AN INTERVIEW WITH ARIELLE BODENHAUSEN

“Leave your imprint to stand beyond your existence” -Abhisarika

Valerie Noelle @theeternalchild

BTCF: As we all know, we are in an interesting time in our world and finding a silver lining to it all can be challenging. As a person who is about growth and renewal, what are some of your silver lining moments? What have been a couple of your challenges?

ARIE: Definitely an interesting time. This silver lining moment is something I would have never expected to re-visit in my life, as I would have thought I wouldn’t need to. I’ve been able to re-visit my boredom, in turn… notice how my creativity and artistry doesn’t always have to be for others to experience, it’s most important purpose is that I express it and create it. Impressive or not, I have found that being bored I end up creating for fun and self-pleasure than for anyone else. It’s almost like being a kid again.

Challenges: 1. remembering my worth without the “accomplishments” / “praises” from others. 2. Having grace for myself for not being the busy bee I normally am.

BTCF: You are not only an accomplished dancer, but also an actress, choreographer, writer, and teacher of dance, yoga, and Pilates. In “normal” times, how do you balance it all?

ARIE: Ha-ha how do I balance it all? I honestly am grateful that I get to do them all, it wouldn’t happen if I didn’t show up passionately to each one. I don’t have every single one of those happening at once, but I do have to practice the word “No” to keep myself sane and committed to the projects I have said “yes” to. And my car sometimes (most of the time) looks like a closet.

BTCF: We are so blessed to have worked with you since 2016. What drew you to BTCF and why?

ARIE: Kathryn McCormick first introduced me to Alex, which was my connection to BTCF. I was told we would be performing at an event to bring awareness and support to eating disorders within the arts. I have struggled with an eating disorder through my dancing career, so to be able to perform AGAINST that, SIGN ME UP!

BTCF: As one of our main OG performers for Alex Little’s “7 Chairs” dance performance, you have continuously brought your immense talent and a different story to each of the performances. Can you share how you go about it each time and the scope of your motivation for such?

ARIE: I love performing this piece! I miss it and look forward to doing it again someday. The most impactful way to show up for “7 Chairs”, personally is to walk into the rehearsal not only with an open heart to talk, but with an open heart to listen. The first part of rehearsal we share with the group about life currently… the good, the bad, the sad etc. From that point on the movement and story line is created to highlight each individual’s story. The feeling to share the stage with others that you know are fully supporting your story, and you are supporting theirs… there is truly nothing like it. It’s so unique and vulnerable for all of us in the piece. I have done the piece about 5 times I believe and not once has it ever felt similar to the last time. That is an incredible feeling. And one I’m grateful to be a part of.

BTCF: As you know, BTCF uses all forms of art as a process to unmask the stigma of those struggling with eating disorders, disordered eating, and a variety of body image relationships as well as to inspire those who struggle and their loved ones to seek help. How do you use your dance to express some of your journey?

ARIE: Being a part of “7 Chairs” was the spark that has encouraged me to be bold in the way I am a teacher. Being a dance teacher, I notice many moments of kids and teenagers struggling while looking in the mirror or comparing to their peers. I am grateful to be there and share my own journey, because I remember that all too clearly, in hopes that I can help them learn ways to love and appreciate the body they are in.
For my personal dancing career, I express my journey by showing up confidently and grateful for my body. A body I used to be so ashamed of and would get mad at for (what I thought was) holding me back from the jobs I dreamt of. I’m not perfect on my journey but I am aware of the negativity and hurtful thoughts that can pull me down in a heartbeat. I try to notice them and correct those thoughts as quickly as possible. I remind myself this body has been a gift and can do some beautiful things… my movement is unique to me, can’t hide that anymore. SO.. showing up to the audition, class, meeting, job is the way I express my body image struggle.

BTCF: There are two things you recently shared with us – “At times I feel my creative mind on fire and others I find emptiness. The grace it takes for an artist to deal with barriers and roadblocks is something I am sitting with now.” Can you share the meaning with our readers?

ARIE: Yes, I wrote this wanting to share that this new pace has taught a new way of navigating “being an artist”. What do you do when you are a go, go, go type of person… and you aren’t able to access that? For me, I got a more intimate look into the way I deal with the ebbs and flows of creating. When normally I would express myself daily, through classes, teaching, auditioning, etc. I had very little I did alone. Now, to be forced to sit alone and still have a desire to dance or act, I had to learn patience for myself. Learn grace for myself. There are times I feel like I’m completely on fire with ideas, and times I’m sitting at a roadblock… and you know what, I’m finding that to be okay. I’m finding more appreciation for what I do create and dream up, creating from an authentic place will ALWAYS be a gift. Even if it’s not as often as I’m used to.

BTCF: Is there a time during your own eating disorder that you can share with us and how through your artistry, it allowed you to break free? What did that look like for you?

ARIE: Acting freed me from hating my body. Acting was the first place I didn’t see the “right” body size, but I saw that the story came from within. Came from the eyes and the way you listened. You were never alone, which means you were always needed for the story. Acting has taught me a new way of dancing for myself. Story first!

BTCF: How has the pandemic affected you in your personal times and as an artist?

ARIE: I think they are both being affected greatly. My personal life and my artist life are very intertwined. Like I’ve mentioned I’m a social butterfly… I’m an extrovert, so being amongst others, especially while doing what we love, brings me life I don’t know how to replicate. But my sweet boyfriend Tyler encouraged me to use his loft as a studio. That became my creating world, something I will forever be grateful for.

BTCF: Eating disorders are on a rise during the pandemic. Can you share a couple of your own tips that provide you with some peace of mind?

ARIE: GET OUTSIDE! Nature is my answer to most things. A hike and Podcast or music will ground me in the present and help me stay grateful. Gratitude normally will pull me out of slumps and negative thoughts which have led to my eating disorder. Also, reaching out to someone close to you for a phone call or a safe meet up. God designed us to be in relationship with others… I believe there’s a reason for that.

