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A rare opportunity…

Bad ass choreographer, dancer Nika Kljun!

Each year, some of the best choreographers, dancers, and studio owners get together for a weekend benefit that raises money in hopes of finding a cure for Cystic Fibrosis. The event – Dance to Breathe – is pretty unique, but I probably wouldn’t have known about it had I not been involved with my studio.

Last year when the event came around, I was excited to see what it was all about and see my fellow classmates perform in the final show. It was at that show that, not only did I learn much more about CF, I also realized how lucky I am to be a part of my studio – not to brag, but I’m learning from some of the BEST in this city (if not the country).

As part of this benefit, there is usually a celebrity choreographer that comes to town to teach a master class. Last year, I was scraping by all of my spare dollars and sending them to the IRS, so I couldn’t attend the master class. This year however, I’ve already paid my taxes, so I was anxiously awaiting the reveal of the guest choreographer.

It was none other than Nika Kljun – here’s her resume from her website:

She has worked on major projects such as Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Ne-yo, Pitbull, T-Pain, One Direction, Cher Lloyd, the Britney Spears tribute on MTV Video Music Awards, Jessica Sanchez, Donna Summer, Kaya Jones, Gina Katon, Matt Pokora, Herb Alpred, Macy’s Glamorama fashion tour, Monsters of hip hop, Billboard Music Awards, Young Hollywood Awards, NRJ music awards, X-Factor USA, UK & France, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, Move Live on Tour and was just recently, for the year of 2015, a part of Justin Bieber’s dancing team.

As a choreographer or assistant she worked on projects such as So You Think You Can Dance in the USA, Ukraine & Portugal, Move Live on Tour with Derek & Julianne Hough, Dancing with the Stars, Kellogg’s summer campaign, Kaya Jones, Lena Katina, Blake McGrath, Victoria Bech and Monsters of Hip Hop show to name a few. You can catch Nika at Tremaine Dance Conventions, Monster of Hip Hop or Monsters A-list conventions around North America. 

…Like… are you kidding me? She’s an insanely talented dancer – and highly trained in traditional forms of dance, which makes her hip hop game solid. I’ll admit, though, that I was a little bit nervous to buy a ticket for her master class. I know that I’m late in my dance game.

I started taking jazz classes in middle school – and that is where my technical training ends. I danced on a competitive dance team for five years – being captain for two of those years. We were scrappy, and I recall very late nights at the studio, or in hallways, recounting and modifying movements to look sharp.

But I took a solid 10+ year break from dance. In that time, my body has changed, and parts of it have taken quite a beating between boxing training for four years, full-time retail and restaurant service work, and generally just getting older.

I know I struggle to pick up choreography quickly (although I am getting better), and I feel heavy on my feet. I have been to auditions and am learning to accept that even if I don’t make it (and I never have), it’s a free opportunity to learn from someone new, and at least try.

Sometimes, even if I can just get 1 8-count in a set of 7, I am really proud of myself, because the difficulty level is so far beyond me. Trying counts for something.

Many of my fellow dancers said they were taking Nika’s class, even if it meant standing in the back. Yeah, I thought, I’m going, too.

“You’ll walk away learning something,” one instructor told me. And he was right.

So, I bought my ticket. I woke up the day before the class with a classic flare-up of my pinched nerve. Because of course! But, I took my normal Saturday class, laid on a heating pad for three hours, popped a pain-killer, and headed downtown to meet Nika.

Right off the bat, I was pleasantly shocked at how nice she was – how much she simply wanted to help us learn and have fun. She taught us a combination from Jennifer Lopez’s tour, which was just cool to see.

I have never, ever tried any of the classic ballroom dancing, and she showed us the cha-cha, and salsa, and simply said, “Now you can watch ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and really know what they are doing!”

It was tough, and I struggled, and I stayed in the back. But, I gave it all I had and I pushed myself. Yes, a lot of people in the class were KILLING it. But many of them were also 16 – ah, to be young and thin and energetic!

