On a Saturday morning last spring I woke up at 4:45am. I was going on the local news to promote my dance studio. I woke up early and drank coffee. I stared at the closet to pick out something to wear. Although I am relatively comfortable on camera, it is, to say the least, an anxiety inducing experience.
“What do I wear? Do I look hip? Can you tell I am almost 40? What do I say? What if I am goofy?” (The last one being very likely.)
I went and shot the segment, did my thing, and exhaled a sigh of relief. I decided to get a coffee and then go to the gym. In the Starbucks, I got a notification that I had a Facebook message.
In all capital letters, a woman expressed her disgust at me. She said I was fat, obese even. She said I had no right to be on TV, especially to talk about fitness and exercise.
My heart sank. I was horrified. I felt shame. You would think, in getting such a rude message, one with misspelling and all capital letters, I would just laugh it off. I did not, my heart hurt.
I went to the gym and told my trainer. He, and all my friends, talked about how dumb it was, they all said how fit I am. I still felt really shitty. And very uncomfortable in my own skin.
I like to think that I am tough, that I am outspoken, that I am essentially, over anyone else’s opinion. But I went home and I cried. I let her get to me. I doubted myself.
But then, I made a choice. I made a choice to take it back, to take back the power.
I opened up Facebook and decided to write back to her. I decided that I was going to be happy that day and I decided that I was going to be ok with myself. So I wrote back,and I sent her a picture:
First of all, I love you and I hope you find love in yourself. If you are mad at me, a stranger, then I bet you are mad at someone else too. I wish you ease with that, prayer and peace.
Second of all, I love and celebrate my body and how I look. Sometimes I indulge or feel stress and am bigger, sometimes I work out a lot and am stronger and leaner. I like all those versions of myself. They are mine and I love me. I love fitness, and am so grateful that I can run five miles, lift over 100 pounds and dance for hours. I love to express myself with clothing and honestly, I think I am pretty darn cute.
What you said doesn't bother me. I happily represent my business. We encourage all types of beautiful people to come here and work out and feel good.
However, words matter and mean something. If you had sent me this 15 years ago, I would have been wrecked. You could have sent me into a tailspin of self doubt and reckless behavior. Say whatever you want to me, but if I heard you say that in front of a little girl or to a teenager, you'd see what my angry looks like.
I took this picture of me for you, in all my joy in my favorite place in the world, my successful business. I will continue to loudly express myself in your honor.
With love, LZ
I wrote back to her and then I blocked her. I didn’t want to fight with an irrationally angry woman on the internet. And then I posted the whole thing on my Facebook page. I decided to make it mine. My story, not hers. My decision. And then I made another decision, to let it go. (As an aside, I have “Let Go” tattooed on my arm as a reminder to myself. I can be pretty stubborn.)
This particular incident has amplified to me how much people talk to me about my body. I am a performer, I am curvy, I am not skinny. I like tight, bold clothes and have no desire to hide myself, to attempt to “minimize” anything or abide by anyone’s decision of what I should wear.
This attitude brings about a lot of conversation. Honestly, I used to hate it. People stop me on the street or write to me about how I feel about myself and how that has affected them. How they feel ok or not. And this, used to make me feel as vulnerable and awful as this woman’s letter.
I realized recently that I don’t feel that way anymore. I am open and loud about what I have to say and how I feel about myself. Other people’s words do not change how I feel about myself.
Other people’s words do not change how I feel about you:
LOVE YOUR BODY. NO ONE ELSE’S OPINION MATTERS. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.
I realize that the shift is because of this letter. I took something that made me feel so awful, looked it in the face and shouted back. With grace.
If I could write to her again, I would say thank you. Thank you for calling me fat.
To give to Prosjekt Haiti or for more information, please visit their website.
Ingvill and Edwin have been married for 20 years. She is a tall, blond, tough Norwegian, who talks passionately about the nonprofit/humanitarian organization they founded, Prosjekt Haiti. Edwin is an ardent advocate for change in his Native Haiti. Growing up in the slums of Port Au Prince, he went on to military school in Ecuador, where he met Ingvill. Splitting their time between Norway and Haiti, the couple has run the non-profit for 17 years.