BTCF: You have been a wonderful voice and inspiration for BTCF on many occasions. We love having you as an artist ambassador. How important is community to you? What does that mean to you?

ARIE: Might just be the most important thing. Like I said above, God created us to be in relationship with others. That’s community. To feel like you are accepted and have the ability to accept others is one of life’s greatest blessings. I am 28 years old and have many different communities of people in my life, they aren’t all my best friends but they are all very important to me, they have taught me lessons, laughed with me, cried with me, encouraged me, and accepted me. I also want to say I have been in a time where I’ve been VERY lonely, and felt like my community was light years away… if that’s you, I want to encourage you to look for one… One person YOU can make smile, write a letter to and to focus on accepting them, you’ll be shocked how close your community really is. It’s taken me years to have relationships like I do today. I love that I get to love them, and in return accept their love. That’s community.

BTCF: You have said that your artistry comes in many forms. Can you share what those are and how you connect with them, what each inspire and how do you allow your art to shine?

ARIE: I’m a dancer, actress, dance teacher, and Pilates instructor. Ultimately, I have a passion for telling stories as authentically as possible. Dance and acting both hold a special place in my life… Hopping into characters shoes and shedding light on their existence is powerful. It gives you a greater appreciation and love for humanity. Being a dance teacher, I love to inspire my students to learn their way of telling stories, being in that process is a blessing I am grateful to have in my life. Being a Pilates instructor, I get to help my clients feel alive in their body. Giving them confidence to take on their days as healthfully as possible. All though that is not a story I get to tell, I get to be in their process of bettering themselves, again a blessing I am grateful for.

BTCF: We had a wonderful opportunity to co-produce with you a dream of yours, “Beyond Existence: Body”.  How would you describe what this is and where it came from?  Was it a healing experience for you?

ARIE: Beyond Existence was something that sparked in my mind years ago as I was trying to figure out a fun way to teach adults dance. I decided to add paint to dancing. What happened was greater than I expected. I noticed how dance could become a visual art, something that is left for others to interpret later. I believe that in everything we do we leave imprints. This experience of filling a room full of my strokes, letting colors have unique meanings, textures, and story inspire moment by moment, all while being filmed. In briefs and a bra top, I felt exposed and nervous that the body I have once shamed is now exposed as my instrument, paintbrush. As I watched the paint grow on the walls, movement by movement, my heart began to fill with such appreciation for what I have to offer to this world, to this space, to this moment. SO was it healing. Absolutely! I can’t wait to invite others into this experience.

BTCF: How do you view “your” art? What does being an artist mean to you and the impact it has on others?

ARIE: My art is vulnerable and sometimes from the shadows of my heart. Although the process of creating is healing and empowering, I often times pull from pains in my past or present. I hope that my art lands on others as something they can connect to, not feel alone in, or give hope to keep moving forward.

BTCF: How can people find out more about your classes that you offer?

ARIE: As of right now through the pandemic, I have been focusing on virtual Pilates classes and dance classes. If you ever want to dance or do Pilates sessions the best way to reach out or get connected is through my insta @_arie_b or email arie.bodenhausen@gmail.com

AN INTERVIEW WITH TRINITY ROSE

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

BTCF: Your voice is very soulful and rich.  There is a pop-vibe to some of your music and yet an R&B sound as well as an indy vibe.  How would you describe yourself as an artist?

TRINITY ROSE: It’s funny that you notice how much my genres kind of blend. I love music a lot and there’s so many amazing parts of music that I don’t want to be restricted to. My songs Morning Text and Coughing Up Flowers are so different because I found inspiration in different kinds of styles. I would describe myself in all the ways you did and I hope I can be described in more ways in the future!

BTCF: Do you write your own music?  Listening to Coughing Up Flowers is beyond! “Who is the person behind this mirror” in your lyric?

TRINITY ROSE: I do write my own music, but I really love co-writing and having other people’s input on my own songs. I wrote Coughing Up Flowers with Casey Malanuk and I can’t really remember who wrote that line. The way I see that person is myself as I’m looking in the mirror. It’s more that I don’t recognize myself with such strong, irrational feelings for another person and the moment of clarity I’m experiencing at that moment is entirely new.

BTCF: What was it like to be chosen as one of eight teen vocal performers in the country to attend a week-long intensive program, hosted by The GRAMMY Foundation and USC Thornton School of Music?

TRINITY ROSE: It was amazing being chosen for Grammy Camp two times in my high school career. I learned so much from people like Chris Sampson and other faculty members that taught all of us. I met tons of people I still work with today and I couldn’t have made those bonds without that camp.

BTCF: You recently released your single “Morning Text”.  Can you share what it’s about and the inspiration behind it?

TRINITY ROSE: I wrote Morning Text with my co-writer Steve Damar after a gig that I did nearby. The inspiration came from this one time I was getting attention from a guy I wasn’t really into and I didn’t know how to tell him I didn’t want something serious. The term ‘morning text’ is such a flirty new thing for teenagers like me and I thought drawing inspiration from that concept would be perfect!

BTCF: When collaborating with other artists, what connects you the most and why?

TRINITY ROSE: When I collaborate with another person, I usually have to be connected through understanding of each other and almost being on the same wavelength. I get along with some people, but that doesn’t mean it makes for a good collaboration. When I’m writing with them, if they’re completely open and throw out ideas unashamedly I absolutely adore them.

BTCF: Are your songs based on personal story or real life around you or both?

TRINITY ROSE: My songs are based on my own personal experiences usually, but concepts and things I observe are almost always at the core of any song I write. I wrote a ton of personal songs for myself but most of the songs I’ve released aren’t based off of anything besides a concept.

BTCF: At 13 years of age, you were on Season 12 of “The Voice”.  Being so young, were there challenges that seemed to present themselves more than others? If so, can you share what they were?

TRINITY ROSE: I think being 13 years old on a reality TV show was a lot for me. While it introduced me to a lot of stress, it was actually really beneficial to see a professional show and singers in front of me. School was difficult since I had to leave for a month to go across the country, but I also had plenty of kids my age to hang out with.

