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Paint It Black

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By Ed Staskus

“Everybody needs a helping out, if that ain’t what it’s all about, tell me what.” Amy Grant

Going 9000 miles anywhere is a taxing no picnic undertaking. All roads may lead to the same end, but if you are an Iowa farmgirl since transplanted to Cleveland, Ohio, going to India is not the same as going to Seattle or Boston or someplace in between. It’s going halfway around the world to another continent culture world view.

Despite economic progress, India remains a poor country. Someone is always begging you for a hand-out. Pushing and shoving is a way of life. Personal space isn’t personal, it’s public. There are a billion Indians. Pick pocketing is common. Grab and go is even more common. Getting anything back after the fact is uncommon. Sanitation and hygiene are lacking. Among other things, Delhi Belly is a pain in the butt.

If you are a Western woman, staring and unwanted attention are par for the course anyplace anytime day or night.

When Deanna Black went to India last month, she made the trip look easy. She didn’t stand still for anything. She kept her eye on the prize.

“I’m not surprised,” said Frank Glass.

“The first class I ever took taught by Deanna was by accident, it was the hardest yoga class I ever took, and I had to sit out going to Inner Bliss the rest of the week.”

This from a man who three times a week for three years went to Bikram Yoga classes until he had no more sweat to give.

Deanna Black is a yoga teacher and holistic fitness trainer. Her point of view is far and wide. She studies engages practices aerobics, Prana Flow, Ashtanga, strength training, TRX, kettle ball, Insanity, Zumba, spinning, West African Dance, hoop dance, slacklining, stand up paddle board yoga, and “any other movement and activity that connects you with your body, your mind, your soul, and the nature around you.” She also assays positive psychology, which comes in handy when you are at the front of the room.

“Deanna was subbing that class. No one expected what we got,” said Frank. “She wasn’t bossy or demanding. She was actually encouraging, but she kept at it. She’s nothing if not relentless. I remember wondering if I was going to make it.”

She has studied with Shiva Rea and her Prana Vinyasa teacher training program since 2004. “The classes I create are designed to empower you to do more than you thought possible,” she says. “The benefits are more than meet the eye.”

She is an old-fashioned modern kind of gal, “balancing and aiming for what I want while leaning on the history of what worked and did not work from the past.”

The class was a mix of sheer effort vinyasa, endurance strength work, and baling hay, even though Deanna Black has done undergrad and grad coursework in advanced exercise physiology and psychology at Iowa State University. Making your way in the class, however, wasn’t about classwork and observation reading study reflection.

“It was about peeing on the electric fence for yourself,” said Frank Glass.

She can back off the pedal to the metal if she has to, as when she volunteers for teaching dance fitness to seniors at the Westside Community House.

Born and bred in a small town in Iowa, living in the big city of Cleveland since 1995, Deanna describes herself as a “farm girl whose DNA is filled with farmers, teachers, trailblazers, and travelers, and an adventure yogini, thrive activist and bucket list catalyst.”

It’s a lot to be. It’s a lot like mixed farming.

Mixed farming is a blend of multiple crops and livestock, maximizing light, moisture, and nutrients, complementing land and labor demands across the year. Erosion is minimized, biodiversity is maintained, water is conserved, and habitats preserved. Monocultural farming may better increase production levels, but capitalism isn’t always the bottom line.

She goes back to Iowa often, especially during harvest time. Although she isn’t Old McDonald Had a Farm, she helps out in her own way.

“I can’t even call it a job, it’s so much fun,” she said. “I am taking care of the farm animals, which includes emceeing pig races and goat yoga. I am recess patrolling jumping pillows pedal karts apple slingshots and mazes. I am lifeguarding the corn pool, which includes acro yoga sessions. I am making delicious apple cider donuts and taste testing from our scratch bakery. And I have a team of farmtastic people to help.”

When she went to the subcontinent she went on behalf of the 88Bikes Foundation.

“They continue to be instrumental in my trips to India,” said Deanna. “For all the work they do with girls who are survivors or at risk for human trafficking. It is the timing of me doing this work with them on International Women’s Day, to empower, to educate, to let the world know that the female spirit is not to be suppressed. It is to be respected and honored.”

She arrived in Allahabad in early March. It was the day after the Kumbh Mela wrapped up. It had been going on since January 15th, although it’s been going on for centuries. The Kumbh Mela is a mass pilgrimage. In 2013, the last time it was staged in Allahabad, an estimated 120 million people came to it over a 2-month period.

“Flags were still flying from each country represented,” she said. “Even with many tents and porta potties still up, the area felt abandoned. Still, a feeling of peace washed over me, particularly after I stepped into the Ganga with prayers and gratitude. Afterwards, I visited the birthplace of Indira Gandhi and learned not only how remarkable she was, but how the women of India stood strong all together and made a significant difference. It was an inspiration for leading into International Women’s Day.”

Indira Gandhi was the first and only female Prime Minister of India. Even though a politician, she had once been a child revolutionary, leading the Monkey Brigade at the age of 12 as part of India’s struggle against the British Empire for self-determination. Despite often criticized as a “goongi goodiya” – dumb doll – she was twice prime minister and was named “Woman of the Millennium” by the BBC.

She was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984.

The brainchild of Dan Austin, a writer, filmmaker, and one-time bicycle deliveryman, the non-profit 88Bikes was born in 2007. In return for a sponsorship of $88.00, a bike is delivered to someone somewhere in the developing world. The child gets a photo of the person who donated the bike, and the donor gets a photo of the child who received it.

“We feel strongly that you can connect people across the world like this,” he has said. “I think that’s the root of what 88Bikes is about, this one-to-one connection.”

It’s many thousands of bikes going to Peru, Cambodia, Mongolia, Ghana, India, two wheels at a time.

Deanna is aware of how much awareness it takes to get a bicycle into the hands of a kid with little chance of scoring one for him or herself. That’s why she goes halfway around the world. “It’s joy-based philanthropy,” she said. “What brings us joy? Connection!”

“The happiness they deserve is now within reach,” says Dan Austin.

Before she could get 88Bikes on the road, however, she found herself speaking in front of a large group in Allahabad gathered for the Run4Niine.

“The race is in recognition that thoughts and views on menstruation in India need to change,” said Deanna. “To say that this conversation is taboo is to say a conversation about women is taboo. To say menstruation is dirty is to say a girl or woman is dirty. It is beyond time to change this thinking.”

Even though menstruation is a natural phenomenon, like blinking heartbeats hairiness and breasts filled with milk, it is problematic in many parts of India. “Close to 70% of Indian women risk getting severe infection, at times causing death, due to poverty, ignorance, and shame attached to their menstruation cycle,” said Swapna Majumdar, a New Delhi journalist who writes on gender and development.

When they are menstruating, Indian women are not supposed to touch a holy book, handle kitchen utensils, or look at pickles. Demystifying what is supposedly taboo about periods and creating awareness about hygiene has been an uphill struggle in the country. More than 30% of girls in northern India drop out of school after they start menstruating.

“It is connection with birth and the cycle of life,” said Deanna. “It’s not something to be left unsaid. It’s part of the sacred flow of womanhood.”

The next day was the day to get into the flow of pedal power.

“I’m super excited,” she said. “Tomorrow one hundred girls are getting their own bicycle.” She and her companions, Ruby and Ramon of the Blossomy Project, were outside Kolkotta. About 500 miles east of Allahabad, on the Bay of Bengal, it used to be Calcutta, once an East India trading post, now the capital of West Bengal state, India’s third-largest city with nearly 5 million inhabitants.  It is regarded as the artistic, cultural, and intellectual center of the country.

It’s also the home of Mother House, headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa, who is buried there.

The Blossomy Project is a non-profit organization that works to empower survivors of human trafficking through art-based programs. Since riding a bike is as much an art as a skill, they were partnering with 88Bikes.

Deanna had a big envelope full of donor cards.

“Each card is one of who donated to 88Bikes. I am taking a road trip to meet these girls and give them their cards with their bikes.”

It was bright day in the 90s. March is the sunniest month of the year on the northern east coast of India, although it is also one of the wettest. A heavy rain and hailstorm had passed by a few days earlier.

“Watch out boys,” said Deanna, giving a donor card and bike to the first young girl. “This girl has got a bike with things to do and places to go.”

The first girl hopped on her bike and raced away.

“She took off immediately to school to take a Sanskrit exam. With her bike she can get to school much more easily. These girls also use their bikes to patrol the neighborhood and visit communities and bring awareness about how to stay safe.”

Ruby and Ramon and Deanna exchanged high fives.

“Each time I come to Kolkotta, these two have been instrumental in getting me and the bikes connected with girls,” said Deanna. “So happy to have the Blossomy Project. Shout out to Ruby acting as translator and all-out rock star making things happen.”