Both Ingvill and Edwin laugh easily and often communicate their love for the country of Haiti. Prosjekt Haiti is a partner with LEAF International, a part of LEAF Community Arts, where I work as a teaching artist. Ingvill and Edwin were our hosts for the trip and we were able to see the country through the lens of their work; advocating for children, creating schools, and empowering communities and women.
My trip to Haiti was 8 days (next trip will definitely be longer!)
We began the trip with two days in the capital of Port Au Prince, a city of 2 million people. Built into the mountains, Port Au Prince is a dizzying amalgamation of colors and sounds laid out over a labyrinth of curvy streets with an overwhelming amount of traffic. The city amplifies the magnitude of the division between rich and poor in Haiti, wealthy families living in the hills with access to western grocery stores, restaurants and more. In contradiction, many of the city's residents live in poverty, creating a secondary economic marketplace of stalls with clothing, food, household goods and more.
The city emphasized the need for change in the country, and the importance of Prosjekt Hait’s work, especially education for children and women, that will empower them to create different economic circumstances. I loved the city, I was inspired and amazed by the self-sufficiency and spirit of the people. I found the energy of the city and the people to be compelling, exhilarating and an affirmation of humanity.
On Sunday we travelled from the chaotic city to the peaceful town of Saint Louis de Sud, three hours to the south. Saint Louis de Sud is a small town with mountains to the north and the sea to the south. We arrived at Le Petit Trolle, the school started by Prosjekt Haiti. Built onto a hill, next to a graveyard and just above the town, the school has school buildings, a kitchen, garden and a guesthouse/community center that is under construction. The guest house became our home, where we slept simply under mosquito nets and spent evenings and early mornings on the rooftop, which offered a breathtaking view of the sea.
Upon arrival Nina (Ingvill’s cousin, an amazing energetic woman who is on the board of Prosjekt Haiti) walked us to the small town, which was decorated by posters from the recent mayoral election. Much to our delight, we were greeted by Edwin’s face, on billboards, posters and flags hung about the town. He had just won the election to be mayor of the town.
Luckily for us, Edwin’s swearing in ceremony was that Monday. Monday morning was the beginning of the summer camp at the school and simultaneously, the preparations for the swearing in. As children arrived for the camp, so did men in their best suits.
After much preparations, we drove from Saint Louis de Sud to a neighboring town where the swearing in was to be held. Edwin had arranged for the people of the town to be transported there as well in buses. Women and men of all ages came in their best dressed. I was moved when Edwin insisted that men give up their seats on the temperature controlled bus to the older women of the town.
Upon arrival the (very) crowded courthouse, we waited for the ceremony to begin. Nothing is quite as fascinating as watching a ceremony in a language you can’t understand, I picked up bit and pieces in French, but otherwise was immersed in the proceedings crowd, reporters and systems.
It was incredibly moving to see the support that Edwin got from the town’s population. Unlike many politicians, who come from wealthy families, Edwin is of the people, grew up like them and already has a history of creating positive change through Prosjekt Haiti.
I was moved to tears in seeing the populous celebrate during his speech and the excitement, expressed through dancing, singing and cheers as we returned to the town. As we drove into town there was a crowd of dancers and local RaRa bands. It made me hopeful for not only this town and Haiti, but that there is still room in the world for positive, real change.
After the excitement of Monday, we spent the rest of the week immersed in the summer camp at Le Petit Trolle. The sun rises early in Haiti and so do the people. I often was awake by 5:30am and the camp was already bustling. The men and women who work there were already hard at work and we had the luxury of time to read, eat breakfast and shower.
At 9am, the children arrived for summer camp. Each day they raise the Haitian and Norwegian flags with a singing of each country’s anthem. The children then divided into groups, each going to a different class. I was lucky enough to lead the dance class. Other classes included sports (volleyball and soccer), mathematics, english and more.
In the dance class, I was met with shy glances and the students were very attentive. After beginning to dance, I was always happy to see smiles and excitement. In Asheville, through LEAF, I teach as class of young people who are from the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. They have taught me the hula, a native dance of other tropical islands. The Haitian students took so quickly to the dance and did an excellent job. We also did hip hop, tutting and bhangra dance.