BTCF: We were thrilled to have you perform in one of our music live streams to share personal story and connect with others through music.  What drew you to want to be a part of our mission and the community we serve?

TRINITY ROSE: I greatly admire the work of BTFC and seeing the positive message to younger people that are being so affected by the world around them is so incredibly important. As someone who was a very young girl not too long ago, this kind of community would’ve been perfect for me. Communicating through music is also something that I strongly believe in and what a lot of people can relate to no matter what age you are.

BTCF: What are three things that you do or enjoy helping ground yourself and bring you peace of mind?

TRINITY ROSE: One thing I do is watch something that’ll make me laugh or smile, like my favorite shows or youtubers. Another is playing my guitar and writing bare lyrics that don’t have to become a published or performed song. Although basic, if I’m panicking, I always make sure to do breathing exercises and close my eyes.

BTCF: What type of music training have you had and if so, at what age did you start?  What instruments do you play?

TRINITY ROSE: My vocal training started when I was about seven years old and I picked up guitar a couple years later. I played ukulele and a lot of piano when I was younger on and off but guitar was what I really stuck with.

BTCF: What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment so far and why?

TRINITY ROSE: I think my greatest accomplishment so far in my life was my song Love is the Only River. That song and music video was one of the most important projects I’ve ever worked on and creating it with Ian Sloane and getting all the people together was very rewarding. It got me a full scholarship to Berklee 5-Week Summer season by winning the international songwriting competition and many kids in elementary schools have performed it.

BTCF: BTCF uses all forms of art to inspire healing, support, recovery, and community for those affected by eating disorders and negative body image relationships. We believe in the healing elements that various art genres provide.  How is music healing to you?

TRINITY ROSE: Music has healed me since I was very young. I think it’s our universal language and you can spread love and good messages through it incredibly easily. Young people are so affected by media in negative ways and to have a chance to give a positive message through my music is my way of healing myself and hopefully other people.

BTCF: Is there a process you go through when writing and creating your music?  If so, do you have a couple of tips to young artists?

TRINITY ROSE: My process tends to change but I can give a couple of tips that might help younger artists. The first thing I would do is learn an instrument or find tracks online that are free that you can use and try writing to them. I would also read as much as you can and look into poetry and things that really interest you. The thing about creating your own music is that it can be whatever you want it to be.

BTCF: Do you have any advice to youth your age that are trying to navigate through a social media world while still discovering who they are?

TRINITY ROSE: As a younger person myself I think the media is an important thing but also a dangerous thing. I’ve seen a lot of my friends and other people online get so affected by the harmful nature of people’s words when they don’t think about what they’re saying or what they’re presenting. I would try to find activities that really interest you outside of the internet and find friends that understand you and will always be there if you’re feeling defeated by how the world treats you.

BTCF: Is there anything else you would like to share?

TRINITY ROSE: If any of the people who follow me or listen to my music ever need a safe space, I hope that I can provide it. I always strive to make people feel better and be the best example of myself that I can give to younger people. I’m not perfect myself and I want people to know that and see that they don’t have to be perfect either.

 

To Learn More about Trinity Rose, please click below and follow her on her:

Instagram @trinityroseofficial

Youtube 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH ARIA BROOKS

“Have a good day but if you can’t, don’t go messin’ up someone else’s” – Tabitha Brown

