My Secret Lipstick Diaries

My Secret Lipstick Diaries

So this particular post has been sitting on the back-burner for a while. It’s been partially drafted and undergone many edits, I could never seem to get it up to be published.  It is about the Lipstick Diaries Heels Intensive that I attended in late 2015.  This post was so hard to write, because I could never quite articulate how profound an impact this program had on me.  There are no words that would adequately describe what a great program this is.  At the risk of vomiting some superlative ridden review of something that I really enjoyed (haha we all know I’m good at those), I kept this post to myself.  Partly because I didn’t want to come across like some e-mo nutter (again, we all know I am good at coming across like that at times), and partly because I didn’t want to diminish the good work and reputation of this program by sounding like some paid television shopping commercial (which I am not, by the way).

jessica castro
with Jessica Castro

Jessica Castro, the founder of Lipstick Diaries. WOW! Superwoman is the only applicable word.  In terms of commercial professional dancers, she’s the epitome of success.  She has worked on screen and on stage with artists such as Janet Jackson, JLo, Beyonce, and Ricky Martin, and with dance heavy weights such as Tina Landon, Frank Gatson, Rich and Tone,  and Hi-Hat just to name a few.    As such, when she teaches, you are not just in a program learning the latest on-trend choreography, you are actually receiving decades of information and experience from these people.  It’s hard to explain unless you are physically there.  But it actually feels as though Castro has taken her decades worth of auditions, rehearsals, shows, successes, failures, critic and praise, and shaped it into this deliverable package – but only for those willing to open it.  For those of you that were there, you might understand what I mean.

The program ran over several days.  It was a Heels intensive, with a strong focus on female empowerment. Owning and using one’s unique femininity to their advantage particularly when auditioning.  Note the words “femininity” and “female empowerment”  not “hot sexy mamma” (cue the side eye).  Castro’s team included Aisha Francis, Galen Hooks, Tracy Phillips, and if that wasn’t enough Tina Landon.  [Little side story here, when Ms Landon walked into the room it was the most surreal thing for me. As a child, I’d only ever read about her in magazines. It was always some strange fantasy that I would one day dance for her. Never in a million years did I think I would be in the same room with her let alone take a class with her and actually dance in front of her! Dreams come true in the weirdest ways don’t they?].

with tina
Me with Tina Landon

Each one of these teachers brought something special and unique to the table, teaching from their respective experience.  If I went into detail this post would go on forever.  They gave so much of themselves. It was hard to choose, but in a single sentence this would be perhaps the most succinct take-aways from each of the teachers.

Aisha Francis – Make good choices, and take a sip of “f*ck it juice” and take some risks.

Tracy Phillips – Don’t be afraid to be different, use what makes you different to your advantage.

with Tracy Phillips

Galen Hooks – Dig deep into your soul when you dance, find your story that relates to your dance, and tell it sincerely.

Tina Landon – Be real, don’t try to be someone else, and accept that not every job is meant for you.

Jessica Castro – You have to want it.  You have to want to dance, you have to want to be a dancer.  NOTE: You have to want to be a dancer not want to get famous quickly.  They’re very different things.

As well as the actual dance classes, and Q&A sessions, Castro orchestrated a mock audition. We were sent the brief the night before and expected to prepare for the day as you would real audition, in front of a real panel that consisted of a BLOC agent, Choreographer Luam Keflezky, and Galen Hooks.  As well as the experience of the audition, you got direct individual feedback.  Confronting if anything.  But truly essential.  This program is not for the faint hearted. It’s not for those that just love to take a dance class because it’s fun.  It is a serious, albeit short, program.  The intensity of training, and expectations of participants I would argue sits on par with elite performing arts schools.  I am just surmising based on what I have read, witnessed and been told.  Many of the attendees are already signed with agents and are booking work, but enroll in this program because they know it will give them that edge when they step into an audition.  A few months after the program I saw two girls I was dancing next to, dancing next to Beyonce at the Superbowl.  I can’t tell you how proud I was for them, to see them there, reaping the rewards for their hard work, yet how humbling it was knowing that I was dancing next to them in class, feeding off and matching their energy and intensity. And, then also knowing I’m a good 10-12 years older than them, post popping out a baby and still pushing as hard as they can.

all the girls
The talent and beautiful females of Lipstick Diaries 2015

This is now the fourth, nay possibly fifth edit of this post. I’ve cut copious amounts of content because it’s simply too long, and I was running out of superlatives.   Dancers, if you dance in heels, and want to become a better artist, and/or if you want to be the dancer that knows how to book jobs  – this program is a must.  It’s an investment in yourself as an artist.  You will walk out better, stronger, and more confident.  But, as Castro will confirm, you have to want it.  The knowledge and the tools are given to you in this program, but you have to be willing to take it, use it, and take the risks necessary to propel yourself.  If there is one thing that I wish I had done in my younger years is taken MORE RISKS.  I wish Castro’s Lipstick Diaries Program was around 15 years ago; to have given me the confidence and tools to take the risks I should have taken.  If you’re coming to New York, please look it up, and seize the opportunity.