After class, the kids got an hour of free time. It is inspiring to see the universal delight of children at play. Even with language barriers, I, along with the other volunteers were able to join in on jump rope, catch, frisbee and more. After the free time, there was a large circle of the whole camp, where we played games, danced and sang.
I am always awed around children, at the universality of joy, acceptance of others and curiosity. These children were wide open, and there was so much joy and laughter. Prosjekt Haiti also brought in teenagers to run the summer camp. Part of their youth leadership team, these young adults live in Port Au Prince. We were able to teach with them and also swim and go to the beach. They are such beautiful examples of young adults, I am excited to see where they will go in the world.
Upon returning home, the most definitive I feelings I have are: 1. To stay connected. To the people, to the culture and to the gifts I was given in my trip. And, 2. To make change in my life. To make sure I am giving, to make sure I am honoring other people and to make sure I am living simply.
As I return home, I am grateful for social media as it allows for easy connection to my new friends in Haiti. I am honored and reminded of the sweetness of their culture as I receive messages from my friends. An example “Dear Lisa, I miss you so much. I will hold you in my heart. Please come visit again soon.”
For more information about Prosjekt Haiti please visit their website. For more information or to volunteer, please email Ingvill.
For more information about LEAF Community Arts and their international program, LEAF International, please visit their website.
For more information about me and Studio Zahiya, and our upcoming work with Prosjekt Haiti, please visit our website.
Prosjekt Haiti is a Norwegian/Haitian organization that has worked in Haiti since 2000. Our first project was the elementary school Petit Troll in Port au Prince. The organization has expended over the years, and is now running a number of projects both in Port au Prince and in the village of St. Louis du Sud in the south of Haiti.
Prosjekt Haiti’s goal is to contribute to a better future for the people associated with our projects, and for Haiti as a nation. We believe that the best way of doing this is to provide people with knowledge and skills that enable them to improve their own situation. Prosjekt Haiti therefore focuses on education, capacity building and value creation.
Approximately 400 children receive their primary education through Prosjekt Haiti’s two schools. In addition, the students can participate in activities like youth club, sports club, summer school and seminars. Manman Troll focuses on competence building and vocational training for women. In addition, we regularly have various ad hoc projects and campaigns in cooperation with interesting partners.
Prosjekt Haiti is funded through donations from private donors, both through a sponsor program and through one-time gifts. In addition, we receive funding from Norad for some projects. Most of our activity in Norway is based on volunteer work, which contributes to keeping the administration costs low. In Haiti, we have approximately 50 employees in various positions. It is important for Prosjekt Haiti that the different projects are run by local resources who feel ownership to Prosjekt Haiti.
Pictures from the journey:
This weekend, I had the honor and the privilege of teaching in Chattanooga, TN. It was a really exciting workshop for me, as I was sponsored by The Girlfriend Manifesto, a women's empowerment company. As my business turns toward a similar focus, I was really excited for the weekend. And it was SO. MUCH. FUN. A weekend full of connection, dance and booty shaking.
I taught two workshops, one on Bhangra, a joyful folk dance form Northern India and on Sunday morning I taught a Twerkshop. It was awesome. Ladies worked hard, learned a skill, felt empowered and connected and laughed! (YAY JOY!) It was really awesome to see. My co-conspirator and hostess, Ayesha, wrote a really awesome blog post about it here.
It got me thinking.
I often get comments about the fact that I teach twerking. Comments have included:
Here's the thing. I am 37 years old, I am responsible, I am a business owner. AND, I am really good at shaking my a$$, I love to do it and I love to teach it to other adults. I also find it important.
Twerking doesn't have to be for everyone. It is important to me that I teach it to adults in safe, non-judgemental situations. But I think we could all have a healthy dose of shaking it.
Does this sound familiar?
You leave a bellydance class/workshop/performance and you are SUPER inspired. You are ready to WORK, to practice, to improve, to become the great dancer you are destined to be. The next day you are ready to practice. You walk into your space. You turn on your music and you start to dance. Then your phone beeps. After returning a text message, you check facebook. Oh right, you are here to dance. So, you start dancing again. Buuuuuut, the music doesn’t feel quite right, so you change it. Then you change it again. Well, you kind of want some coffee, maybe you’ll just run down the street….