BTCF: As such a young writer, filmmaker, editor, singer, producer, and much more – how do you feel your creativity helps you deal with connecting to yourself and helps you grow in your daily life?
ARIA: As a creative, I use the arts to express my emotions and feelings. Acting allows me to release my emotions into a fictional character. While writing songs and scripts allow me to write my emotions and feelings down. It’s like therapy for me.
BTCF: It was so amazing to view your “Truly Me” music video – absolutely love it! How and why did you come up with this concept? What did the girls in it think about being a part of this?
ARIA: When I wrote the song, I knew I wanted the concept to symbolize the competition that society brings on based on your looks, just in a more literal way. The girls in the video are my friends and some of my mom’s former students, so it was really cool working and having fun with them.
BTCF: You recently created a video parody “Cabbage” where you not only tribute it to Tabitha Brown, and you rap! Can you tell us about how you came up with the concept and some more about it?
ARIA: I am a huge Tabitha Brown fan, so one day I was trying to master her dialect and commonly used phrases by her. Then later I got the idea to combine my love of parodies and my love of Tabitha Brown. I familiarized myself with the actual song first, then I started writing my version.
BTCF: Your YouTube series – “The Queen Chronicles”!! – What’s the scoop on this?
ARIA: I thought of the idea to make a series that illustrates certain parts of my journey as an actor and as a person. It will allow people to get to know me better!
BTCF: How would you describe your YouTube Channel?
ARIA: My YouTube channel is mainly content creation; parodies, mashups, covers, etc. It also includes moments of my life that I think will be interesting for the viewers.
BTCF: You are so hilarious on Nickelodeon’ show, “All That”. Do you have a favorite character that you portray or a favorite episode?
ARIA: My all-time favorite character of mine is my grandma character, Lorraine. She has appeared in two sketches so far and she is so relatable for me. I’m sure everyone has someone in their family like Lorraine.
BTCF: It seems like you are a super positive person and it’s not uncommon to see you in a shirt or sweatshirt with a positive vibe, but also one that speaks to you in some way. How important do you think it is for young people to own their self-awareness and create positive messages whenever then can? (Especially living is such a social media world)
ARIA: It is extremely important! With social media, there is always going to be someone who doesn’t like what you are doing, and I think we rely too much on validation from others. That is why mean comments hurt so much, I think. If we reassure ourselves and fill our minds with positivity, it makes it easier to block out negativity.
BTCF: What are your top three tips to help young performers pursue their dreams of being on a show like “All That”?
ARIA: My first tip would be to make sure this is a career that you want to pursue. Things will get difficult and if you instantly want to give up when things get hard, this may not be for you. Next I would say take acting classes, specifically improv and comedy classes. Lastly, don’t expect to immediately reach your goal. There is a lot of rejection in this business, so you have to be prepared to work really hard for a long time.
BTCF: We first were introduced to you when you attended one of our music live streams to support our work. It was apparent immediately that you are wise beyond your years. Have people told you that before? If so, how do you feel about it?
ARIA: I have gotten that a lot! I feel like since I grew up around a lot of adults, it is true. My parents are band directors, so their students were always babysitting me. Eventually, I guess I just picked up on a lot of things.
BTCF: Aria, you are truly a role model in everything you do. What does being a role model mean to you? Who are a couple of your role models and why?
ARIA: Being a role model is inspiring others and empowering them. Some of my role models are Marsai Martin, Zendaya, Melanie Martinez, and my mom. All of these ladies are creative, talented and use their platform to inspire or educate others.
BTCF: Is there a process you go through when you are creating a song or a character? Can you share a little bit about that?
ARIA: When I create a song, normally I just vibe to the song first. Then I create my chorus or come up with the concept because normally that’s easier for me. From there, I tackle the verses. When I create characters, I get my inspiration from pictures, stories, dreams, etc. A lot of times I write female leads because it makes it easier to write based on experience. But as of late, I have been trying to challenge myself.
BTCF: What are some positive tips you can give young people regarding self-esteem and self-awareness?
ARIA: There are plenty of times where we pour ourselves and our love into others, but we forget to check on ourselves and treat ourselves. Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself because your mental health trumps everything else.
BTCF: At such a young age, you have been in some major dramatic projects portraying incredible characters like Anger, the niece of Harriet Tubman in the award-winning film “Harriet” and Nola in the series “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings”. How is your preparation process different for you then something like the comedy type show, “All That”?
ARIA: The preparation for comedy roles is very different from preparing for drama roles. I always rehearse and learn my lines for comedy out loud and full out. Reading the lines in my head every time is not helpful for me. This is because the more calmly I practice it the more I get used to reading it that way. With drama more times than not I read it to myself as if I was reading a book. This is what helps me.
BTCF: During COVID, you have created a IG Live Series titled “Ask Aria”. How would you describe it?
ARIA: Ask Aria is an IG Live series I created to feature performers, creatives, activists, etc. I get a chance to ask them questions to get more information for myself but also to educate others. My guests also get to “Ask Aria” so I get to be in the hot seat too.
BTCF: Can you share a little bit about the Kilgore Music Foundation and how you and your family came to be such passionate supporters?
ARIA: Ryan Kilgore went to school with my mom, so i’ve been attending his performances and events since I was really young. The Kilgore Music Foundation offers so many ways for aspiring musicians to live out their dreams. I have had a chance to perform for kids in a children’s hospital and participate in instrument drives. I’m also collaborating with him on a new song and it’s going to be BIG!! I can’t wait for everybody to hear it and see what he has to offer next.
BTCF: Is there anything else you would like to share with BTCF?
ARIA: Be sure to follow all of my social media @itsariabrooks on Tiktok, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook. I have new music in the works right now, so you’ll be hearing more of that very soon so stay tuned.

AN INTERVIEW WITH AMY KATHLEEN LEE

“She needed a hero, so that’s what she became.”  Author Unknown

 

Grey Matter performed by SRJC Touring Dance Company in Dancing With ED presents:

“Stages of Change: A Dancer’s Body Journey”

BTCF: Why and when did you begin your nonprofit, Dancing With ED?

AMY: The name Dancing with ED came to me in 2012 during a therapy session. We had been discussing my dance career and the doctor who diagnosed me with degenerative disc disease, three herniated disks in my lower back, and arthritis. He told me I had the spine of a 40 yr. old when I was 17 and that I would never dance again. It was one of the most painful moments of my life. It was in that session I realized, I’d never stopped dancing, I was just dancing with ED. The moment I said that, a sense of familiarity and the knowledge this name was the start of something meaningful. And not just for me. Giving back has always been part of me moving forward, so it wasn’t a surprise that I chose to start a nonprofit named Dancing with ED on June 25, 2013.  I actually went to the library to borrow the book How To Start A Nonprofit For Dummies. Growing this organization is my way of giving back and having the chance to be the person I needed when I was a dancer. I want dancers to know, they don’t have to dance through this alone.

BTCF: What is Dancing With ED’s mission and goals? Where are you based?

AMY: We are based in San Luis Obispo, California, however we work with dancers all over the country through our various virtual projects and collaborations. Dancing with ED’s mission is to inspire all members of the dance community to love and care for their bodies through eating disorder awareness, outreach, and education. We include family members, teachers, studio staff, companies, dance leadership organizations under this umbrella. Our goal is to see an increase in mental health education, eating disorder resources and support, and more educational activities focused on decreasing stigma. We are building a supportive online community around eating disorders and mental health struggles, creating workshops, camps, events and other activities in hopes to be the difference we want to see in the dance community because it’s not just one person’s journey, it’s ours.

BTCF: You are very open sharing your personal story of being both a eating disorder and suicide survivor, how has that changed your life in the work you do?

AMY: The work I do has changed my life. When I started sharing my story 8 years ago, I had no idea it would bring me to this place. I never would’ve believed it if you’d told me I’d go from sitting in a psychiatric hospital in 2011, drugged up on medicine to keep me from killing myself, staring at the wall, being told I may never have an independent life, to starting a nonprofit, standing on stage speaking to hundreds of people. It’s pretty amazing what God can do. I am so open about my personal life because I have nothing to be ashamed of. You’d be surprised how many people come up to me and say, “me too’.  I am ruined for all other forms of employment. 🙂

BTCF: Can you tell us more about your show, “Stages of Change: A Dancer’s Body Journey” and the impact it has made?

