinas are actually more similar than one may think. We all hustle. We all have a marketable service. And we all end up dancing in one way or another– whether it be literally or figuratively.

I work 8 AM to 9 PM (and sometimes later) every day. I come home mentally, physically, emotionally exhausted. But I sleep like a baby at night knowing this: Every day, every dollar I am closer to my dream.

“So this,” I explained, “is how I live my life.”

In this very moment…

February 21, 2011

Snowboard Whoa-board!

February 16, 2011

“I have three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” -Lao Tzu
Hello all. I’ve recently returned home from a winter vacation to Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia. The time away was desperately needed. I finished all of my work, packed my bags, and headed into a no cell-phone zone.
Here’s the thing though: I don’t actually like mountains.
They’re big, cold, never-ending and house dangerous animals. I was on this trip because my boyfriend, Nolan, has been a snowboarder all of his life, and it’s safe to say he’s addicted to the rush of sliding down a steep mountain at high speeds. Not me. I was sold on the trip by the mention of “luxury condo with a hot tub.” Yes, please. 

But something inside of me was curious: What if I can do this? 

So I enrolled in Snowboard School.
My class started at 9:00 AM, and it was going to run until 1:00 PM. My boyfriend dropped me off by a pile of snow and handed me a snowboard. A quick kiss on the cheek and he was gone.
“You ready?” My teacher asked. I had no idea if I was, so I just shrugged and said, “Sure…”
For the next four hours, I fell over and over and over. Every bone in my body hurt, every muscle strained, my positive attitude quickly dissolved into frustration, and right as I was about to revert back to my 3-year-old self (temper tantrum and all) I remembered three things:
Simplicity. Patience. Compassion.
I took a deep breath and made myself stop over-thinking this process. Lock your feet in the boots, push yourself up, bend your knees, and relax. Simplicity.
Know that you’re going to fall, that’s a given. But each time you fall, you’re one fall closer to everything falling into place. Patience.
You are not alone. Look around. There are people falling all over the place, struggling, giving up. Support them, and they will support you. Compassion.
By the next day I was able to stand up on a snowboard – without falling – and I was able to make it down a mountain by myself! The tears had stopped, I pushed through the pain, and I was overjoyed to be capable of riding down a mountain. I had done it. 
It feels good to know that I’m adding “Level 2 Snowboarder” to who I am. I couldn’t be more proud!

Lauren and me about to hit the mountain on our own

Riding on the lift! I MADE IT DOWN!

Mission Accomplished 🙂

Because You Love Me

February 14, 2011

“When we reveal ourselves to our partner and find that this brings healing rather than harm, we make an important discovery – that intimate relationship can provide a sanctuary from the world of facades, a sacred space where we can be ourselves, as we are. Yet it is important to understand that this kind of unmasking – speaking our truth, sharing our inner struggles, and revealing our raw edges – is sacred activity, which allows two souls to meet and touch more deeply.”

-John Welwood

Valentine’s Day 2.14.2011

Pass Kindness On

February 5, 2011

So I’m sitting in my car this morning, waiting in a Starbucks drive-thru line. It’s a normal Friday morning: cold, I’m exhausted, ready to get on with my long day. I place my usual order: “Non-fat chai, please.” $3.50 – Next window.

I move one inch forward. Wait.

I check my make up in the rear-view mirror, brush my hair, laugh at the morning show I’m listening to. I wonder why a rapper is trying to be someone’s mayor.

Then it’s my turn at the window. I pull up with my card already out and prepared.

“The car in front of you paid for yours and says, ‘Happy Friday!'”

Wait. What?

“Yeah, that happens a lot at this Starbucks. People get excited about Fridays!”

I had this moment of clarity. Kindness still exists! I remembered putting out on Twitter just last week, “I want something to surprise me in a good way.” Was this my surprise? Because if so, I’m completely surprised and… thankful!

Without even thinking, I said, “Then I’ll pay for the car behind me!”

The barista smiled and said, “Gotta keep the goodness going.”

Yes. You gotta.

I hope everyone has a LOVING February. Share the joy, spread the love and not just to those who are close to you. Reach out. Surprise someone. Make their entire month!

Working Artists

February 4, 2011

I need to share with you some people who I admire, adore and absolutely, without a doubt, know I can count on to be the BEST artist they can be EVERY time they approach their art to WORK.

Richmond has so much to offer. These are some people working in Richmond currently, or were born and raised in Richmond, who are making a difference in the Arts World every day. For that, I am forever thankful.

DJ Ghozt: One of my best friends; He’s always been there for me when I need to bounce a creative idea off someone at 3:30 AM, or I need some sound advice. He takes what I do to a new level. What you have to admire most about an artist is their TRUST in themselves and what they do. A full-time DJ, he went all in! Knowing this was his calling. He takes my visual idea for a dance, and melts it into a blend of songs. He brings fun and seriousness to what he does.

Web site: http://www.djghozt.com/

Autumn Proctor: I grew up dancing next to Autumn, watching her in awe. She has started “We Are Artists” to “educate children and young adults in the contemporary and classical forms of dance through workshops and performances. With this focus we aim to build the arts community in the Richmond/Charlottesville areas, and to expose contemporary dance and performance art to as many people as possible.” She works tirelessly to encourage dance around the Richmond area, and it’s infectious. Also, her lovely mother, who has been my inspiration since Day One!

Web site: http://www.accsdance.com/

Simon Kim: Born in RVA, a producer, videographer, photographer, great friend. He’s willing to work, day or night, rain or shine, and stay grinding until the job is done and done right. You have to respect that.

Web site: http://www.kimshimwon.com/

Melissa Chase: I grew up listening to Melissa, and when I met her later in life, I was touched by three things: 1) Her kindness 2) Her energy 3) Her passion for Richmond’s community. She’s a hard worker, a fierce business woman, who loves her city and all of the interesting people in it. She reaches out, and I love that about her.

Web site: http://1037river.com/

Dean Hoffmeyer: The unbelievable photographer who helped me with the photos for this Web site! But even more than that… he’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. No lie. He is so sweet and such a calming personality to someone as worked up as myself. His vision for photography is out of this world. His work ethic is beyond that, and his creative ideas…endless. He’s a complete joy to work with, and I cannot wait to work with him again in the future!

Web site: http://www.deanhoffmeyer.com

Chris Owens: Just recently met and had the opportunity to work with Chris. He knows what he’s looking for and he goes out there to get it! A great photographer, splendid company, and so much fun to work with! He’s working on a project “100 Portraits in 100 Days,” and I was recently honored to be his Day #80 portrait!

Web site: http://100portraits100days.chrisowensphoto.com/

Here is the photo [by Chris Owens]:

Thank you for all you do to make Richmond a place to grow in art, nurture art, and promote art! PLEASE . CARRY . ON .

Perfectly Free…

January 28, 2011

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance, in the middle of fighting.
Dance, in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.