“I can go anywhere,” said another girl, getting on her bike.

Deanna showed her the back of the donor card that came with the bike.

“You can go anywhere,” it said.

“I love moments like this,” said Deanna.

Sunday night was Funday night in Kolkotta. Everyone went out to a show by Tanmoy Bose, a percussionist and tabla player. A native of the city, he was one of the first Indian musicians to meld folk songs and tribal drumming into a large band setting. His own band, the Taal Tantra Experience, signifies worship through rhythm. The music is nothing if not spilling over with life.

“I’m still amazed with that violin,” said Deanna. “If anyone in Cleveland knows of concerts like this, let me know, I wanna go.”

After the bikes were distributed, it was time to go home. The return flight to the United States from India doesn’t take two three days, but it might as well, when you’re on the way back to your own digs. Once on native ground, she exclaimed, checking out the run-up to the NCAA tournament, “Yeeeaaasss!!! Nothing like coming back to the States during March Madness!”

A few days later she got a Facebook message from Amita Gour, one of the girls who had gotten a bike.

“Thanks for your visit to Allahabad, Deanna,” she wrote.

“So happy to spend time with you and your family,” Deanna wrote back. “Thank you so very much for all the time you spent with me showing me around. And thrilled about your new bike.”

The thrill is in lending a helping hand.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Bang a Gong

By Ed Staskus

The first day of spring will officially arrive in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, in about six weeks, on Friday March 20th, shortly after noontime. The sun may or may not make an appearance. Whether Dawn Schroeder will be in her backyard practicing yoga depends more on its unofficial than official arrival. It can and will be cold cloudy wet in March April and into May.

High temperatures slowly go up to 51°F by the end of the month. How often the sky is mostly cloudy or completely overcast actually goes down from 62% to 56%. The chance of a rainy day over the course of March, however, goes up, starting the month at 23% and ending it at 30%.

It’s not that Dawn is a fair-weather yogi practitioner sadhak. She cleaves to it all year round, especially since she teaches the practice, too. But living in C-land is living four seasons, and some of those seasons are lived indoors, for the most part, for good reason.

Snowstorms in March and April are not uncommon in northern Ohio. The snowfall in April 2005 set a record at 19 inches. Two years later more than 13 inches fell in April. All the green and budding growing things had to take a break and wait it out, waiting for life.

“Yoga and meditation have served me well as I navigate and embrace my life,” says Dawn.

She describes herself as “an experienced vinyasa and Kundalini Yoga teacher, with over two decades of active teaching, a wife, mother, sister, friend, gardener, nature lover, curious seeker, and a gong and sound enthusiast.”

The gong is a metal disk with a turned rim, a large percussion instrument played by hitting it with a mallet. It makes a complex resonant echoing sound.

“The gong is the first and last instrument for the human mind,” said Yogi Bhajan, the man who brought Kundalini Yoga to America in the 1960s. “Vibrate the cosmos and the cosmos shall clear the path.”

Banging a gong is a kind of sound practice that involves using specific tones and vibrations to facilitate healing. It is sometimes called a gong bath, like being bathed in meditative sound waves. The goals of gong meditation are therapeutic, healing the mind and body, and expanding one’s awareness of the present.

“Becoming a certified and registered yoga teacher saved me when I was a stressed-out bond futures broker at the Chicago Board of Trading in the mid-’80s,” said Dawn. “It healed my body, soothed my soul and ignited my spiritual path. It is my faithful companion.”

Bond trading isn’t for everyone. It’s demanding and stressful, personally emotionally intellectually. There are times when you are on top of the world and other times when you’re the worst trader in the history of capital markets. It’s tough being a Bond Girl, especially when the action goes against you. It can be a lucrative job, but it can also be a job that drives you unglued out of your mind.

“There is only one thing that can supersede and command the human mind, the sound of the gong,” said Yogi Bhajan. “It is the first sound in the universe, the sound that created this universe. It is the basic creative sound. The sound of the gong is like a mother and father. The mind has no power to resist a gong that is well played.”

Dawn received her first yoga certification in 1986. “I have been learning ever since,” she says. Learning every day is living like what you did yesterday isn’t going to be enough for tomorrow.

“I completed my first Yoga Teacher Training in 1985 and being a life-long student, I continue to train today. I have been a Level One Kundalini Yoga and Meditation teacher since 2011, and I train with prominent teachers, attend immersions, retreats, and have begun my Level Two Training.”

Ten years later, she left Chicago, moved to Cleveland, able to spend more time with her family. and stepped into teaching yoga professionally.

“I actively study many styles of yoga by attending teacher trainings and workshops,” she said. “I am a Registered Yoga Teacher with the Yoga Alliance at the E-RYT 500 level, a KRI Certified Kundalini Yoga teacher, and I am trained in YogaEd. As Adjunct Faculty, I teach Yoga for Educators courses and Yoga courses at Baldwin-Wallace University.”

She is also an avid gongster.

I am a Gong Meditation Enthusiast.”

She and her husband Mark host Triple Gong and Mantra Meditations on weekends at the Unity Spiritual Center in Westlake, not far from their home. Get it on, bang a gong, or more.

A Roman gong from the 2nd century was excavated in Wiltshire in England and they were known in China since the 6th century. The word gong is Javanese, where they were used from the 9th century onwards. Flat gongs are found throughout Asia and knobbed gongs dominate in Southeast Asia.

On Thursday nights the Schroeder’s host yoga, pranayama, kriya, meditation, and gong savasana at the Schroasis. The Schroasis is at their house. In the winter the oasis is indoors, while in summer the oasis is outdoors.

“We absolutely love how the Kundalini Yoga and Meditation Immersions have grown and connected us,” she says. “It’s a way to practice consistently with a fun, welcoming group of yogis. The immersions and offerings are always open to students of all levels, true beginners to seasoned yogis,” she said.

“Filling ourselves up from the inside grows our gratitude. Choose to fill yourself up intentionally with meaningful experiences that create sustaining fullness, curiosity, growth, and contentment, while relying on both established experiences like on-going yoga classes and new experiences to fuel your inner glow.”

The gong is used in Kundalini Yoga as an instrument of healing, rejuvenation, and transformation. The sound waves ostensibly stimulate our cells. The idea is to increase prana, the vital life force, release tension and blocks in the body, encourage the glandular and nervous system, and improve circulation. It is also thought to work on the mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies, quieting the mind in the long run.The idea is to take the listener to their non-judgmental neural mind, to a state of quiet, of stillness.

“I see my dharma as sharing what I know, and supporting growth, expansion, connection, truth, and unity in this world,” said Dawn. “This clarity in my purpose led to the creation of our PranaVerdana, hosting, co-creating, and facilitating events that are joyful, uplifting and inspiring, creating vibrant life force energy, prana. Moving our prana toward a green, lush heart-centered world is what I generously offer.”

In Sanskrit, prana means primary energy. It is sometimes translated as breath or vital force. Although prana is the basic life-force, it can be considered the original creative power. It is the master form of all energy at every level. It has also been translated as bio-energetic motility, alive and moving, associated with maintaining the functioning of the mind and body. Kundalini, in its form as prana-kundalini, is identical to prana.

“The gong is very simple,” said Yogi Bhajan. “It is an inter-vibratory system. It is the sound of creativity itself. The gong is nothing more, nothing less. One who plays the gong plays the universe. The gong is not an ordinary thing to play. Out of it came all music, all sounds, and all words. The sound of the gong is the nucleus of the Word. “

In the beginning was the word, a sound, a vibration.

“The way I play it is my pleasure,” he added. “The gong is not a musical instrument, nor a drum. The gong is God, so it is said and so it is. The gong is a beautiful reinforced vibration. It is like a multitude of strings, as if you played with a million strings. The gong is the only tool with which you can produce this combination of space vibrations.”

Dawn teaches yoga at the Inner Bliss studios in both Rocky River and Westlake and freelances around town. She has completed Advanced Chakra Yoga Teacher Training and Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage trainings. “I am a polarity practitioner, and bring my exploration of Ayurveda, Reflexology, energy work, and essential oils to my client wellness services.”

She facilitates a variety of workshops, events, retreats, and trainings. “I have a playful, mature, empowering, eclectic style of teaching influenced by my trainings, personal experiences, and practice,” said Dawn. She inspires energizes networks collaborates. She fires it up.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” says Cher Lukacs, founder and director of Sat Nam Studio. “Dawn Schroeder, my teacher, had been working tirelessly to bring the first Kundalini Yoga teacher training to Cleveland. After her Saturday morning classes, she would regularly report her steady progress toward making this dream a reality.