Nonetheless, it was a humbling experience, and it makes me respect the hustle for choreographers and dancers. This is a physical industry – there’s no half-assing it if you’re on tour with Justin Bieber.

When the class was over, I was tired and sweaty, and snapped a picture with Nika, giving her a big thanks. I felt twice her size, but it’s whatever. I went home and had a solid night’s sleep – I suppose that’s what happens when you dance your ass off for almost three hours, pretending you’re JLo!

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Dancing thru challenges.

Hellooo.

Hellooo.

I mentioned on Monday that I spent my weekend dancing. The dance studio I attend, Dance Austin, put on its 9th studio showcase on Sunday, and I was performing in both showtimes.

I know I’ve talked about my love for dance on here before, but being a part of this showcase (my second) made me think about it a lot more. Let me explain.

I started dancing in 6th or 7th grade; taking a small jazz class where I learned basic turns and leaps, and also performed for our families at a local gym. In 8th grade, I joined my middle school’s dance team, where we performed during pre-game or halftime of the basketball games.

I also did this in high-school, where it became a much bigger part of my life. Dance wasn’t just something I did – it was a huge stress relief for me, an escape, and it was where I made a lot of my friends. It gave me goals and confidence; it shaped another way for me to express myself.

In high school, I dreamt of being a choreographer. I wanted to put together dances for music videos and huge productions, that is, until I did a project for school and discovered the harsh truth about that side of the entertainment industry – it didn’t pay much, and it wouldn’t be a job for long – my body would probably be too beat up to be a choreographer in my older years.

And so, when I moved away for college, I left dance behind. I knew I wasn’t talented enough to be on a collegiate team or to go pro.

But when I moved to Texas, I wanted to see if there was a place for adults of any kind to dance. I took to Google, and found Dance Austin, a studio with a variety of classes for anyone, and they did performances! I hadn’t taken dance in 12 years. So, I was nervous for my first few classes.

At the very least, though, I was burning calories, and dancing in a room full of people I didn’t know. I had everything to gain.

Since then – it’s been a little more than a year now of going to class four times a week – I’ve gotten to know several of the people who dance beside me. They are diverse in age, culture, background, and experience. Some of them are engineers, video gamers, or salespeople. Some of them are dancers who audition for paid gigs or choreographers. Some are school teachers or vet techs, and some are retired.

But we all love to dance for one reason or another; and we don’t just love it. We do it. We all have lives outside of the studio, but we do whatever we have to and make it to class, day after day, week after week, and we get to perform our work in front of loving crowds.

At the showcase on Sunday, the hostess (who is fabulous and teaches “Twerk and Burn” at the studio) asked the audience to applaud for the performers because they are LIVING life. At first I clapped and nodded, but she’s right.

Yes, I dreamt of making it as a dancer. I have dreamed of being one of those who goes on tour with someone as a dancer, or performs with a professional team at halftime. But that’s not how my cards were dealt, and that doesn’t mean I can’t still dance. I can still do it; wherever I am – and not just in my living room. I can still perform for crowds, and rehearse in a studio, and rejoice silently when I wakeup sore the next morning.

Dance is a daily challenge for me. I test my brain to learn choreo quickly and work it through my body to do the moves I want. I work to keep up with my instructors, and with my fellow students, who may be more fit or more skilled than I am.

And hey, I don’t know any of us who don’t get nervous before getting on stage. In fact, before February, I’d never performed on a stage in that capacity, ever. And I did it – I performed a dance for 200 strangers. And it was pretty awesome.

And Sunday? I had set a challenge for myself: perform a stiletto routine (meaning, an entire dance wearing heels), and perform it. And I did! There were even stairs involved, and turns, and a stage, and nothing bad happened! It was awesome!