AMY: Most of my creative projects come from my personal journey. For example, I am currently working on healing trauma trapped in my body from childhood sexual abuse. My therapist and I are exploring how my body moves and through this process I’ve learned my body has it’s own story. Naturally, I wanted to share this with dancers – give them a chance to explore their stories using the language of dance. I thought a dance show to showcase their choreography and inspire would be an opportunity to share this with the community. It’s a chance to come together, connect, network, share resources. Celebrate our love of dance and our bodies. I found the greatest impact has been on the dancers themselves and their families. After our first show, I looked into the tear-filled eyes of a mother who said “thank you for giving my daughter the chance to do this. You have no idea what this means to us.” That’s my million-dollar paycheck, and what keeps me going when I feel discouraged.

BTCF: You’ve created this workshop, Body Talk – how did that come about, and can you please share the passion and purpose behind it all?

AMY: No one ever talked about anything when I was young. I was 13 years old, very insecure. I had no language around emotional and mental health. If I’d learned before I entered the more serious and competitive dance environments, it would have been easier. It’s really important to teach and equip young dancers the fundamentals of body image, self-talk, and identity. I use group discussions, personal sharing time and journal activities. Dancers learn key concepts to apply to body image and identity: I am more than my body, I am enough, just the way I am, I can be my body’s friend by using compassionate language and empathy, I can use self-care tools to build a healthy relationship with my body and myself. Due to COVID-19 our in-studio workshops are postponed. I am opened to trying it virtually.

BTCF: Is there a turning point in your life you can share that has created great connections with the participants in your classes?  How do you think it transcends into the lives that you serve?

AMY: The greatest turning point in my life was when I survived suicide. In that dark space in my mind, where death loomed over me, I called out to God. I told him if I was going to live then I was no longer going to live half alive. It was either all in, or nothing. I made a choice that day. A choice I’ve had to fight for day after day because the mental illness in my brain will never go away. It’s me who’s getting stronger. When I tell people this, share these raw moments, people’s perspectives change. People without mental illness thank me for helping make sense of the disease so they can effectively help their loved ones. That has a ripple effect. Hope spreads.

BTCF: Your Pointing to Recovery Project is really special and you’ve made it so that others who are a part of it can participate by sharing their story in some way.  How does it all work?

AMY: There is a long story behind the creation of Pointing to Recovery. Long story short, the project idea came after I’d signed the last shoe I ever wore on stage. It became my symbol of recovery. For a long time I wasn’t sure why I wrote “I chose recovery” next to my initials. It is only now, 10 years later, I realize it was the young dancer inside me, wanting people to know, she’s finally free. The purpose of this project is to give ballet dancers who may feel alone, like they are the only one struggling with an eating disorder, a sense of community. Seeing the shoes together sends a powerful message and it’s beautiful. If a dancer wants to participate, all they have to do is sign their name on a pair of pointe shoes, add a meaningful message, drawing etc. Shipping is tax-deductible. We add them to our collection, take pictures, and share them on social media. Powerful beyond words.

BTCF: There is a unique dance camp and classes you’ve created for young dancers.  What is it about and how can people learn more?

AMY: We are all experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety. Especially our children. It’s hard for us adults, but can you imagine what our kids are going through? Their lives have changed drastically. Some are no longer able to dance at the studio with their friends, perform in recitals and connect with their dance family. We want to support our most vulnerable young dancers. In response to this need, Dancing with ED teamed up with Mindfulness Coach, Dee DiGioia, founder of Mindful Kindful YOUniveristy to create Mind. Body. Heart. ? Mindfulness, Movement, and Expressive Arts camps and classes for dancers ages 6-8 and 9-12. We explore our inner world of thoughts, emotions, and attitudes for positive mental and emotional wellbeing. Mindfulness-based learning themes are woven into each class through fun and engaging activities, including community building, dance, movement, art, journaling, storytelling, and more! The embedded core competencies of emotional intelligence will empower and equip students with the knowledge, tools, and confidence to positively impact all areas of their lives. Emotional Intelligence skills are the major predictors of overall well-being, success, and happiness in life! Camps and classes resume in the fall.

BTCF: We share a mission aligned call to action and that is using art as a process of healing from eating disorders, disordered eating, and increasing positive body image relationships and improving mental health.  What does that personally mean to you when you think about your life as a dancer, the trauma you have gone through and your own personal recovery?

AMY: Dance saved me in a lot of ways. Especially as a young girl having experienced trauma. I needed a place to bury my pain and just be me. It is interesting how it also contributed to my perfectionism and obsession with thinness. The ballet world is beautiful and brutal. I was obsessed with it for years. Being a ballet dancer was my identity. My eating disorder and trauma recovery taught me I am more than a dancer. I am enough, just the way I am, and I don’t have to hide anymore.  I am no longer trapped. It’s ironic how the thing that I loved (ballet) trapped me, but it’s also what I used to set myself free. I use all forms of dance as a way to heal, to improve my mental health, and to feel alive.

BTCF: We are living in a time under unusual circumstances with COVID-19 and the narratives we share are so important to have gentle and a valued approach while serving those in need.  How is Dancing with ED working through these times?

AMY: The past few months have been extremely difficult for me. As I am sure everyone can relate. Stress levels are high. I took that time to take care of myself and my daughter because I want to ensure I live what I promote, as much as possible. We encourage our online community to put their health and wellbeing first.  We’ve continued to support, encourage and connect with dancers all over the world through social media platforms. A resource we’ve shared that’s been extremely helpful is IADMS new initiative “Helping Dancers Help Themselves” This range of programming is to offer support, information, and community to dancers, dance educators, researchers, and medical professionals during COVID-19. We are promoting self-care, mental and emotional wellness.  I think people forget that COVID-19 has not only taken our loved ones, but our sense of safety, security, and hope for the future.

BTCF: The photo of Grey Matter is so powerful.  Would love for you to share what is behind it all.

AMY: This piece was choreographed by Tanya Knippelmeir. It is a dark exploration into the sickness of the brain through a modern dance lens. The mind can enslave itself in repetitive negative thoughts that spiral continuously into darkness. This piece explores falling into these dark patterns, ironically designed by your own internal construct, and how we can pull ourselves out of this destruction for a better positive self. When I watched the piece for the first time, I got chills. Very powerful. We can learn so much about ourselves through choreography.

