As someone who intimately knows what it’s like living without running water, electricity, and food (I grew up in San Francisco before Black folks were actively gentrified out), I decided early that we all must give back in some way.
While working with clients in my studio, I’d spend my evenings and weekends working in under-resourced Black and Brown communities that didn’t have access to arts and wellness programs. I created free community programs teaching dance, dance with literacy (utilizing Black history and African American poetry), Fall Prevention for Seniors, Pre/ Post Natal workshops, and Pilates for Back & Joint Pain. I’ve had the pleasure of working with folks that have had amazing life-changing results. The ability to get back to work after years of terrible back pain, the ability to play with their children in a park, get their college athletic scholarship to break the cycle of poverty.
When you work in a community where many people don’t have access to health care, you see how easily, and with just a little bit of time, you can make a huge difference in their lives.
Folks are motivated, hard-working, thankful, capable, and joyful during the work. I love to watch the excitement when their sciatica goes away mid-class after years of suffering. The fact that many people in this country can only see a doctor in the emergency room is a significant problem.
Well-trained Pilates teachers can be a tremendous front-line resource to help folks get active, reduce their pain, keep them upright and on their feet.
In addition to facilitating incredible emotional and spiritual shifts for folks to drop back into their bodies and feel safe, present, pain-free, and empowered. Pilates is magic, and I want everyone to have access to this powerful, life-changing work.
When the public police executions of African Americans started being shown on the nightly news, and then the election came around, things got really hot and loud around me. The microaggressions that Black and Brown folks deal with on a day-to-day basis became macroaggressions. Clients told me that “Sandra Bland should have kept her mouth shut. She had a big mouth; if she had just kept her mouth shut, that wouldn’t have happened to her.” Others told me that “Black people need to learn how to respect authority.” Add the increase of Black churches and houses being firebombed, on top of some difficult family health issues, all the while trying to hold space in a painful environment where people couldn’t really “see me”; I knew I was done.
So after 12 successful years, lots of referrals, a waiting list, and 5 business awards, including Best Small Business, Best Woman-Owned Business, Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Best Pilates Studio, and 100 Influential Women, I closed my brick and mortar to bring this life-changing work back into the community full time. I had previously started my nonprofit Grown Women Dance Collective almost 10 years before, so with a laser beam focus, I decided that I needed to create dynamic, beautiful, empowering arts and wellness programs full-time for folks that normally wouldn’t have access.
Between 2003 and 2009, the African American community lost several civil rights leaders and cultural icons, including barrier-breaking folks like Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Ossie Davis, Nina Simone, and Gregory Hines. Some were leaving and being given great honors, but some of these folks passed without many people noticing. At the same time, many of California’s Juneteenth celebrations were disappearing (thankfully, there has been a big resurgence in the past few years). So good friends of mine, Michelle Ned, Marisa Castillo, Eurydice Ross, and I founded Grown Women Dance Collective (GWDC) to celebrate Juneteenth and honor the lives of these incredible folks that had become ancestors. GWDC is composed of dancers in our 40’s and 50’s, retired from major companies including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Martha Graham, Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Company, Cleo Parker Robinson, Broadway, etc. We use dance and music to teach and celebrate African American history, create cross-cultural, intergenerational bridges, create spaces where folks can see themselves, see each other, and inspire dialogue and action to bring about social change. We just pivoted our 11th annual concert online, which was hard but amazing.
After I closed Aspire’s brick and mortar, I combined and expanded GWDC’s community programs into 3 sections. 1. The Juneteenth concert, where we also sponsor 200 exuberant, financially challenged children to experience world-class dancers and participate in theater activities, 2. Free arts and wellness classes in 7 San Francisco Bay Area communities and 3. our upcoming Pilates Certification & Joyful Movement Practitioner Life Skills program. And because we are a small rooted-in-community arts organization, we are uniquely positioned to connect people with resources and information. During Covid, we have leveraged these relationships to get 7500 masks and 1500 bottles of hand sanitizer (and counting) into the community. (Thank you, Balanced Body, for donating 3800 masks!)
PART 3 COMING SOON