Farruquito – when I saw a man fly

Farruquito – when I saw a man fly

Farruquito1This month I had the rare opportunity to see a man fly while his feet were still planted firmly on the ground.

Farruquito, the grandson and heir to the legacy of the infamous Farrucos Gypsy familia, appeared at New York’s City Center as part of the 2016 Flamenco Festival.  This 90 minute show featuring a cast of 2 guitarists, a percussionist and 4 vocalists and a guest appearance by female flamenca Gema Moneo delivered on all accounts; 90 minutes of unbridled impassioned music and dance.farruquito2

Every second of this 90 minute show was emotionally charged. After seeing many flamenco shows around the world this was the first time in my life, that I had ever been moved by the vocalists in a flamenco performance. It didn’t matter that they were singing in a language I didn’t understand.  There was a universality in the way they sang that made you understand them – not their exact words, but understand how they were feeling, why they were there.  Sitting in my chair, I could feel my soul (perhaps my duende) dancing with them. It was so hard to resist the temptation to get up out of my seat and dance with them in what seemed to be the convocation of the flamenco spirits.

Then like a sorcerer moving stealthily through the shadows he appeared.  The Farruquito.  His presence alone demands attention.   As he stood there, it was as if you could feel the spirits of his ancestors convening in his body.  And, when he was ready, he began dancing.

Every movement, and every part of his body, from the tips of his fingernails to the ends of his hair was overflowing with passion.  His formidable footwork mesmerized the  audience with its sheer speed and crystal clear clarity.  Each sound, every punta (toe), tacon (heel) or golpe (stamp) rolled effortlessly one after another at a rate so fast that confirmed that Farruquito was possessed with super natural power.  The way Farruquito moved with the music was as if the music inhabited his body and Farruquito was speaking in tongues.  For any dancer in any genre of any level this is the epitome of what you want to achieve through dance.  To be possessed by the music, fearless and truly free…as if you were flying. And fly he did.  As he finished each escobilla with his exhilarating footwork he would take us with him , up to the heavens, and like that with his final stamp – SILENCE.  And there he would float, in the spotlight soaring up to the mezzanine.

As dancers we always strive to be one with the music .  Our aim is to be the physical and visible expression of the music.  Dance is music made visible, as the saying goes.  After decades of training, and watching great dancers in various tyles this was the first time EVER I saw this theory in practice.  You couldn’t separate Farruquito from the music, he and the music were one singular being – and the only word to describe it is magical.

Thank you Farruquito.  For showing me that it is possible to dance as one with the music. That it is not just a concept or merely a state of mind, but something that is physically possible.  Thank you for re-affirming what we should be searching for as dancers – as artists.  One day, while my feet are planted in the ground, connecting with the Earth with every step, every stamp and every slide, I hope i can fly like you.


Sick to the neck – what made me stop dancing.

Sick to the neck – what made me stop dancing.

So for the past 10 days or so I’ve been MIA from my life. An ongoing neck injury that I’ve been putting up with for the last 10 years or so decided to go to the next level on me, and render me useless in any way, shape, or form. It all happened suddenly at 4am on Friday morning when I woke up in pain unable to move my neck in any direction, and feeling excruciating jabs of pain with every movement.  Not being able to find a position of comfort be that sitting, lying, standing, or crawling, I have just endured 10 days of absolute stillness (which is impossible with a three year old). No running, gym-ing, stair climbing, yoga and worst of all…no dancing.  [Watch me as I pick my soul up from the floor and try to piece it together with medical tape.]