The following day, sure, my legs hurt, and my back was sore, but it was all worth it. At our next showcase, in February, I’ll set another goal for myself, and I’ll walk away (or dance away) feeling more confident than I do today.

The ‘Love Hangover’, no meds needed.

If Saturday was the official “Love Hangover”, then Sunday was a performance hangover. Let me back this train up and explain.

You may or may not recall that I’m making a big effort to step outside of my comfort zone and do more things alone because, well because I don’t know anyone, and I’m not going to know anyone if I sit in my apartment all the time (but don’t worry, I’m not ditching that either).

So, last weekend, I went to a Saturday brunch at my apartment complex. While I currently kind of hate my apartment complex (the parking is terrible and the trash fee is $30/month, but whatever), they do have a pretty robust social calendar, and although I’m not a huge fan of getting to know thy neighbor, you’ve got to start somewhere.

Around the holidays, I went to a gift wrapping party they had and it was pretty fun, so I figured the brunch would be okay. So, I took a little walk to the clubhouse and found that it was a legit, homemade brunch and it was pretty yummy. About 20 residents showed up and I was sitting next to a woman named Linda.

She was older, and we started chatting about where we lived within the complex and which model we had (because what else would we talk about?). While we don’t live near each other, we live in the same apartment style, and she said she’d moved into the apartment, which is a little more than 600 square feet, after downsizing from a 1400 square foot apartment.

Eventually, we got to talking about where we’re from. Turns out, Linda is from New Orleans. We missed each other’s paths by a few years, as she relocated to Austin after Hurricane Katrina. In our short talk, you could tell she misses New Orleans (doesn’t everyone?), and we agreed, no one does brunch like NOLA, baby.

Since she’s lived in Austin for a little over 10 years, I asked her where to eat, where to go, that sort of thing. We also talked a lot about writing, because Linda loves stories and has been journaling since she was a child. But, I’ll be honest with you, as Linda sat and tried to convince herself that she’d go to the gym after brunch, I wondered if I was looking at my future.

Would that be me at 68, living alone, renting a crappy-esque apartment, trying to convince myself to hit the gym on a Saturday afternoon post-free brunch? That’s not meant to be a jab at Linda, or an attempt to say she hasn’t lived an epic life, after all, we only talked for 30 minutes. But it did give me a little kick in the ass.

Meanwhile, I’ve been spending the last six weeks practicing for Dance Austin Studio’s Annual Love Hangover Showcase, which happened on Saturday night.

We had some late night practices, often putting me home at 11pm during the week. Our group, the Video Vixens, were closing the show with, what our instructors called, a huge finale. So we had to BRING IT.

Friday night, show eve, we practiced at the studio until 10, and I went home, showered, and packed my things for the next day. I wanted to get a good night’s sleep.

On Saturday, our tech rehearsal was at 1:45 pm, at the venue, and it was pretty much understood we’d be there until showtime (my performance was around 9:15). So on Saturday morning, I was basically running around like a maniac trying to figure out and pack every single thing I could possibly need for tech rehearsal, the performance, and just in general hanging out for 7 hours pre-performance.

One of my fellow dance girls asked me to lunch,  so we met early (at Flyrite Chicken and it was so fresh and yummy) and got a bite to eat. It was awesome to relax before our busy day, and get to know each other! I joined the dance studio to have an outlet, but also to burn some calories and meet people, so it’s a win!

We headed to the venue close to 1pm, to get parking secured and prep for tech rehearsal. Since I got there early, I got a chance to see some of the other acts that were planned for the night, and I was impressed. During our turn for tech, it was the time to actually practice on stage, and walk through the audience for our entrance.

After that? I spent close to two hours slapping on my stage makeup! I was talking to my mom on the phone while doing this, and laughed, realizing that so much of my cosmetic stash is meant for performing. See, I have this dream of my life being a musical, which is why I love anything glitzy, I love glitter and sequins, and anything over-the-top. So, my Caboodle (yes, a real Caboodle) was packed with false lashes, glitter eyeliner and glitter hairspray, and multiple eye shadow palettes. I love it!