BTCF:  In your show, Stages of Change: A Dancer’s Body Journey, you performed a piece where you held a scale.  What was that like for you?

AMY: It was intense and life changing. The scale represented my eating disorder, and abuse from the past. This was the first time I allowed my body to move without determining its next steps. I felt naked, but not afraid. People came up to me afterward in amazement telling me how incredible it was. All I can remember is feeling happy, like my body took a huge deep breath.

BTCF:  Having a young daughter, what are some of the things you share with her when it comes to self-acceptance, self-love, and positive body image relationships?

AMY: Now that she’s 13, we are able to talk more in-depth. It’s not only brought us closer but has allowed me to heal my younger self. I share that she has value, is not her body and is free to choose how she feels about herself. She has the power, not them. We talk about the reality of how difficult it is to be positive and love ourselves when all the messages around us are saying the opposite. Teaching her how to identify her feelings, and the fact that she is allowed to feel them and express them, is one of the greatest gifts I can give her. I remind her we are our strongest when we feel the weakest.

BTCF: Thank you so much for sharing with us!  Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

AMY: I am growing my team of board members and volunteers!! This work is so rewarding, but it can’t live on passion alone. I am looking for creative, innovative, talented individuals, motivated by a desire to be the difference they want to see in the world. I have big plans for Dancing with ED, I just need to find the right people to come alongside me. Please spread the word!! Thank you, Breaking the Chains Foundation, for all you do, and for giving me the chance to share my passion and vision of Dancing with ED.

AMY’s CONTACT INFORMATION

Amy Kathleen Lee

Founder/CEO Dancing with ED, Inc.

Dancingwithed.com

Facebook.com/dancingwithed

Instagram@dancingwithed.inc

contact: info@dancingwithed.com

AN INTERVIEW WITH PRISCILLA O. AGYEMAN

“You can’t pour from an empty vessel”-

I remind myself of this daily as a signal to prioritize self-care and rest.

If I’m not taking care of myself, how can I take care of others?

 

BTCF: Could you please share what Saddie Baddies is about? When did you launch it?

PRISCILLA: I started Saddie Baddies on March 8, 2019. It was an instinct for me at the time because I was sitting at my desk, at a job that I was really struggling to find fulfillment in at the time and I was craving an outlet for girls like me who had their own struggles with mental health but nowhere to unpack it. When I would talk about my anxiety, sometimes people wouldn’t understand where I was coming from, or would assume I was only talking about panic attacks (when in reality there’s so many different types and displays of anxiety). Saddie Baddies gently introduces research-based topics that so many of us (people of color) have been wanting to address by breaking it down into bite-sized pieces. The end goal is to initiate collective healing.

BTCF: How did you come up with the name Saddie Baddies and what does it mean?

PRISCILLA: So a “baddie” in popular terms is someone who is…easy on the eyes (ha!) A saddie baddie is someone who from the outside looks like they have everything going from them externally, but still faces their own mental and emotional struggles on a daily basis. I came up with the concept of saddie baddies because I realized people only assumed that you have to “look” a certain way in order to deal with mental health issues. That’s a huge misconception.

BTCF: You describe wanting mental health to be palatable.  It’s such a creative way to hear it put that way. Can you please give us some examples and insight about this?

PRISCILLA: I use the term “palatable” because talking about mental health shouldn’t be such a taboo topic. We talk about music, fashion, politics, media, and celebrities like it’s nothing but so often when we ask the question “How are you feeling?” we lack the language to truly express how we feel. Or we lie and say “Everything’s great!” and deflect actually tapping into our emotions. I created a safe space Saddie Baddies of allowing my community to actually say how they feel, not just what they think is socially acceptable. We’re losing people to suicide, depression, PTSD and so many other mental health issues because for so long we’ve been ashamed to say “I’m not okay, and I need help.”

BTCF: In your work, you chat about how mental health is very stigmatized in the black community.  Why do you think that is and in what areas would you like to see this change so that there are more opportunities for positive change?

PRISCILLA: Stigma comes from shame and shame comes from guilt. In the black community, we have historically been left out, abused, and ostracized by the medical community (there’s an excellent read on this called Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington that goes into depth about this), so we have systemically been disconnected from healthcare for centuries. Psychiatry and psychology was designed for the majority of White, wealthy Americans. Black people did not even have adequate access to mental health services up until the last 1960s-1970s, if we’re being honest. So think about how much we’ve missed out on in terms of care? It’s unbelievable. And culturally, our only source of mental health “care” was through the church or religious services. Our pastors became our counselors, we would go to church on Sundays and cry and mourn and let out our emotions. However, the shame of going to an actual psychiatrist or therapist who could provide behavioral therapy and medication was highly stigmatized, and even discouraged. That’s where that shame came from.

BTCF: Your videos, website, social media accounts are very creative and inviting which visually embraces your mission, intention and goals.  Did you study art or just super creative?!  Where did you get your inspiration?

PRISCILLA: I’m a deep lover and student of all arts! In high school I was really into drawing and painting, and as an adult I think that’s evolved into more curating images that I find striking or writing as a form of self-expression. I go to museums (pre-coronoavirus!) to find inspiration and I’m inspired by so many views just living in New York.

BTCF: I really enjoyed your YouTube video Dealing with High Functioning Anxiety. Can you share a little bit about what is high functioning anxiety and how does it affect your life?

PRISCILLA:  So high functioning anxiety is not an actual mental health diagnosis, but it’s the way mental health professionals describe a person who has all the symptoms of anxiety but is still able to “function” or perform their daily tasks relatively well although it’s still a burden. I identify with this because it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s I realized I had always shown symptoms of anxiety, but I didn’t know what it was called or have the language to properly describe it. But I would have anxiety attacks throughout college, and physiologically I had all the symptoms of anxiety- stomach problems, irritability, nervousness, trouble concentrating and sleeping, fast heartbeat. Going to therapy a few years ago finally helped me understand what anxiety is and how I can manage it better.