20160123_143547I have subsisted on a diet of Magnesium tablets and painkillers, and have lost all sense of smell due to constantly inhaling the stench of ‘fast-acting pain relief’ creams. In my desperation to get back on the dancefloor and make the most of my time in NYC, I have subjected myself to trigger point acupuncture, and wait for it…..cupping.  While neither were very painful, and the cupping seemed a bit nonsensical to me, I must admit I’m amazed at how it makes me feel the next day.  All but a minor pain on my left side (now), all the usual spots that have always had some type of pain are actually pain free (could this be?).   I’ll give my verdict after I complete my five sessions.20160122_145345 (1)

I’ve been rather depressed and miserable for the last week or so, wallowing in self-pity, feeling eternally bloated, and just plain useless. It’s funny, you would think that I would welcome the forced rest.  No gym-ming, running, yoga-ing or dancing.  Woo hoo!! An excuse to lie down for the whole day and just sit back and chill.  No working on the lap top either as tilting the head down also causes sharp pangs to run down my neck and back. But no, I’m just miserable.  Why is that? Does everyone feel this way? Dancers, singers, athletes anyone? Do you get depressed and just plain miserable when you can’t do what you love?  Therapists, physicians they all say “rest”,  we look for reasons not to rest and justify our actions when we don’t; and then we’re rendered simply useless because we didn’t.   Now what?  Just wait?  The last time I was forced to “rest” like this was after childbirth.  You can imagine how well I took that (combine that with no sleep, being treated like a cow, and an endless supply of visitors).  But now, staring at my three year old running around, unable even to play with him (cussing under my breath trying to dress him and put him to bed) I start to wonder how did I become so dependent on dance to be happy? Is this healthy? Is this a genetic? A personality disorder more likely, have I somehow been groomed to be this way?  I have so much to be happy and grateful for and after a week of no dancing here I am feeling lost and with no purpose (really?)….Dr. Phil, Oprah, somebody help!

No man can tell a woman what to do with her body…

No man can tell a woman what to do with her body…

…Except Bob Fosse.  A little thing I picked up in New York, on the Upper West Side in Advanced Theatre Jazz, with none other than Diana Laurenson .

fosse AD
A meme from Facebook, I would credit appropriately if I knew the author.

Diana’s class was the first class I took when we moved to NYC. I don’t know if I took the class or if the class ‘took me’. Because ever since, I have been addicted to this class. It is my therapy, my ‘me time’ and, when my life seems to be a constant of cleaning up other people’s mess, and problem solving trying to keep everyone else happy, this 90 minute class is the divine spiritual intercession of my week. And no, I’m not being ‘that’ melodramatic artist.

Diana’s classes have covered everything from classic American Musical Theatre Reperotire. Dances I watched as a kid on old VHS videos (does anyone still have one?) and unsuccessfully tried to copy.   The thing with Diana’s class is, you don’t get taught the steps and the choreography alone, you’re immersed into the feeling, and the very essence of the character that you’re dancing. Diana has an uncanny way of getting you to think and see through the eyes of greats like Fosse and embody the dance – not just ‘do the steps’.  Her years of dancing amongst the legendary gives her an insight that up and coming teachers and choreographers today simply don’t have. She has history, and knowledge and experience.  A sad truth of the circle of life is that people like Diana, their experiences, and their stories will soon only be in texts books (or blogs); she’s a walking, talking, smiling encyclopedia of theatre dance.  I can’t describe the privilege I feel when Diana walks into the studio, presses play on the stereo and I hear “It’s show time folks”, and Di’s voice echoes “eyes up to the mezzanine”. In my head I’m center stage at the Broadway Theatre glowing in the spotlight.  From the warm up, to the “simple ballet barre” as she calls it, and the stretching combination it’s SHOWTIME.  You’re performing your warm up, flirting with your fellow dancers through your eyes and your face, heck even your titties are flirting with every pendulous swing as you try to present that epaulement ‘the way Luigi would’ as she says.

To me, the electricity and energy that I feel in this class is the epitome of what I imagined New York to be. There are professional dancers, up and coming stars of the future, some who have danced in the past on the big stages, and here they are sharing their energy with people like me.  We could be dancing in a derelict barn in the mid-west, and somehow because of Diana it would feel like we’re on the boards of the world’s most prestigious stages.  That’s the power of Theatre Dance, or maybe it’s just Diana’s superpower – being able to get her students to travel in time, to another place, and tell great stories through dance.

fosse ad1
Dancing legends watching over as I eat

I’ve come to accept that my ‘dream job’ of dancing in a Broadway production (Chicago if we’re being precise) will likely stay merely a dream.  But here with these dancers, with Diana, I feel like I’m living ‘the dream’, (albeit for only 90 minutes every Sunday).   While I battle daily with the voices in my head that focus on my failure in never having booked that ‘dream job’, the voices that consistently remind me of what I haven’t achieved, what I haven’t accomplished, what I should have done, and what opportunities I didn’t have, questioning every decision I’ve ever made,  my Sunday afternoons with Diana have made me realise that my dream is simply to dance, dance with people like her, with that energy and that passion. People willing to travel through time, and to different places with me and tell a different story each time.  In her class I get to do that.  So when I say this class is my therapy, it actually is.   It’s not about that ‘dream job’ or that one ‘big break’, it’s about fulfilling your passion every day and basking in that joy you receive from that passion.