As part of my coaching practice, I am constantly working with dancers to create effective and manageable practice schedules. Here are some of the key points that I have garnered in creating a practice routine:
It is important that your practice is thoughtful, not mindless – 15 minutes of thought out practice is better than an hour of mindless shimmies and hip downs. To honor your dance, take time (monthly or bi-monthly) to set goals. It’s like a map, it’s easier to create a path if you know where you are going.
Start with a blank piece of paper and 20 minutes. At the top write “I want…”, then let yourself write. Don’t hold back – the sky is the limit. Then go back and review it – circle anything that feels important or comes up more than once. Use that to write trackable goals.
Understand YOUR Motivation
Consider what motivates you. Are you motived by reward? (If you practice 10 days in a row you get a pedicure, etc) or perhaps by public announcement (put your goal on facebook and let your friends motivate you.) Maybe you need to consistently check in with a teacher.
Many people are inspired by upcoming performances. If this is you, schedule them! The more we dance, the more we will want to practice.
Whatever it is, USE IT.
Environment and Ritual
To the best of your ability, create a distraction free practice space. We can’t all have regular access to a floating floor, 2000 sq foot, floor to ceiling mirrored dance studio BUT we can close the door, ask our husband/partner/friend to watch the kids and TURN OFF THE INTERNET (that’s for me!) Consider inspiration, a window, beautiful dance photo or nice mirror can be a great investment and make us want to practice.
In her book The Creative Habit, choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about the power of using ritual to create mind space before a practice. Create a ritual that makes you feel ready to dance. For me, it’s meditating for 5 minutes while listening to an inspiring song. At the end of my practice, I do sun salutations to honor what I’ve done for myself. For my friend Tiffany, she puts on her dance hair to practice because it transforms her from Tiffany the Mom/School Principal/Wife to Amira Star the Bellydancer!
Practice and Application
In the vein of being thoughtful, consider not just what you want to practice but how you will actually use it to become a better dance performer. For example, if you want to work on omis, effective practice is to not just stand in one spot and omi. Practice – then apply to your dancing:
A carpenter can’t work without his tools and a good dance practice needs good tools. Here are some of my favorites:
One of the things I often get complimented on is confidence. As a coach, instructor and mentor, people perceive me as clear on my self-worth and place in the world. In general, I also feel this way about myself. In my work I encourage others to love and celebrate themselves and work to do the same for myself.
However, I recently have been noticing a re-occurring theme in my thoughts…
I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
I will teach a class and immediately start to think about how I could have done it better. I’ll try on clothing and think “I could do more sit-ups.” I travelled with a man in my life and was berating myself about how I needed to make him comfortable the whole time.
I was surprised to realize how often this was happening. Daily, even hourly, I was criticizing myself for not being good enough. In the beginning of this realization I wrote it off. As a lifelong member of “Overachievers Anonymous”, I simply saw it as a way to constantly make myself better.
But then I remembered something I often say to my clients… “would you treat someone you love the way you treat yourself?”
“We can’t hate ourselves into a version of ourselves we can love.” ~Lori Deschene
So, I took out a piece of paper and wrote, “Hey Lisa, you are fine the way you are.” I laughed to myself, inherently; I knew this was more than true. I am more than fine, I am pretty awesome.
To that end, I have been thinking about how to stop that voice inside my head. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
In the end, the reason why I want to work on this so much is that I need to make space in my life for what matters. I am choosing to trade in all that emotional energy and all the thoughts of “not good enough.” I am committing to myself to use that time to being better in the world, to make change and to believe in myself. I am good enough. In fact, I’m great and can’t wait to share it with the world.
Recently, I have been feeling disappointment, both in affairs of the heart and professionally. Which made me contemplate - are my expectations too high?
I reflected upon a break-up I went through a few years ago. My ex-partner is a good man, someone who I loved and respected. But, the relationship wasn’t amazing for either of us. It was convenient, it was steady, but it didn’t make my heart leap.
I knew something was wrong, and contemplated the rest of my life - and my heart did leap. I had made some scary decisions - choosing to dedicate my life to my passions – dancing and empowering women and girls. And that had (and has) proven to be AMAZING, (and hard, and scary and difficult,) but…utterly, utterly amazing.
During that break up I sat down with myself. And I decided to always choose amazing. I committed to having an amazing life.
