Today, it is my pleasure to introduce to you my BFF/twin-separated-at-birth-but-somehow-turned-out-blonde, Andrea Speir.
Andrea’s a kick-ass pilates instructor with the most amazing vibrant personality. You can’t be with this girl and frown. It’s impossible.
As I got closer with Andrea over the years, I learned how she came to be the positive, inspiring person she is today. It hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows. In fact, her dreams were shattered at one point… literally.
I’m going to let her take it from here. I hope you her story inspires you to overcome your setbacks just as much as she inspires me every day!
“If you can’t dance in two days, you are out.”
These are the words I heard as my mind buzzed in increasing panic.
The horrific injury in my knee had swiftly become an insignificant side fact.
So far, my entire life’s passion and discipline had led up to the moment.
I was 16 years old, and dance was my life.
I think I began to love dancing as soon as I could get up on my feet and shake it in my little diaper. Even at such a young age, whenever I heard music, my body filled with an intoxicating energy and it thrilled me to my core.
I began dance classes for fun,which quickly transformed from a hobby into my life.
I danced every day after school. My Capezio dance bag was full of jazz shoes, jazz sneakers, tap shoes, character shoes, ballet slippers, pointe shoes, chiffon skirts, you know name it. Though I built up a special place in my heart for contemporary and Fosse style jazz (jazz hands anyone? Yeah, that was me every day).
I spent every afternoon at the studio, from the ringing of the school bell until dinner time. Soon this increased to classes after dinner as well. I sacrificed after-school sports and hanging out with my friends at the local cool spots..(like Jack in the Box…ok, so maybe not that cool..).
When I heard about the specialty summer arts school at CalArts in Valencia, CA, my ears perked up instantly.
The school was 4 weeks of living with like-minded, amazing artists that would culminate in a final showcase for the school and people in the entertainment industry, as well as a live TV taping. This program could make my lifelong dream of becoming a professional dancer a reality.
The dance program consisted of all day long classes from top teachers in the dance industry.
Excited out of my mind, I immediately put my audition tape together with the help of my supportive parents.
The day I received the acceptance letter, I just about jumped out of my boots… (er, character shoes). I was in!
My parents dropped me off three months later. I was standing on a hill surrounded by young people. It was late afternoon. Some people were playing guitars or other instruments. Others were dancing completely uninhibited.
I was terrified.
Before I had too much time to be scared, someone came up and started talking to me. Then another.
These people did what they loved, said what they thought, and didn’t care who was looking or possibly judging.
Within minutes I was on the good-vibe train, too. Within hours I felt so loved and accepted by strangers, I was making jokes I might have held back. I was laughing louder than I was accustomed to, I was singing and dancing out loud. I was glowing. I was being who I was deep down.
I’ve never felt so free in my whole life.
As a result of this judge-free environment, I felt my dancing become more expressive than ever. I danced out on that hillside to the live music with my eyes shut for the next four weeks and when I opened my eyes, people were dancing with me. No one was judging me. Sometimes to this day, I shut my eyes and place myself on that hill to build strength within myself if I feel I need a jumpstart of courage.
The people at Calarts, both teachers and students, inspired me more than any group of people ever have.
Never had I felt more comfortable in my own skin or accepted for just being who I am.
We began getting filtered into groups to perform in the final showcases. I was chosen to be a dancer in the contemporary jazz number which was choreographed by one of Janet Jackson’s top dancers. This was an incredible opportunity.
The dance schedule was rigorous, though.
We started each day with an extended ballet or modern class, followed by a few more classes.
We were dancing 8 hours a day, every day. I was always tired, but I pushed through because I loved it so much.
I was at the ballet barre at CalArts when my knee cap collapsed.
It was a few days before our huge showcase and live TV taping.
I was carried into the physical therapy room and told I needed to do Pilates to rehab it immediately. My knee couldn’t handle the load of all-day rehearsals.
Even as they told me that this was the only way to keep dancing, I didn’t believe that doing Pilates once or twice a day could replace the athletic endurance required for dancing at this level. I was scared it wouldn’t work. I was scared I was never going to be able to dance again.
In a cloud, I began watching my dance dreams fade away. My body wasn’t listening to my mind and dreams! How could it fail me now when I needed it most?!
In this competitive dance world, if I couldn’t dance, I would be left behind.
“If you can’t dance in two days, you are out,” the choreographer told me the day I returned to the studio.
I began my Pilates as prescribed, and was blown away. It felt SO good on my body, and my injuries felt better within hours.
Pilates works and strengthens all the little muscles in the body. The effect of this was crucial. The resistance training allowed my muscles to strengthen safely and support the torn tendon.
Because of Pilates, I was able to dance in the showcase, and I had the time of my life. I realized there was another thing that could fill me with wonder over the control and power we have with our bodies.
Even after I left CalArts, I continued Pilates. It kept my knee feeling strong, as well as the rest of my body. I found myself finding strength in other physical activities I did, and I’ll be honest with you, it made my body look better than ever.
What made me fall in love with pilates, though, was the different way my body started working. Pilates connected my mind to my body in a way that it never had before. When I danced, I let my mind go completely. When I do Pilates, I am fascinated and awed by the power of my mind over every little piece of me.
I realized that strength was my choice: I could think myself stronger.
My life became stronger because my mind was stronger. My brain began to trust my body and my body listened to and trusted my mind.
The life of a dancer is a rough road, and after suffering a car accident and subsequent broken rib (that’s a story for next time ;)), I decided to turn away from the professional dancer path.
Dancing with a broken rib endangered the safety of my lungs and that wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. I was told I could either get surgery to remove my rib or attach it to my ribcage. I chose neither. It came down to risking the safety of my body and emotional well being, and it wasn’t worth it.
I began doing Pilates instead. The core work acted like a corset to hold my rib in place. To this day, I continue my consistent work to keep the crazy rib in line.
An extra bonus of such a mindful workout is the peace it brings to the crazy toiling of our brains. I found whenever I was going through some sort of emotional break-up, or bump in the road, Pilates helped my mind let go of the constant obsessing and unease and instead focus on the more powerful thoughts and energy.
I am always reminded after my sessions of how strong I am, inside and out. I now know in the back of my mind that I have endless strength, even when I feel vulnerable. Even when I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Pilates is my constant reminder that I can overcome anything life throws at me.
Since discovering how I can harness the passion and thrill of using my body, I realized that it isn’t just dancing that thrills me. Learning that I can use my body with control while matching beauty and freedom in my everyday life has made me realize you don’t need any one thing to make you happy. I have me and my body and my health, and that is the best thing I could ever ask for.
Andrea Speir is a pilates instructor in Los Angeles and personally kicks my a** every week. Andrea Speir Pilates focuses on fun, energetic sessions that get results. If you’re in LA, check her out as well as our upcoming Lululemon bootcamp (that’s right, there’s another one in the works)! If not, no worries; she’s online, too! Click here to go to her site and make sure to like her page on Facebook for inspirational images, tips and fun!
I just got home from the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon, and I am freaking inspired out of my mind! Needless to say, many new exciting things to come, so stay tuned!
shoe photo by melalouise