BTCF: What are some helpful ways that people in the black community can open up about their mental health and not feel it’s something to hide?

PRISCILLA: Talk about it! Journaling is an extremely therapeutic act, I’ve been journaling since I was in first grade (ha!) and it truly is a great way to release anything I’m trying to process. Look for a therapist (on saddiebaddies.com/resources we have a list of mental health tools) and make the effort to take care of yourself. Talk to your friends and loved ones who are able to listen and be there to support you. We have to be adamant about self-preservation, especially during this social climate when we’re seeing over and over again how society sees and treats Black people as if we’re disposable. We are not disposable, we matter, and we deserve peace.

BTCF: How do you manage your mindfulness in your everyday living?  Do you have a top 5 you could share?

PRISCILLA: I would say my top 5 methods of mindfulness would include: meditating every day for at least 5-10 minutes, eating plant-based, making time for joy daily, practicing gratitude, and showing love to the people around me.

To learn more about Saddie Baddies, please visit www.saddiebaddies.com and follow them on @saddie_baddies on all their social!

AN INTERVIEW WITH JENNA ROSE SIMON

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn” – John Maxwell

 

BTCF: Using your art as a form of expression is truly something that beholds deep meaning to you, can you please share some of the why and how?

JENNA: The why kind of happened by accident. Years ago, I was mostly creating this art for myself and to share only with a therapist. One of my drawings, now featured in ABC news and Good Morning America went viral on social media when someone in my Facebook friends list (still don’t know who) saved my drawing and uploaded it to their own page and toggled the viewing ability to public. It was shared over 140,000 times. It was kind of frustrating because it was my work and shared without credit, but you have to look at it like this: over 140,000 people connected with this piece and wanted to share it. It had that big of an impact. It was that moment that I realized I needed an IG dedicated solely to my art and that my story might help others.

Now the how is tricky. Most of these pieces come out of feelings I have that I need to express in a healthy way. Being a trauma survivor and someone with an eating disorder means I’m used to running to a quick, unhealthy fix. Art became a better place to put those feelings. So when I have a feeling or experience I want to express, I come up with the idea and then figure out how to get reference photos to help me create the image I want to. Then I draw it.

Jenna’s ABC Feature & Photo that went viral:

https://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/story-powerful-parenting-sketch-viral/story?id=38578209

BTCF: You were also a dancer for many years.  What type of dance?  Does this art form contribute to your other art forms?  If so, how?

JENNA: I was! I was studying ballet about 40 hours a week by the time I was 12 up until I gave it up at 18. It really doesn’t contribute. I loved it when it was a part of my life, but while most previous dancers claim to miss it after the fact, I really don’t, I love watching it, but I don’t miss it as a part of my life.

BTCF: There are many pieces of your work that are a self-portrait, and each have very specific meaning and depict very specific moments in your life.  Are there some that were done in real time and others a reflection of other times?

JENNA: So much yes! And you can see it in the evolution of my actual craft. The start of my account has so many “quick” scratchy type self-portraits in graphite pencil that don’t have a photo realistic quality to them. They were done in the moment and quickly. As time went on and I started to heal more, I would remember something, or some situation would come up in a flashback that would cause me to think about that situation again. But because it was more of a reflection, I wasn’t in quite the same hurry to “get it out” and you see the art show more time and energy. I look back and think sometimes “this piece isn’t good” because the quality isn’t what I’m currently used to seeing in my work…. but I try to remember it was a different time. I was different. I had been drawing this much for less time back then. Less experienced.

BTCF: Even though you may be in the piece, is your work always a reflection of you or a reflection of society?

JENNA: It’s funny you ask, because my own work is always a reflection of me or something that has happened to me. But it’s super important to create things that reflect our world and history. I just assigned an art student I teach at Fusion Academy to create an abstract portrait of something she feels strongly about in society, and she did the most wonderful painting of a political figure depicting her thoughts on him and how he runs our country. Those pieces hold so much value too!

BTCF: When did you start drawing?  How and when did you come to learn that your art inspired healing in your own life?

JENNA: I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid. But not this kind of stuff. But I always loved it. My dad would help me cartoon on napkins at restaurants. I really started to understand how it helped me heal through sharing it with my therapist some 4 years ago. And now I look back on it and see the differences between how I must have felt when I created things then versus now and I can see the growth. I hold onto that growth when I’m challenged now.

BTCF: Some of your self-portraits went viral on Facebook and then many news outlets began to feature your work.  Can you tell us a little bit about this? What kind of realization was this for you?  What did it mean to you and how did it all change your life?

JENNA: It changed my life in the biggest way by sharing my story before I was ready. Once people knew the work was mine and who I was, we had friends and people in our community recognize the work and my signature. They would say “what happened to Jenna?” Or “is Jenna okay?” When ABC news came to me to do a story, I was hesitant but ultimately decided I’d rather explain my story the best I’m willing to at this time than let people wonder and think what they want. But in outing my story before I was ready, I had to get strong really fast and be braver than I ever had been, with very little time to get used to the idea. It was scary, but it ended up making me a better person and, on some level, it gave purpose to the life I had. It’s like “okay, this all sucked, but maybe this is the reason that happened…. to help it not happen to others or help others who experienced the same thing.”

BTCF: How would you describe your art in five words?

JENNA: Moving, Deep, Uncomfortable, Thought provoking (okay that’s two words!), Controversial

Jenna’s CCN Feature:

https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/12/health/eating-disorder-sketches-profile/index.html

BTCF: Was there a turning point in your eating disorder that brought you to a place of creating to heal or was it the other way around?

JENNA: It was definitely the other way around. I very sadly admit that I was not very motivated to change behavior or heal. I actually didn’t even think it was possible. The experience with the art and having an impact on others was definitely a catalyst for changing things within me. You know, none of that stuff you do to control your body seems to matter quite as much when you have other things – people, hobbies (for me, my craft), a job you love etc. it’s like you have so many other things that bring you fulfillment that you start to heal naturally.