And part of that is also committing to being ok with hurt. To being ok with disappointment. But , to me, seeking amazing is worth those feelings. As an artist, I also feel that having and feeling every emotion propels me to be a better creator, a better dancer and a more empathetic human.
I also believe that this commitment to both has made me a successful entrepreneur. I am able to see where there is power in both choosing excellence and being vulnerable. Both of these things make me a better business owner and employer.
However, I don’t think that means that I should expect the world of everyone and every experience. I do think there is harm in setting my standards too high, putting myself in a state of constant disappointment. In fact, I think it is ok to expect disappointment, sadness and grief and to expect to see and feel the humanity in others and myself. So essentially, I am choosing to also not harm myself, which contributes to my life being amazing.
So I am going to change my language. I am going to replace expectation with choice. Rather than putting a wish in to the universe, I am instead going to choose how I will live my life and how I will allow others to be in my life.
This came up recently when a few weeks ago a man I was seeing told me that he had elected to lower his expectations while dating. To not expect too much and, therefore, not be let down too much. Consequently, if you expect less, you are unhappy less. While I understood the logic, and the safety in this, my heart sank. The idea of lowering what I expect of someone I was trusting my heart with made me feel sad.
This prompted me to sit down with a piece of paper and wrote at the top… “I expect…”
And I left it there, for a week.
Today, I sat down and I finished the sentence. I crossed out expect.
I choose amazing.
I choose to feel.
I choose imperfection.
And that feels…AMAZING.
Last Saturday I randomly found myself alone with a day to myself in Atlanta, GA. I felt grateful, in the midst of a busy spring, I was able to do a favorite activity – walking a big city, earbuds in, and some dedicated thinking and dreaming time.
I set my mind to what I wanted this year and moving forward in my life. I was thinking about all the things I am happy with in my life, and assessing places where I wanted change. As I thought about those things that I was not happy with, a phrase kept coming to me – I want to live an uncompromised life.
Now, that’s not to say that compromise isn’t a useful skill in navigating the world, however, I realized what was bothering me, was where I had allowed myself to bend on key principles. To not stick to my guns on those things that are the most important to me.
Since returning home, I have been journaling about this, and thought I would share my process.
What’s my ideal life? What is my ideal destination, my Shangri-la life? (I’m still working on this one)….but I’ve currently got about 10 pages of what my dreams life consists of.
I am also writing about where I am now. What’s my current life? I feel so, so, so lucky to be living my dream, I make a living dancing – I get to spend hours a week with amazing kids. I am lucky. But, I also wrote about what I am not happy with. I’ve had my fair share of heartbreak, I would like to cultivate better relationships, etc.
What are my anchors? Then I have begun to compare the two, and figure out what the roadmap is between where I am now and where I want to be. What I’ve noticed as I map out the road from my current location to where I want to go is that if I had been able to identify guiding principles, things that I will not sway from – I would be closer to what I want.
-don’t give my skills/services away for free/cheap
-two strikes if you don’t treat me well
-support other women
-don’t let fear make your decisions for you
What if there was nothing wrong with you?
This idea has been sitting with me frequently. How much could we accomplish in the world if we took everything we are trying to “fix” about ourselves, everything we beat ourselves up over, everything we hate and accepted it?
Let’s take it a step further: What if we celebrated everything about ourselves?
Let’s take me: I have a big butt and big thighs. My skin isn’t perfect and my 34 years are revealed by some pretty distinctive under eye circles. I am picky and impatient. I am stubborn.
And all of that is ok, and recently I have been challenging myself to say that all of that is awesome. My legs are strong and I can teach 10 dance classes a day. I am smart and caring and you can see that in my eyes. I’ll go to the ends of the earth to make something good for my community.
I have heard this idea called “radical self-acceptance,” but I would encourage all of us to change it to “radical celebration of self.” Celebrating and honoring everything that is you and acknowledging that all of it is amazing.
Recently I have been pondering these concepts and discussing it with friends and have come across two strong objections:
“Well, that’s good for people like us, who are always working on themselves, but it’s not for those people. You know, the ones who are so into themselves.”
Well, I want to be clear that I am not preaching the idea of self-absorption. I believe that the more I accept and celebrate myself, the more of myself I have to give to the world. I’d also challenge all of us to be compassionate to those people in that they are probably suffering from a fair amount of insecurity.