“A year earlier I had rented the space next to my law practice, planning to sublet to like-minded professionals. Despite some interest, it was not jelling. It was as if the space was quietly waiting.  One day when Dawn announced that a new space was needed for the training, I suddenly heard myself telling her, I have a space.”

“The studio was bornas a school of Kundalini Yoga.”

“Gong is the only instrument that can create the vibration of affirming,” said Yogi Bhajan. “Life becomes yes to you and the word no is eliminated from your dictionary.”

Gongs are an integral traditional aspect of Kundalini Yoga. Every Kundalini ashram and yoga center and ashram is supposed to have a gong and use it faithfully., since it is felt to be more than a musical instrument, more in the realm of a healing tool. There are several mantras practitioners often chant out loud as a class before the playing of the gong. One of them is the Bhakti mantra and the other one is the Mangalacharan mantra. The one shows an appreciation for the moment and the gong while the other signals peace and centeredness.

“A gong bath truly is a transformative experience,” says Bridget Toomey, who teaches Kundalini Yoga at Heartland Yoga in Iowa City.

“To get a taste, start by imagining yourself lying in a dark room, on top of a yoga mat, covered in a blanket. The teacher directs you to relax each part of your body one muscle at a time, from your toes to your tongue. The sound begins quietly at first and then slowly becomes louder and more rhythmic and trance-inducing. The vibrations wash over your body. Time seems to slip away and what feels like five minutes can really be 30. That is the power of a gong bath.”

At about the same time Dawn Schroeder was transitioning out of bond trading in Chicago, the Philadelphia rock ‘n’ roll star Todd Rundgren was headlining the charts with his hit single ‘Bang the Drum All Day.’

“I don’t want to work, I want to bang on the drum all day, I don’t want to play, I just want to bang on the drum all day, I can do this all day.”

“You have no resistance against this sound, the gong,” said Yogi Bhajan “It is the master sound. Everything you think becomes zero. The gong prevails.”

“I am so grateful I found yoga and I love sharing it and watching students grow,” says Dawn. “I came to the mat seeking ease in my body and had no idea it would change my life. Yoga is the perfect complement to our hectic, stressful lifestyles.”

Dawn Schroeder isn’t a headbanger, but when she bangs her gong, she’s got her head in the right place.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Leap of Faith

By Ed Staskus

Names are signifiers and we are the signified. We have proper names, like Daniel and Kate and Muhammed. Some given names, like Lola, sound good in song and dance. Some names, like Ratso, don’t sound good under any circumstances. We have surnames, like McCarthy and Doiron and Zapatero.

We have pen names, like Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain, and John le Carre. There are logo names, like Colonel Sanders, whose double is the current Secretary of Defense in the USA. Sometimes we have pet names, like Winnie and Booboo, whether we have pets, or not.

There’s nothing and everything in a name, since a cauliflower is a cauliflower is a cauliflower, except when it isn’t, as in Denys Morgan, who is Denys Morgan, living and working in Cleveland, Ohio, except when she’s Devta Kaur, living and breathing and practicing Kundalini Yoga.

It was during an immersion teacher’s training course at the Kundalini Research Institute in New Mexico seven years ago that Denys Morgan received her spiritual name, Devta Kaur, which more-or-less means “one who has the consciousness of the divine or angelic.” It was a leap of faith.

The owner of Total Body Solutions in C-land, she is a masseuse and yoga teacher. She is hands on the wheel on a mission. She’s the kind of grass roots working woman that if she couldn’t cut hair, she wouldn’t open a barbershop. The change of name didn’t lead to a change of heart. She’s always been about service.

“My services are for those searching for freedom from stress and pain,” she says. She takes a holistic approach towards vitality and longevity. “My goal is to share my passion for massage, yoga, meditation, sound, vibration, and energy therapy with all. My mission is healing the world one person at a time.”

Zachary Lewis was one person one day when Denys Morgan gave him a hands-on demonstration of Shiatsu, a massage modality that translates as “finger pressure.”

“Lying shirtless on a mat on the floor, I marveled at her power to zero in on my tightest, sorest spots and to relieve tension in areas where I hadn’t even sensed it, such as my neck, shoulders and spine,” he said.

“Some techniques were new to me. Where most therapists place your limbs gently back down, she let my legs and arms drop heavily to the floor, or even tossed them down. Other times, she’d hold and shake them vigorously. While she used her feet to walk on or knead my muscles, or push me into a stretch, she was also just as likely to use her elbows as a wedge to break up knots.”

Shiatsu is using all your fingers and toes and elbows.If you’re Denys and Devta rolled into one, it’s going at it with twenty fingers and multiple elbows. If you’re Zachary Lewis, it’s rolling with the punches.

He left a new man.

A pseudonym is a name someone uses instead of his or her real name. Pseudonyms include aliases, pen names, stage names, nicknames, superhero and villain names. Some are on the upside and some are on the downside. “Baby Face” Nelson sounds good, but he was a bad man. Beta Ray Bill defends those threatened by monsters. Vlad the Impaler says it all.

James Butler Hickock was known as “Wild Bill” by the wild men he ran to ground. GM’s CEO Charles Wilson was known as “Engine Charlie.” Kal-El’s alias is Clark Kent and Clark Kent’s stage name – star of comic book and screen – is Superman.

In some cases, pseudonyms are adopted because they are part of a cultural or organizational tradition, for example, devotional names used by members of a religious or spiritual fraternity.

In the tradition of Kundalini Yoga, a spiritual name is both vibration and vise grip helping to elevate energy through the power of sound and meaning. It is your soul’s identity. It challenges you to live up to your highest consciousness. Adopting a spiritual name is taking a step toward leaving old habits and old thinking behind and connecting more deeply with your real infinite self, according to 3HO.

3HO and Kundalini Yoga are what Yogi Bhajan brought to the western world from India in the late 1960s.

“You are all here and we will ask you to understand your spiritual incarnation and your spiritual name and try to find the strength to live it. I give you a healthy, happy, holy way of life,” he said.

“Thank you, Guru Ram Das, for building the beautiful Golden Temple for seekers to find their way home. I will never forget the palatable presence of the Naad as I stood in awe in the sacred, timeless place. Truly the highlight of all my trips to India! On the day of your birth, I bow to you again and again!” said Devta Kaur about her most recent visit to the sub-continent.

The Golden temple in Punjab, India, is called the Golden Temple because it is plated in gold. It is the most prominent pilgrimage site of Sikhism. The construction of the building was completed by Guru Ram Das, the fourth guru of the Sikh tradition, in the late 16th century. To this day a unique feature of it is twenty-four-hour free food. The Golden Temple gives out grub to thousands of people every day, on the house, for the asking.

Denys was certified as an aerobics instructor by the Aerobic Fitness Association of America in 1986, launching her career in the health and fitness way of life. She has since drilled in many different kinds of aerobic exercise and strength training.  In 1997 she was certified as a personal trainer with the National Alliance of Fitness Professionals.

Her academic work has been mostly in biology and psychology. She holds an Associates in Arts degree and studied pre-med at Cleveland State University. She spent a semester abroad studying biology at the University of Westminster in London.

She spent more than ten years as a Red Cross volunteer certifying people in CPR and first aid. Anyone who jogs on running trails, hits the weights at their gym, plays touch football, will need first aid sooner or later. In the meantime, a good massage is a good balm.

Denys got going on massage therapy in 1991 and received her license to practice from the State Medical Board of Ohio in 1994. In general, she offers therapeutic deep tissue massage combining a variety of different techniques. Her specialties are Japanese Shiatsu, Chinese Medicine, and Native American healing.  She has trained in other massage modalities, including Swedish Massage, Cranial-Sacral Therapy, Trager Method, Myofascial Release, Reflexology, and Reiki, among others.

She has been named “Best Massage Therapist” in northeast Ohio and has been a guest several times on local radio and television stations. Her clients include all walks of life, professional football and basketball players, dancers from the Cleveland Ballet, triathletes, cyclists, marathon runners, not to mention unheralded weekend warriors and office workers who spend all day in a chair, to their regret.

Denys has worked professionally with movement and fitness for more than thirty years, and in a few years, burning the midnight oil, will have been studying yoga for thirty years. She began at the Reese Institute in Orlando, Florida, and in 1992 completed her teacher’s training. In 1994 she started teaching yoga in the Forest City. She has developed an eclectic blend of several styles, including Hatha, Ashtanga, Raja, Bhakti and Kundalini, as well as Dynamic Meditation and Tibetan yogic techniques.

It’s diverse and eclectic, but it’s more old-school yoga than spin yoga or yoga tone and sculpt or yogalates. It’s more than exercise. It’s more than just fitness, although a component of fitness is one of the gears. It’s not about the Body of Steel. It’s more like the Christian Body of Glory or the Tibetan Rainbow Body. It’s a frame of mind.