BTCF: How is your art healing for you now?

JENNA: It’s interesting. I find myself lately doing more art that pushes the boundaries of my craft…. like trying new mediums or new styles. There’s less need right now to create for healing. But I’ll tell you this. Sometimes I create something to depict a feeling I used to have because I think it’ll help someone else. The flood of comments and direct messages I get from others about how the work helped them or sharing their personal stories of recovery is actually very healing. You look at what other people are going through now and remember when you were them, and who you’ve become.

BTCF: You created two books, workbooks that aide others in their healing journey through the use of art.  Can you tell us what they are, a little bit about them, what inspired you to do them and where people can find them?

JENNA: Yes, one is a workbook. Unbroken, An Art Book is a book that has 20 chapters. Each chapter contains one of my therapeutic art pieces, an explanation of what I was going through when I created it, and a drawing activity for the reader. My second book, Creating a Warrior, is a collection of large scale images of every therapeutic or concept art drawing I created at the time of publication. Both can be found wherever books are sold online. Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc., and one most countries.

You can find Jenna’s books here:

Unbroken: An Art Book: My Journey So Far, Plus 20 Feel-Good Drawing Activities

https://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/unbroken-jenna-rose-simon/1125926928

Creating A Warrior: An Artist’s Journey Of Healing From Abuse

https://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/creating-a-warrior-jenna-rose-simon/1128569159

BTCF: Could you explain how you use your work as an artist to shed light on eating disorders and the pain of abuse?

JENNA: How many times has an eating disordered person been told “you can control it, just eat?” How many times has an abused individual been told “that’s the past, just forget about it.” This is what I want to change. There is an entire unwrapped box following around every person who has gone through either of these things that the outside world doesn’t see. WE, the people who go through it don’t even know exactly what’s inside, and every time something falls out, we have to deal with it. People who haven’t been through it have no idea what that’s like, and sometimes words just don’t explain it. I think we are all visual learners to a capacity, and an image can make someone feel more deeply than an essay on the data collected surrounded eating disorders and abuse. Words go numb. We use them all the time. You have to make people think further.

BTCF: Who inspires you and why?

JENNA: Oh my gosh. It’s a lot of people. I’ll narrow it down to a few.

Amanda Schull: she is an actress (and friend) who just exemplifies everything that a human should be. She’s so talented but I don’t even think she knows it…. there’s grace and beauty and she carries herself so confidently but as a warm, approachable person.

Austyn Vovos is my friend. And there isn’t a moment I see her post or share anything that doesn’t have a positive twist. I’ve never met anyone like her. She is honest and forthcoming, but every single situation she can be in gets twisted in a positive, uplifting manner. Who doesn’t wanna be around someone like that?

Little words project: I know this isn’t really a person, but it’s a group of people. I recently came into contact with their organization and bought myself 17 (yes, seventeen) of them with different words on them. Each bracelet has a tag with a serial number that you can register online so that if you ever give the bracelet away, they can register it too and you can track your bracelet as it helps multiple women. How much more unified and stronger as a group can we feel?

BTCF: All of your art has either a story or an explanation behind them. Why?

JENNA: In short, I got tired of the comments about not understanding the pieces. The point of my work isn’t only to help comfort those who are going through it. It’s to shed a light to those who aren’t. If they are commenting “I don’t get this,” then the Art didn’t do it by itself and I need to take it a step further.

BTCF: What type of materials do you use to create?  And why?

JENNA: A year ago, this would be a very short list and the reason would be “it’s all I know how to use.” Not kidding. Now, I’m learning to use new things, and the why is because I want to better my craft. Some of them do have a very specific reason, so I’ll put that next to them where applicable.

  • Colored pencils
  • Graphite pencils
  • Paint
  • White jelly-roll pen – to get super bright lights in a portrait drawing like in the eyes or lips
  • 5 mm screwdriver – to remove thin layers of colored pencil for fine highlights, mostly in hair and lips
  • Windsor and Newton markers – for any colored pencil portrait I use this as a base under the pencil to make it more realistic
  • Black sharpie marker – to get the darkest dark lines – mostly in eyes and eye lashes

BTCF: What are you currently working on?

JENNA: An attempt at photo realism on my friend Amanda Schull, a collab with a contortionist, and an abstract painting of myself (that one should be interesting since I only just started painting!)

BTCF: As an art teacher for some special needs, could you please share with us what that means to you?  Do you have a class story you could share with us that holds special meaning?

JENNA: Earlier in the year, I had an art student who used to come to class and repeat “Art with Jenna” over and over, it literally made my day. Not all the students I teach have the same needs, but it can be amazing to see what they create. Art is like a universal language. I have watched a mostly nonverbal child create on paper exactly what I, myself created without really being able to communicate it as they were doing it. It’s a form of expression that regardless of talent and skill level, truly comes out of everyone. And when I would see that student draw what I drew, step by step and it looked just like mine, I would know I made an impact…. that the student understood me and wanted to create with me, even if the words never came.

BTCF: How are you today?  What does recovery mean to you?

JENNA: If I’m honest, I still have my moments. I am in the midst of a very great challenge in my life right now, which has set me back a few paces. But I’m handling it differently than I used to. Instead of rolling over when someone mistreats me and deciding that’s all I’m worth, I’m fighting back. And as hard as that is, that’s progress. Recovery doesn’t mean you’re perfect and this never affects you again. At least not to me. I believe you are challenged forever by different things because you’ve undergone this in your life. Recovery is about continually making choices that are more and more healthy when you’re met with these challenges. Continually doing better than the last time.

BTCF: Is there anything else about you, your work, eating disorders, or abuse that you would like to share?

Just social media accounts:

Instagram: @AGentleTouchOfArt / @JennaRoseSimon

Facebook: Jenna Rose Simon / Twitter: @JennaRoseSimon