“I don’t know, Lisa. How can get thinner (richer, smarter, more evolved, etc) if I just give in and say everything is fine?”
I understand this. In fact, it is the idea that I wrestle with all the time. However, I found that I have seen more change in myself since starting to practice this idea than ever before. If we start to love everything about us, we will nourish and encourage everything about ourselves.
So what do you think? How will you celebrate your amazing self today?
As a rule, I preach thriving, not surviving.
In life, I (usually) practice what I preach. I love adventure. I choose “yes” and wear leopard print and glitter while running a successful dance business. I believe that I, and all humans, are amazing creatures with amazing, awesome potential.
But recently I have been feeling…not that awesome.
Under the burden of a heavy workload, the lack of work/life balance, trouble quitting a toxic relationship, some health issues, and an impending “BIG” birthday, I have been feeling both the blues and not all that awesome.
Still, I desire – even need – to commit to being awesome anyway. I sat down with myself, and pondered how I can, even in a hard time, be awesome anyway.
Here are my thoughts to how I will commit to being awesome in life’s less than stellar times:
Accepting Where I Am. Life wouldn’t be all that amazing if there weren’t twists and turns, ups and downs. So I am committing to breathing deep and practicing acceptance. I have the words “let go” tattooed on my arm as a constant reminder to do just that – let go and allow the world to happen. I have learned that breathing and allowing things to happen is often a humbling and amazing experience.
Practicing Gratitude. Last week, when I was feeling particularly gloomy, I elected to start saying “thank you” as much as I could. I thanked my sweet and amazing girlfriends who would rally around me, being goofy, steadfast, and supportive. I said “thank you” to every dance student I had. I said “thank you” to my parents for such an amazing upbringing. I said “thank you” for the beautiful sunset. And suddenly, I realized how blessed I really am.
Defining My Purpose. I am letting my cloudier times shift my worldview. I am asking myself “What is the purpose of my life? What is truly important?” Big changes and challenges are a gift – an opportunity for a fresh perspective to reassess goals and purpose.
Ask “Is this a problem I should fix, put up with or walk away from?” The next step I take after self-reflection is action. For each issue I was having, I asked “Do I do something about it, accept it, or walk away from it?” – Work-life balance? Fix! I am carving out me time and pairing down my commitments. Negative Relationships? WALK AWAY! Impending Birthday? Well, my only option is acceptance of this one!
Me Celebrating Me
Be Around Awesome People. The thing is, it’s hard not to feel awesome around awesome! These last few weeks, I have reached out to friends and colleagues who I find especially awesome for advice and for fun and for joyfulness.
Celebrate ME! Most importantly, I am celebrating all the things that make me uniquely me. The other day, I was feeling at a bit of a low and instead of wearing my yoga pants out, I wore a zebra print dress, pleather leggings, and high heels. I did that because that is me – eccentric, joyful, zany me.
Be you. Be awesome!
I have an undying, somewhat obsessive love of Wonder Woman.
I love her fight for justice, love, peace, and sexual equality (and one heck of a pair of boots!). In fact, when I am down, I like to listen to the Wonder Woman theme song and dance around my house.
One of my favorite things about Wonder Woman, and about superheroes in general, is that they each have unique gift that they share with the world, a unique service that makes the world a better place.
So what is your superpower?
We are unique, quirky individuals. And, like superheroes, we all have a unique gift to give to the world, to make it a better place.
How do we discover our superpower and begin to cultivate it as a gift to the world? Ask! Poll your co-workers, your friends and your families. What do others see as your strengths, gifts and talents?
What exists at the intersection of your passion and your skills? Take some time to journal. Note what makes you the most excited, the most passionate. Then analyze what you are good at and try to see where these two areas might intersect. Allow this to guide you in career, work and life decisions.
Let go of your weaknesses! Doesn’t that sound nice? Evaluate those things that are not your strong points ~ and let go of them. Maybe you have a friend with opposite strengths and you can work together to allow you both to enhance your strengths. Delegate, share or just let go of the things that you are not good at.
Then go nuts with those superpowers! Overwhelm the world with the gifts that make you uniquely you. You and the world will become a better place.