Much of her knowledge comes from the horse’s mouth, having spent time in ashrams up and down India. In 2007 she worked on Kriya and Raja Yoga, Osho and Vipassana Meditation, as well as Yoga Trance Dancing for six months. While there she committed herself to Bhakti Yoga and took lessons in leading devotional singing and Sanskrit chanting.

Two years later she was back in India for six more months, furthering her studies of Dynamic Meditation with an Osho Master. She spent several months in the Himalayas completing her International Teachers Training Program, accredited through Yoga Alliance, giving her a total of over 800 hours of overall training in all aspects of the vocation. She took courses in sound therapy, learning the vibrations of Tibetan Singing Bowls, chimes, and symbols to create healing energy through sacred sound. She spent several months in the practice of Bhakti Yoga, singing bhajans daily.

She has led retreats to India, as well as in Central America. She has taught in Serbia, England, and Italy. She spent several years living in Costa Rica practicing yoga and massage and ran a retreat center. She co-hosted adventure yoga and surfing on the Caribbean coast.

Sometimes the highest goal of human existence is sprinting to the surf to catch a bitchin’ barrel.

In 2010 Denys co-hosted a 10-day yoga retreat to Goa, India, authorizing the participants to an 80-hours training certificate accredited through Yoga Alliance. She helped them sightsee some of India’s holiest places, such as Hampi, the birthplace of Hindu culture, Varanasi, the place where pilgrims come to worship the Ganges River, and Bodhgaya, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment She was a kind of spiritual Rick Steves, sans cable TV show and eat drink make merry.

In 2015 she co-founded the Ananda Bhakti Hatha Yoga teacher Training program. In 2017 she started a program called “Stay Sane,” which incorporates Kundalini Yoga to help those struggling with mental health issues.

As a teacher she has an extensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology, yoga philosophy, and brings enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication to her work. As a healer, bodyworker, and spiritual mentor she relies on her intuition and inspirations.

Denys follows the tenets and spark of Shirdi Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Baba, Pramahansa Yogananda, Meher Baba, and Yogi Bhajan. “By their grace I am blessed to spread their message. The essence of my work is prompted by my guru, Sai Baba. ‘Love All, Serve All’ and ‘Help Ever, Hurt Never.’”

In the past year she has joined forces with Pop Life. Located in the Waterloo Arts District, on the east side of the North Coast, the collaborative is rooted in art, design, and wellness. They work with artists and designers and the space features a gallery, yoga and wellness studio, and a cafe. She is the yoga and wellness director.

Next year she will be conducting a RYT 200-hour certified course at Pop Life featuring Kundalini Yoga. “Level One Teacher Training in Kundalini Yoga is a transformative experience, whether you decide to teach, or simply use it as an opportunity for personal growth. You will change,” she says.

We all change as we grow, but the only time you need a change of heart is when your heart isn’t in the right place to begin with.

Her intention for the program is inspired by Yogi Bhajan. “I want to make my teachers ten times greater than myself” and “I have come here not to get students, but to make teachers,” he said. Although the program will be diversified, it will regardless offer authentic philosophical and devotional components.

“Those changes can be a challenge to your family and your community. Don’t take it personally and definitely don’t make any big decisions during training. Simply allow yourself to dive deeply into your own identity. It is a physical and mental challenge. Do your best to keep up and set up your life.”

Pop Life isn’t like Pop Art. It’s not on the outside looking in. It’s not stuck in any moment. It’s on the move. It doesn’t look like anything other than what it is.

Denys Morgan, even by another name, whatever the signifier, popping the collar of whatever hat she’s wearing, living her life heart desire, is the thing itself, everything that is significant.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Hot Room Badass

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By Ed Staskus

“I’ll have the whole grain pancakes and coffee,” said Barron Cannon.

“Cream and sugar?” asked Chris, the bartender, wearing a “Best Burgers” black sweatshirt.

“Black,” said Barron.

He was a vegan.

“And you?”

“Three eggs easy over, sausage links, whole wheat toast, cream for my coffee,” said Frank Glass.

He was not a vegan.

Barron and Frank were sitting at the bar at Herb’s Tavern in Rocky River for a late Saturday morning breakfast. “Add a lemon slice to the iced water, and no straw,” said Barron. “If you’re over three years old, or not disabled, you shouldn’t be drinking out of a straw. On top of that, whoever thought of disposable plastic straws should be horse whipped.”

“What got into you today?” Frank asked, changing the subject. Something was always getting into Barron. When it came to the environment and climate change, he wore blinders, always ready to get into it.

“I don’t know,” said Barron. “I was feeling good alert, just feeling it.”

They had come from Barron’s warm flow yoga class earlier that morning. Both of them, and probably everyone else in the class, had worked up an appetite. Barron owned and taught at a yoga studio on the east end of Lakewood, a ten-minute drive away.

“It reminded me of the way Kristen Zarzycki used to teach her Sunday afternoon five-dollar classes at Inner Bliss.”

“Is she still teaching?” asked Barron. “I thought she had gone into biotechnology sales.”

“I don’t know, but when she was teaching, she was a tiger by the tail.”

Frank Glass had gone to three yoga classes a week for three or four years, and then twice a week Bikram Yoga classes for two more years. He had a herniated disk in his lower back. Almost nothing helped. A hot water bottle helped, a daily NSAID helped, and yoga helped. He had attended a dozen-or-so workshops in his time. He practiced at home now, only going to Barron’s studio once or twice a month to stay in touch.

“That way you can stay in touch with me,” said his wife, Vera.

“There would be a eighty ninety people crammed into the class, you know how Inner Bliss is, some of them in trim, most of them trying as hard as they could to keep up, sucking air, it was a fast flow, and Kristen would be on her mat, doing all the poses, and doing the dialogue, cheerful and upbeat, while half the class was dying, just trying to make it to the end. In the summer, even with the windows open, it could get hot in there.”

“My classes are fun yet challenging, taught from a base of gratitude and commitment to taking care of your body so that students can shine in their space on the mat,” says Kristen. “On the mat, I have learned that as in life, each person has areas where they struggle and those where they shine, and that the collaboration of all of our gifts is what makes our world so amazing.”

When asked what was in the backpack she carried to and from class, she said, “Gum, lip gloss, and binkie.”

Whether she meant a baby’s pacifier, the high hop a rabbit performs when happy, or a stuffed animal, was unclear.

“Was she your toughest teacher?” asked Barron, a flapjack shard on his fork dripping maple syrup.

“No, Deanna Black was a boat load. She was freelance, thank God, so I only ran into her when she was subbing. She drove her classes at breakneck pace, and every few minutes we had to do ten push-ups, or twenty sit-ups, or some damn thing, and then it was back to the flow.”

“Push-ups are good for you,” said Barron.

“Never mind about your two cents’ worth,” said Frank. “The thing is, if you faltered, say you collapsed in a push-up, she would come over and do twenty push-ups right next to you, smiling like a wolf. She didn’t actually do the class, instead she prowled around, explaining cajoling threatening, but one look at her was all you needed to know she could it, all the physical stuff, and another class after that, with no problem. She was incredibly fit.”

“Climb every mountain, ford every stream,” Barron sang, lilting.

“She did that in the off-season.”

“The benefits are more than meet the eye,” says Deanna. “Your reactions to the challenges in your physical practice often reflect and carry over to those from the challenges of daily living.”

“OK, so she was lusty and tough as nails, good for her,” said Barron.

“But she wasn’t the toughest teacher I ever met,” said Frank. “That would be Brian Paquette.”

“Who is Brian Paquette.”

“He taught Bikram Yoga at Chagrin Yoga, although they didn’t call it that because they weren’t one of the Brainiac’s licensed studios.”

Bikram Yoga was masterminded by Bikram Choudhury, practiced in a carpeted room heated to 105 degrees with a humidity of 40%, like India even before climate change. The walls were covered in mirrors. Instructors were taught to be high-handed and to teach from a hands-off literal platform at the front of the class.

“That man was a nut,” said Barron.

“He was a nut, but if you wanted to climb the mountain of posture yoga, his 26 postures in the torture chamber was the mountain.”

Bikram Choudhury’s philosophy of yoga was making pupils work through pain. “I am a butcher and I try to kill you, but don’t worry, yoga is the best death,” he told his followers.

“You took classes in Chagrin Falls? That’s a forty-minute drive one way.”

“Twice a week for two years, until I had enough of the most unrelenting remorseless cramps I have ever had in my life. I couldn’t drink electrolytes fast enough to replenish. I got a vicious cramp driving home one night and had to pull off on the shoulder before I killed myself and everyone around me. That was the beginning of the end, although by then the economics of taking classes wasn’t making sense to me anymore.”