While it has been YEARS since I have performed (high school, senior year, 2003), the day brought back so many of those feelings I had pre-performance as a teenager. Of course I was nervous, but I was excited to show what my group had worked so hard for. I was also really excited to see what the other dancers had in-store. The entire studio, plus a few bonus performers, had all come together to make the entire night a special one.

But there was a huge difference in Saturday night’s performance: there was no one in the audience I knew. In high school, I never wanted my parents to sit within an eye’s view of me, because it would make me nervous. Why? Possibly because the very first time I ever danced for a crowd, I made a small mistake, and my dad sat in the audience and was loudly laughing at me. Go figure.

In a way, knowing no one I knew would see the performance was a load off my back, but of course, I wanted to hold up for my team, and put on the show these people paid for. But, it was painful to check my phone and see that not a single person wished me good luck that night (not counting my mom, because she told me on the phone).

Since I was performing in the second show of the night, I got to relax and watch the entire first show. And, I was blown away. There were great performances by the other group classes, but the instructors also performed, and it was fabulous! There was also a silks dancer and a pole dancer, who really showed out.

The owner of the studio, who choreographed my routine, reminded the audience that Dance Austin is a place for everyone: professional dancers, amateur dancers,  people who’ve been dancers, and people who want to be dancers, no matter the age. She created the studio so everyone could have that outlet, and without completely realizing it, that entire concept is really uplifting, and I’m happy that I somehow found it.

During the intermission of the second show, that’s when we all went backstage to change into our costumes (combat boots, black leggings, sleeveless oxford, cuffs, and a bow tie, complete with a cane) and any final touches to makeup and hair before lining up.

Our group was divided into two: the “chick-n-dales” and the “Magic Michelles”. It was a stripper battle for history. So, the Magic Michelles are on stage, just planning for their next show or whatever, and the Chick-n-dales show up to break up the part, kick them off stage and show them how it’s done. Then the Michelles kick us off, show off a little, and then we both get on the stage and perform together. The audience loved it!

And sure, I wish I had more pictures and video to show you, but it wasn’t allowed, and I was also just trying to stay focused and not be on my phone the whole time. I will keep my eye out for any pictures or videos though, and I’ll post them as I see them.

It was a fantastic night, and I’m really excited to go back to the studio tonight and work toward perfecting my skills for the next showcase in October. Who knows, maybe I’ll try something new next time!

On Friday, one of my coworkers asked me what I was doing over the weekend (because that’s what everyone asks on Friday) and I mentioned the showcase.

“Wow, you’re life is so full,” she said.

“Mine?” I was confused.

“Yes, you’ve got your blog, all of your dance classes… you stay busy,” she said.

Yeah, I guess I do! There are definitely times I feel like all I do is clock hours at work and then be a giant sloth in front of my TV (not saying that’s a bad thing). But, I really do work hard to create a big life for myself – it may not be glamorous, but it’s real, and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty fun!

[Stage makeup look: Eminence Bright Skin Moisturizer, Eminence Bright Skin Licorice Root Booster-Serum, IPKN New York Radiant Primer, Color Mates concealer, Maybelline New York Dream Wonder foundation, Sei Bella pressed powder by Melaleuca, Aph Orism brow shadow and gel, MAKE Skin Illuminator, LOC Shadow Stick, e.l.f Everyday Eyeshadow Book, pop beauty Bright Up Your Life eye shadow palette, e.l.f liquid eyeliner in black, e.l.f liquid eyeliner in stardust, L.A. Colors false lashes, Younique 3D Mascara, stila Extreme Lash Mascara in black, e.l.f blush in Pink Passion, the Balm Bronzer in Desert, Wet n Wild illuminating palette in Catwalk Pink, Sei Bella Definition lip pencil in nude]