Don’t take the F Train

Don’t take the F Train

One of the problems of being a dance mom is actually finding the time to dance.  Between taking care of the house, the child, the husband, and running a business from the other side of the planet, sometimes taking a dance class, or getting to an audition or making it to a show is all but a mere luxury one only fantasizes about while simultaneously drafting emails, and cleaning up lego. So it came to pass, that after a week of playing the single mother while my husband was away on a conference, I decided that I would take the risk and bring my child to a class where he would sit quietly at the back playing on his Ipad.  Anyone with a toddler, a potty training toddler mind you, will understand the fear and trepidation with which I was undertaking this task.


So what class could be so phenomenal that I am willing to risk my dignity and my sanity? A hip hop class taught by the incomparable Lenaya “Tweetboogie” Straker, aka Tweetie.  Tweetie is without doubt one of the few dancers in the world today preserving the traditions of hip hop culture through dance (did I mention she’s been on Oprah?).  As well as being a lesson in history, culture, music, and of course dance, Tweetie’s classes are a workout and more.  She has you doing drills, you’re on the floor, up in the air, your quads are burning, your heart rate is up, your glutes are throbbing, and meanwhile you’re actually DANCING to one of your favourite hip hop songs. It’s not an aerobics class to good music, I can’t stand those, it’s an actual DANCE class.  A few years earlier (prior to a husband and child) I had brought Tweetie out to Australia for a workshop residency in my hometown, so I was anxiously waiting to take one of her classes again. This class was my reward for a full week of being a single mom with no help, and my child still being alive to prove my maternal skills aren’t so bad. So after a well-planned out morning of visiting Saint Nick at Macy’s, giving my son his favourite lunch of “chippie nuggets” (chicken tenders), and juice (now he’s really being spoiled) we make our way to the dance studio. He knows what’s coming, we talked about it on the train all the way there. “Mommy is going dancing baby. You’re going to sit at the back and watch Peppa on the Ipad ok.  No crying. No grabbing mommy’s leg.  If you’re good you can have a chocolate after.  Do you understand?” “I stand mommy”.  He had been a good boy all day, doing everything that was asked of him (all but sitting on Santa’s lap), so I thought we’d be right. Well, I was wrong. After the first ten minutes, it started.  The long drawn out loud whines “muuuuuuuummmmmmeeeeeeee”.  Standing up and following me. He was potty training at the time and so told me he needed to “pee-pee” at least 3 different times over 45 minutes.  At this stage not only was I embarrassed, I felt like the annoying disruptive “mature age” student in the class. So I made my apologies and left halfway through the class with my child screaming at the top of his lungs. My eyebrows furrowed and me totally disheveled carrying bags, coats,  toys and a two year old. Finally, we’re on the F train, heading home. Four stops, swap trains, three stops and we’re home. The day is coming to an end. Somewhere between the second and third stop, my darling angel whose screams have now stopped, grabs his crotch and says “I need pee-pee mummy”.  Really? We had gone pee-pee three times already less than 15 minutes ago, he needs to go again? “You need to hold on baby”.  Too late.  I could feel this warmth on my leg.  The warmth was spreading down and around my thighs.  Oh good god, my child was peeing on me.  Deep breath. I think to myself ‘no problem, he’s wearing 2 layers of pants, I’m wearing 2 layers of pants, they’ll absorb it. We’ll get home wash up and all will be over.’ Then I look down. There is a stream. Nay, a freaking river of my child’s pee flowing down the car of the F train. It wasn’t an empty car either, there were about 10 people in the car; enough to know where the source of the river was coming from.  I freeze for a second, and can feel the stares and gazes of the people on the train. My son starts crying now, he can probably see them staring and shooting daggers at us through their eyeballs. What do I do now? The wet wipes I have on hand aren’t enough for me to mop this mess up on the train. I do the only thing I can do. Hug my child closer to my chest, close my eyes and do not make eye contact with anyone.

Fast forward a few hours, when we’re sitting at home, dry and not smelling of “pee-pee” when I realize I left my child’s Ipad at the dance studio. Thank god for Uber Rush.

ash and tweetie
Tweetie and I, 2010 in Perth, Australia during her dance workshop residency