“Whoa, there, my friend,” said Barron. “You’re talking about my bread and butter.”

“It wasn’t just that, although bread and butter played a part. It dawned on me there wasn’t any magic, not that yoga teachers aren’t magic, most of them are, any magic in going to classes anymore. Sure, it was engaging to practice in a collective atmosphere, but I knew enough by then to stand on my own two feet. What I didn’t know, I knew I could just ask you over breakfast or lunch. Can you pass the butter?”

“What made him so tough?” asked Barron

“What made Brian tough was that he didn’t come across as tough, at all. He came across as a good-natured guy. And he was a good-natured guy, patient affable understanding. Most Bikram Yoga teachers, not if but when you had to stop, always wanted you to stay in the room.”

“Just sit down on the mat for a minute,” the apostle on the platform would say. “It’s cooler at floor level.”

“That sounds like Bugs Bunny physics,” Barron laughed.

“It was maybe one half of a degree cooler on the floor,” said Frank. “Brian let people leave the room. He told us, if you have to, you have to. Try to come back if you can. He encouraged us to drink as much water as possible. I had one teacher, she trotted out the harebrained idea that water weighed you down and we should only be taking a missionary-sized sip once in a while.”

“He sounds like a simpatico kind of guy. Is he from Ohio, from here?”

“I’m not sure, although I don’t think so. When I was taking classes in Chagrin Falls, he told me he lived nearby, maybe even within walking distance. One night, after class, we were standing around, he mentioned he had gone through some hard times. He had been a professional gambler, something like that, for a while, and had fallen into a downward spiral. He got connected to yoga, somehow scraped up enough cash for Bikram Yoga teacher training, and trained in Las Vegas, of all places.”

Bikram Yoga teacher training is learning the world-famous system and learning to teach it, according to Bikram HQ.  They are dedicated to teaching trainees the precise nature of yoga. Everyone is nurtured in a challenging, but safe environment, no kidding.

Trainees learn how to greet students professionally and jawbone intelligently about the mental and physical benefits of yoga. Everyone is encouraged to develop a dedicated hatha practice. They are taught how to speak clearly and how to teach the sequence confidently, correcting students appropriately and compassionately, no fooling.

They learn how to grow their own personal yoga practice, sans steam, since it impractical in most apartments condos homes anywhere. There’s no kidding about that.

The training takes about four weeks and costs between $12 and $15 thousand, depending on what paradise on earth the training is set. The total costs include tuition, hotel accommodation, transportation, lectures, classes, towels, and all the water you need to complete the training in one piece.

Even though Bikram Choudhury has recently fled the United States after losing a multi-million-dollar civil suit for sexual shenanigans, he continues to stage his tent show around the rest of the world.

“Brian taught hot yoga, but he was more engaged with Kriya Yoga, which was crazy at odds with the Bikram way of life, which was fancy cars and fancy girls and cash on the barrelhead. He didn’t ever say much about Bikram Choudhury, although he once said yoga had been around a long time and no one had a proprietary claim to it.”

“So, he was more a Kriya kind of guy than a fancy pants?”

“That’s right. You’d ask him what his favorite pose was, and he’d say, ‘Meditation posture, straight spine, because it brings peace.’ His favorite books were the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, Holy Science, and Autobiography of a Yogi. If you asked him what made him happy, he’d say, ‘Meditation, singing the names of God, and spending time with my family.’ His favorite quote was, ‘Read a little. Meditate more. Think of God all the time.’ I forgot to ask him who said that, but it was probably some old-school yogi.”

“My God, he sounds like a saint, not a badass,” said Barron. “I mean, one of my favorite quotes is, ‘You better take care of me Lord, because if you don’t, you’re gonna have me on your hands.’ What does that make me?”

“Who said that?”

“Hunter S. Thompson.”

“Fear and Loathing?”

“Right-o.”

“Brian wasn’t like that,” said Frank. “He wasn’t a saint, just a regular guy, really, although he did a hell of a lot of meditation. I mean, hours of it. What I mean about him being a badass is the way he went about his business in the hot room. He always came in last, wearing mid-thigh compression shorts, no shirt, and carrying a jug of water. He ran the class like a grade-school teacher. He wasn’t like a drill sergeant, which was a persona most Bikram teachers took on in some way shape or form.”

“Why did he need water?” asked Barron. “I thought Bikram Yoga teachers just shouted out the poses from their soapbox. Why did he need a jug?”

“He did just about the whole thing, which is why he needed it. That’s why he takes the gold medal of badass yoga teacher, in my eyes, at least. Every class there were plenty of people who had to take a break or leave the room. A lot of them were young and fit. Brian did it day after day, no sweat. Getting through ninety minutes of the torture chamber wasn’t any walk in the park, man, it was hard.”

“How hard can it be?”

“Believe me, beyond hard,” said Frank. “You don’t see me doing it anymore.”

“You finally accept an offer to go to a class thinking, easy, I can do this.” said Benny Johnson about his first Bikram class.

“I played real sports for a few years, so how hard can it be? You arrive at the class thinking, let’s do this! But then you walk into the class and the heat hits you. It is ninety-one thousand degrees. You set up your mat in an open space. Little do you realize the hell awaiting you. The poses are relatively easy but holding them is hard. And you actually really start needing water, but it does not help! By the final stretches, you’re just limping along. Then the torture ends, and you lay down in a haze and total defeat.”

“More iced water?” asked Chris, walking up to the bar.

“Yes, please,” Frank and Barron both said.

They drank their water, paid the bill of fare, and left Herb’s Tavern.

“How did Brian reconcile Kriya with Bikram,” Barron asked as they walked to the back of the parking lot. “The two seem mutually exclusive. Kriya is about selflessness and Bikram was only in it for himself.”

“I don’t know, we never talked about it, but his actions, how he did things, seem to say he did. He was both a badass and one of the more sincere people I ever met. He was a quiet sparkplug. If you asked him what inspired him, he would say, ‘My guru, my wife and my children.’ If you asked him who sees the real you in this sketchy world, he’d say God.”

“It sounds to me that the way he practiced in the studio was the test of his sincerity,” said Barron. “He was melding the two, but not selling out.”

“He’s a religious guy in a secular world, a spiritual guy teaching a totally incarnate practice,” said Frank. “He was always urging us to meditate, even though we were all there for the crazy boot camp workout because all of us needed it for our own almost always physical reasons. He was hard to make out.”

“The good of the body depends on the goodness of the spirit, and the other way around,” said Barron.

They got into Frank’s Hyundai Tucson and pulling up to Detroit Road, a black squirrel built like the tailback Barry Sanders, crazy quick and elusive as the all-Pro, vaulted over the brick wall surrounding the outdoor front terrace with a chuck of stale bagel in his mouth. Frank feathered the brakes, but there was no need. He wasn’t the kind of squirrel who ran in circles and got run over. He dashed to the bushy endzone at the back of Century Cycles and disappeared into the trees.

“Have you ever noticed squirrels never say things like, if I had my life to live over, I would do whatever?” asked Frank.

“I know what you mean,” said Barron, chewing on a fresh bagel he had squirreled away in his pocket before leaving. “They’re just rats in better clothes, but they’ve got it going, for sure. They’re not vegans, but what’s more free and right in the head than a squirrel?”

They might get run over by us, squashed flat like pancakes by car after car, but they never fall out of trees into a world not of their making. They are second to none at planting their own trees, too. They bury their acorns, but often forget where they put them. The forgotten acorns become oak trees.

Ed Staskus posts a feature story monthly on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com.

Show on the Road

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By Ed Staskus

Erin McQueen isn’t a blonde, doesn’t often wear pearls carry a silk hand fan or suit up in gilded dresses with bows at the breast and puffed sleeves, and rarely looks perplexed. She does, however, speak with an English accent, which comes in handy when you’re a blonde sporting a string of pearls in a posh dress in the Restoration-era play “The Man of Mode.”

Staged by the Fountain School of Performing Arts at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the comedy by George Etherege is about a notorious man-about-town trying to slip-slide out of his love affairs and win over the young spunky seemingly virtuous heiress Harriet.

The play hit the bright lights way back when at just the right time. William Shakespeare had died 60 years earlier. The screws tightened by the Puritans had been recently loosened and women were finally being allowed to play female roles on stage.

There’s nothing like a gal in a gal’s role, rather than some scruffy cross-dresser.

“The make up and costumes are totally different from any other show we’ve done,” said Erin, then in her final year at the school. “Having the period costumes is really exciting. It’s a total transformation. The play truly is an authentic glimpse inside the intricate dating scene of 1676.”

Although she paced her prowling at a good trot, cast arched looks in the stagecraft of 17thcentury love stories, and had at it with barbed one-liners, like everyone else in a play that is all innuendo and intrigue, unlike everyone else in the play her English accent was neither feigned nor all wrong.

Even though she graduated from high school in Canada, spent four years at Dalhousie University, earning a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Theatre, lives in Victoria on the south shore of Prince Edward Island, and her father is Canadian, she isn’t, not entirely Canadian, not exactly.

Erin McQueen is British, born and bred in Bristol.

“It’s right on the border with Wales,” said Erin.

Iron Age hill forts and remnants of Roman villas dot the southwestern British landscape. In the 11thcentury the town was known as Brycgstow, easier to pronounce then than it is now. The port was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery to the New World in the 15thcentury. Today the modern economy of the city is built on aerospace, electronics, and creative media.

Unlike most cities, it has its own money, the Bristol pound, which is pegged to the Pound sterling. “Our town, our money,” is what they say in Bristol. Since money is a matter of belief, it’s best to believe in what you’ve got.

“There are a lot of art festivals,” said Erin.

“They do a scavenger hunt every summer with ceramic animals. They started with gorillas, giving giant ceramic gorillas to artists, who painted them, and businesses sponsored them in their shops and on sidewalks, where you had to find them. They have a theatre festival, too, but that only started when we left.”

She was 16-years-old.

“The first time we came to Canada we went to see Halifax, where my father was born. It also happened to be the 150thanniversary of ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ My sister Caitlin was a massive fan. My parents finally said, ‘OK, we are in Halifax anyway, we’ll just pop over to Prince Edward Island.’”

She was 11-years-old.

“We did the tour, all the Anne of Green Gables things,” said Caitlin McQueen. They stayed in Victoria, a small village of maybe one hundred residents near the Westmoreland River. It is much, much smaller than Bristol, which is the 8thlargest urban area in England, home to nearly a million.

”I remember saying to Erin, I know I’ve never been here before, but I feel like I am coming home. I feel like I am supposed to be here. It is a dream come true.”

“I don’t really know what happened after that,” said Erin, “but the next year and for a couple of years after, we came back, and we always ended up in Victoria.”

While on a return trip, Andy and Tania McQueen, Erin and Caitlin’s parents, bought a lot overlooking the village harbor. In 2012 the family immigrated to Canada. They commissioned a house to be built, to be completed for occupancy the following spring. That winter was the winter they almost went back to the UK, back to England, back to Bristol.

“We spent a year living in Hampton, just up the road, in a rented house that had no central heating,” said Erin. ”I’m honestly surprised we didn’t move home that winter, because it was horrible.”

The winter months on PEI can be cold, temperatures averaging below zero in January and February. There are many storms, veering from freezing cold rain to freezing cold blizzards. The February 2013 North American blizzard started in the Northern Plains of the United States. By the third day of its arrival in the Maritimes there was heavy snowfall, wind gusts were hitting 100 MPH, more than a thousand flights had been cancelled across eastern Canada, and all Marine Atlantic ferries were suspended.

There was nowhere to go, anyway.  There are few things as democratic as a snowstorm. It’s the same everyone everywhere.

“I feel like many people on this island have done that, lived without central heating, but British people aren’t cut out for Canadian winters in unheated houses. I had a comforter on my bed and many, many blankets. I often wore two pairs of pajamas.”

The McQueen family stuck it out.

“The main reason we didn’t move back to England was probably pride,” said Erin. “Obviously, you can’t move back after five months because your whole family back home would be saying, ‘Oh, so that didn’t go well?’”

The McQueen family cats stuck it out, too.

“They are rescue cats, Callie and Zebedee, and we got their vaccination papers together, and applied for pet passports. My uncle said, ‘Why don’t you just get new cats?’”

“You did not just say that!” said Tania McQueen. “They’re part of the family.”

“Let me tell you, though, cats do not like emigrating,” said Erin. “It traumatized them a little. The only other animals on the plane the eight-hour flight were two dogs, a little thing that barked all the time, and a big, quiet German shepherd. We’re still making up for it six years later.”

The cats slept in front of the fireplace in the living room in the rented house from morning to every next morning from the beginning to the end of winter. Unlike the upstairs rooms, there were no doors downstairs shutting the living room off from the kitchen and two back rooms. They made doors out of blankets to conserve the heat in the living room. The cat litter box was in one of the small rooms, behind a blanket door.

“They would wait quite a long time, and then dart behind the blanket, and as soon as they were done, run back in to the fireplace.”

The school buses stayed the course. Erin enrolled at Bluefield High School to complete her last two years. The family had waited leaving England until she finished her first set of high school exams there.

“It’s a big thing,” she said. “Everyone in the country takes the same exams. You study for them for two years. It’s what you’re working up to that whole time.”

Bluefield High School is in the small town of Hampshire. A $2 million dollar addition in 2000 enlarged and modernized the school, which as well as secondary education trains in carpentry, welding, and applied technology. All of its classrooms feature SmartBoards and there are two computer labs. The sports teams from badminton to hockey are all called the Bluefield Bobcats.

The school is thirteen miles and 90 minutes from Victoria.

“The bus went everywhere, so by the time I got there I didn’t really know where I was, because we had gone all over the island. My first day we did orienteering, even though the school is just surrounded by forest and potato fields. It wasn’t like you ever came across any houses. It was very different from Bristol.”

Her plan had been to study fashion design and costume, but her plans changed. “They didn’t have any sewing or couture classes. They did have drama, so I thought, I guess drama is where my theatrical tendencies are going to have to go.”

After graduation she enrolled at Dalhousie University, majoring in anthropology, keeping acting in the back of her mind. “I took acting as an elective and later auditioned for the program. If I get in, I’ll think about it, I thought. I didn’t think I actually would. And then I did.”

In order to find the unexpected it’s best to expect it. You can’t plan for it, but it’s what often changes your life. ”All creative people want to do the unexpected,” said Hedy Lamarr, the glamorous Hollywood starlet and designer of a patented frequency-hopping radio guidance system for torpedoes. Even though she once said, “Any girl can be glamorous, all you have to do is stand still and look stupid,” her smart invention was the precursor to GPS, secure WiFi, and Bluetooth technology.

“My sister is the anthropologist, no acting, although she’s fascinated by actors,” said Erin. “She thinks she might do a research project about them one day. Actors never know what the future holds. They’re rarely employed for a long time, always on the way to their next role. It’s living on the edge. It’s the idea that you could love doing something so much that you choose that over stability or financial security.

“That’s what I want to do.”

It’s taking the show on the road. “I’m just going to start auditioning in Halifax. There are so many small weird theatre spaces. I’m thinking of potentially writing a fringe play.” She has no plans of pursuing the discipline of anthropology.

Her four years studying the arts and sciences of theater at Dalhousie University were matched by four summers working in theater in her newly adopted hometown.

“My parents saw there was a job at the Victoria Playhouse. I needed to work in the village. It was the perfect job, since although I do now drive, I couldn’t drive at the time. I could meet people in the industry, too.”

The Victoria Playhouse, in the middle of town, in what used to be the Victoria Hall, seats about 150, and has been producing and presenting live theater and performance events for thirty-seven seasons. In 2007 it was designated a ‘Historic Place’ on the Canadian Register of Historic Places. History gets made every summer seven days a week on its stage.

She worked the refreshment stand her first two summers.

“I don’t do that so much anymore,” she said last summer. “You could say I’ve moved up.”

She worked part-time in the box office, then went full-time, and worked front of the house. Odd jobs became must-do jobs. “I helped one of the actors run their lines, and then I did that a couple more times.” When the stage manager was conscripted to do lighting cues, she went backstage. “I gave the actors their places, which was exciting. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure the show goes on.”

Sometimes the lighting cues are on the sturm und drang side of the curtain, occasioning careful calculation. Higher than normal water temperatures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence can and do morph into massive thunderstorms, roiling the island. It is batten down the hatches and check the flashlights.

“In villages like this, in bad thunderstorms, power goes out,” said Erin. “The doors are going to open in twenty minutes, the power keeps flickering off and on, and the management has to make a call about whether you think you can make it through the show.”

She became one of the emcees at the front of the stage, pointing out the exits, encouraging donations to the theater, and introducing the play. After the show was over was her favorite time. “It might sound corny, but at the end of the show, when we get to open the curtain and the applause, and afterwards the actors are happy, a kind of high, even with small crowds, that they brought a story to life and created some magic for the audience.”

After her employment contract at the Victoria Playhouse expired at the end of October, she moved back to Halifax, where she went to university, and where there is a red-blooded theatre scene. It is zesty and diverse, ranging from Zuppa Theatre, whose performances defy categorization, to the Neptune Theatre, whose performances outpace categorization.

“Some of the actors who worked at the Playhouse live in Halifax, so that’s quite cool,” she said. “They came to my shows at Dalhousie and I went to their shows.

“Acting, that’s my plan.”

If in the event a professional acting career doesn’t pan out, she is determined to keep her foot on the boards, front back or in the wings. ”If I wasn’t an actor, I’d be a secret agent,” said Thornton Wilder. Erin’s secret is all parts of the theater business interest her, from acting to directing to writing to the nuts and bolts.

“If I’m not acting, I will definitely be doing something in theatre. It’s plow ahead.”

It’s keeping your hand on the gospel plow.

“A part of me is intrigued by stage management,” she said. “Stage managers are another level of human being. They’re like super people with super powers. They’re the people you go to if you have any issues, personal, professional, or logistical. One of my stage managers at Dalhousie had a locker full of extra clothes and every kind of medicine you could imagine. They are prepared for anything.”

A career in the arts often means being a jack-of-all-trades.

“I am very into doing whatever I can,” said Erin.

If you want to accomplish anything something everything, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes, maybe not blood, but certainly sweat, and probably a locker loaded for bear, to make it work, to make it happen.

Ed Staskus posts a feature story monthly on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Down to the River

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By Ed Staskus 

   “Rhythm is something you either have or don’t have, but when you have it, you have it all over.”  Elvis Presley.

   On a Saturday morning in mid-fall, Olga Capas, Rita Zvirblis, and Vanessa Staskus ordered late breakfast early lunch at the Diner on Clifton, finding a table on the outdoor patio and easing into their seats twenty minutes after their ever first Zumba class. Over cups of steaming coffee, three-cheese omelets, patty melts, and shared sweet potato fries, they caught up with their breath and with tuning in to the sunny-side up movement exercise scene.

   “We got to class early and found our space in the back,” said Vanessa, “but then every minute somebody went behind us, so in no time we went from being in the back row to being in the front row.”

   If you’re in the front row you’re leading the parade. It wasn’t what they planned, but once the class started, they had to look alive. If you stop, you’re going to melt back into the tuba section, where you might get laid low.

   “I thought they were going to kick me out,” said Rita, “I have no rhythm, but it’s so fast, you can’t think about anything else besides keeping your feet moving.”

   She was being modest. She danced with the Grandinele folk dancers as a teenager and young adult. She traveled with the troupe to Chicago and Toronto, Europe, and South America. Folk dancing reflects the life of people from a place or country. It can be the upbeat southern Italian Tarantella, the rhythmic Turkish Haly, the Polish carnival party dance Polonaise, Kentucky clogging, and Korean sword dancing. Zumba is along the lines of a street dance.

   Grandinele was formed in Cleveland in the early 1950s by Liudas Sagys, who began his career as a professional dancer with the National Folk Dance Ensemble in Lithuania. He taught the steps and choreographed Grandinele’s country hoedowns while his wife Alexandra made the costumes and kept the books. He was the longtime director of the Cleveland Folk Dance Festival which in 1976 was recognized as “the best ever.”

   “I loved the Zumba, the music and moving,” said Olga. She always had tennis shoes at the ready in her hallway when she was ready to move.

   The three women are all of Lithuanian descent, one of them from the homeland, two of them immigrant stock, living west of the Cuyahoga River, on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, active and fit enough. Plump pale and healthy as an ox without batting an eyelash was the touchstone once upon a time, but the signs of the times have long since changed. Never fit and trim enough is where walking jogging running working out and Zumba come in.

   Zumba is a dance and fitness program created by exercise instructor and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez in Colombia during the 1990s when he improvised salsa music into an aerobics class. Since the turn of the century, it has expanded to 125 countries, taught by more than 20,000 certified instructors. Practiced weekly by approximately 14 million people worldwide it is today’s most popular dance fitness phenomenon.

   In 2012 Zumba was named the”‘Company of the Year” by Inc. Magazine and is today one of the largest fitness brands in the world, practiced everywhere from big-box gyms to church halls to community centers.

   At the Harrison Elementary School, sponsored by the Lakewood Recreation Department, classes are taught by Amy Annico, a hale hearty black-haired young woman sporting a quick smile, bright blue sneakers, and hauling a yellow Dewalt boom box about the size of an air compressor from her car to the class.

   “One minute she was monkeying with that big yellow thing,” said Rita, “and then at nine o’clock in the morning exactly it was blasting.”

   It was the blast off.

   “I’m not really for nightclubbing first thing in the morning,” Rita said, “but she makes it a lot of fun. It’s like partying yourself into shape.”

   Zumba is different than many other fitness programs because people don’t always take it for the fitness benefits, more often than not for the boogie and socializing, even though the results can be transforming.  It is a cardiovascular calorie-burning hour of twisting and turning in varying states of synchronization to loud bouncy infectious music.

   “They are taking it for the happiness and joy that they feel while they are doing it, and the fitness is just the result of this,” said Alberto Perlman, who with Alberto Perez was a co-founder of the Zumba enterprise.

   Zumba is essentially an aerobic fitness program, including basic core fitness, married to dance routines. Set to full of life Latin American beats, it burns up to 600 calories an hour, according to Harvard Health Publications. Sweating is not optional, since everybody starts sweating within a couple of minutes and doesn’t stop until the end of class.

   “Zumba is hard,” said Olga, “but it’s not hard like going to the gym. Sometimes I have to force myself to do that, but with Zumba the music is going, and you just want to move.”

   “It’s fast-paced and you’re watching Amy’s feet up on the stage,” said Rita between bites on a Reuben sandwich. “It’s those blue shoes she wears the whole time, trying to follow what she’s doing, and then you immediately start sweating.”

   “Immediately!” echoed Vanessa. “Sweat was dripping down the small of my back before the warm-up was even over.”

   Amy Annico, a music teacher as well as part-time actress, has taught Zumba since 2008 at area YMCA’s, Live Well Lakewood, health fairs, and retirement homes. She attends the annual Zumba Instructor Convention in Orlando, Florida, every year, upgrading her skills

   “I’m trained in Zumba, which is for everyone,” she said, “and Zumba Gold, which is for older, active adults, and Zumbatomic for kids.” There is even Aqua Zumba, a water-based workout integrating Zumba with aqua fitness themes. A great deal of jumping and splashing is involved. Strapless bathing suits are strongly discouraged, for good reason.

   “The Harrison school class is a great community class,” Amy said. “Everyone’s dancing, it’s like a party, people are hooting and hollering and shaking, and the hour flies by and you don’t even know it.”

   By all accounts shimmying, shaking and sliding, hooting and hollering, as well as chest pumping and bootie shaking, are encouraged subscribed to and applauded. You may not get a gold star, but you’ll be a shooting star.

   “I always say, don’t be shy, give it a try,” said Amy Annico. “It’s all about spreading the joy of music from around the world with fantastic fitness and dance moves.”

   The word zumba is Colombian slang and means “move fast and have fun.” It has been described as exercise in disguise. Set to four basic rhythms based on salsa, merengue, cumbia, and reggaeton, it is a non-stop workout that works all your endorphins out endorphins as well as working out your muscles.

   Some people lose inches off their waistlines, others see their cholesterol drop and their energy levels rise, while still others simply reduce their stress levels. Some men even learn to dance and not make fools of themselves at weddings anymore.

   Just as sweating is mandatory, so is staying hydrated.

   “I told Vanessa to bring water, even though she doesn’t like water, because I heard you get really thirsty at Zumba,” said Rita.

   “My whole bottle of water was gone before half the class was over, and I never drink water,” said Vanessa. “Everybody was going back and forth to the water fountain getting more of it all class long. You don’t get totally winded, even though it’s non-stop dancing, but you do get totally thirsty.”

   Their dishes cleared off the table at the diner, coffee cups re-filled, and lingering over their lunchtime, the three women agreed that Zumba was the best way they could think of to exercise without actually exercising.

   “The salsa moves are really good for you, your whole body is going, your hips are going,” said Rita. “Amy is so animated, she makes all these noises, those sounds of hers, like she is definitely having fun doing it, and she makes it the same for everybody.”

   “It’s loke dancing from beginning to end, but it’s exercise, too. You do it with joy, and afterwards you feel so good,” added Olga. “It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.”

   They all agreed Zumba was the best of both worlds. There are shortcuts to happiness and dancing is one of them. “Your whole body is moving, and you don’t have time to think about working out,” said Rita while walking back to their car. “It’s like having your cake and eating it, too.”

   Some words are triggers. Cake is one of them. If staying healthy and fit is a priority, since vegetables are a good way of getting there, there is always pumpkin pie and carrot cake.

   “Why don’t we drive down to Tremont, have some dessert, and go for a walk along the river?” Vanessa suggested. “It’s going to start getting cold soon.” The winter in Cleveland was only six weeks away, when the sky would go dark gray and storms started blowing in over Lake Erie.

   That’s what the three Baltic hoofers doing Columbian slimnastics for the day did, before the sun set, and the night’s new frost crept in unnoticed.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Reading Rocky River

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By Ed Staskus

It was damp and cold on an overcast Sunday afternoon in mid-December when the Rocky River Readers met for their final book review of the year, taking a look back at everything they had read since January, and casting their votes for best book.

The Rocky River is the boundary between Lakewood and Rocky River, the suburb named after the river. Field & Stream magazine has ranked it one of the top steelhead trout fishing rivers in the world. It is also what defines the Metropark on Cleveland’s west side.

The reading group meets once a month to talk about the book they have been reading that month. Joni Norris moderates the roundtable discussion. This year they had to meet twice in August, reading and discussing two books, since Ms. Norris, a Metroparks Naturalist, was in Finland all of July.

“It was a great trip,” she said. “I got to know the moose up there really well.”

There are more than 100,000 moose in Finland’s forests. There are none in Ohio. Finnish passports even have a quirky security feature, which is a moose appearing to walk across the page. USA passports feature the balding head of an iconic-looking eagle. The moose looks like he’s minding his own business. The eagle-eyed bird looks like he’s minding your business.

A staff member since 1985, Ms. Norris’s interests in reading and writing led to the monthly book review program she proposed and offers at the Cleveland Metroparks. It focuses entirely on writing about nature topics.

This year the group read: Fire Season by Philip Connors and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Swarm Tree by Doug Elliot and Sex on Six Legs by Marlene Zuk and A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean and The Earth Speaks by Steve van Matre and Bill Weiler and The End of Nature and Eaarth, both by Bill McKibben, and Northern Farm by Henry Beston and Tales of an African Vet by Roy Aronson and The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe and, finally, The Bluebird Effect by Julie Zickefoose.

The reading group meets in the Rocky River Nature Center off the Valley Parkway. The center was built in 1971 and from a back deck overhanging the river there is a view of 360 million year old shale cliffs. A friend who is in the group invited my wife and me to come along. She promised there would be pie and coffee afterwards.

My wife isn’t an avid reader, even though she does read when it strikes her, but she readily agreed to accompany me. She admitted the pie and coffee were powerful inducements.

The readers are critics, but affable rather than cruel ones. Their relationship to books is not the same as the relationship of pigeons to statues. But, writers need critics because, even though they might be good book writers, it doesn’t necessarily make them good book critics, in the same way that most good drunks are not necessarily good bartenders.

The weekend group of two-dozen critics sat in a large circle on folding chairs in the high-ceilinged auditorium of the center. Led by an energetic Mrs. Norris, they discussed rather than dissected the works of the nature writers and environmentalists they had been reading. They made their way with personal observation as much as with discrimination acquired by long, consistent reading.

They don’t worry about reading being bad for their eyes, either. “Reading isn’t good,” said Babe Ruth, the famous Bambino. “If my eyes went bad even a little bit I couldn’t hit home runs.” On the other hand, the road to strike outs and bubbaloney is paved by the short sighted who won’t and don’t read.

Reviewing their reading for the year the group began with Fire Season.

“It was a memoir and a history at the same time,” said a trim woman in creased blue jeans. “It was about being a fire watcher in Arizona and he was very good at telling stories about the loneliness and dangers. He lived in the mountains all alone with his dog.”

“His wife visited him from time to time,” said a man in a mustache and yellow shirt, which drew a big laugh.

“A man’s best friend, indeed!” said a wag sitting on the far side of the circle.

“My best friend,” Abraham Lincoln once said, “is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was variously described as an emotional portrait of a family, an interplay of race, poverty, and medicine, as well as a critique of science. The Swarm Tree, however, drew a blank, drawing little discussion.

“I don’t even remember it. We read it so long ago,” someone said apologetically, looking sheepish

Next up was Sex on Six Legs, a book about the complex behavior of the many insects whose brains are smaller than poppy seeds.

“It was about bugs,” said one reader. “It was really about their personalities and communication skills, not really about sex, but it helped sell the book, I suppose. The sex parts, I mean.”

“Did you know that, in general, people are more scared of bugs than they are of dying?” asked another reader.

The thing that almost everyone is more scared of than death is standing up in front of a group and having to speak. The readers all stayed in their seats when offering their comments.

“It just poured out of him” was how A River Runs Through It was described. The book is an evocative semi-biographical collection acknowledged to be the greatest fishing story ever told. Robert Redford made it into a movie.

Both The End of Nature and Eaarth by the New York Times best-selling author Bill McKibben were met with wary respect.

The End of Nature, it was all about global warming,” said a woman wearing a knitted white Christmas sweater. “It was about how we are all going to die. But, it had a positive twist at the end.”

“That was when he lived in the Adirondacks,” replied another reader. “The next book Eaarth was much more optimistic. Either it was because he moved to the Green Mountains in Vermont or the anti-depressants kicked in.”

Someone guffawed, and the next second looked guilty.

Northern Farm: A Chronicle of Maine drew a mixed response.

“It put us to sleep,” complained one couple that had come to the discussion that afternoon fresh from a hike in the northern reaches of the Metropark.

“No, we loved it,” another couple countered. “It’s a New England Christmas card.”

Tales of an African Vet was well received.

“He was trying to promote conservation. It was very upbeat,” said a man in a flannel shirt.

“I liked it,” said a woman in a red blouse, leaning back, content with her assessment.

“It got scary at times,” said a stout man wearing a beard and sweater. “He usually treated the animals in the wild and sometimes they would wake up in the middle of the procedure.”

“You’re right,” said another man. “The monkey died, but most of them came out all right.”

In the middle of the discussion about The Viral Storm someone asked, “Do you smell anything?”

“I think it’s my pie,” said Joni Norris. “What time is it?”

“It’s 2:45.”

“Usually an apple pie tells you when it’s done, but I better check that,” she said as she briskly walked to the back end of the auditorium and into the open kitchen where the pies were baking.

“Is it burnt?” someone asked.

“No, it’s perfect.”

The Bluebird Effect was the last book discussed, being the December selection. It is the latest book written by Appalachian wildlife artist and writer Julie Zickefoose, an Ohio resident, and drew the most comment.

“She’s very accessible,” said a woman, herself a writer and member of the River Poet Group. “She is very intimate with birds. I liked the story about the one bird that knocked itself out. She nursed it back to health and then the bird came back with a friend to visit. At other times it is very stark, tragic, but beautiful.”

“One sad part that is in the book,” said a woman in a maroon sweater and black slacks, “is that you are allowed to shoot morning doves in Ohio, just so you can have them as delectable little treats on your plate.”

“Why not crows, or how about seagulls?” someone asked. “There are a lot of seagulls.”

Joni Norris squeezed her nose and made a bird sound. She announced it was time to vote for the book of the year. Ballots were passed around, pencils chewed on, selections made, results tabulated, and the top three books were announced with an improvised drum roll on the back of a legal pad.

Tales of an African Vet came in third, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Laks secured second place, and The Bluebird Effect took the grand prize. Joni Norris announced that she was considering inviting Julie Zickefoos to the Nature Center for a lecture the coming summer, the news being greeted with general approbation, as was the announcement that the refreshment table, laden with Christmas cookies, cakes, and pies, was open.

Everyone, it seems, had brought a dessert.

I sampled three apple pies while my wife chatted, but in the end I couldn’t decide which was best, so I went back for seconds.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Midwestern Gal (At the Borderline)

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By Ed Staskus

Backstage at the Winchester, a former bowling alley made over into a music hall, Anne DeChant reviewed the play list with her band. Then she double-checked one last time with Kelly Wright, her longtime back-up singer, and the show was a go.

Outside the hall it was wet and windy and November. Onstage the band was in fine form, by turns soulful and jamming, playing a mix-up of old and new material. Most of it was from Anne DeChant’s emotive ‘Swing’. It was a honky-tonk medley of blue-collar country songs. One of them was about losing your trailer to a twister.

If music is a river of sound streaming to the soul for the fostering of its virtue, then the Winchester Bar and Grill on the gritty east end of Lakewood, Ohio, was transformed that Friday night into a chapel of goodness.

“Now there’s a woman with a fire in her belly,” is how the Cleveland Plain Dealer has described DeChant and her band.

LA-born but Ohio-bred, Kelly Wright was both the mirror to Anne’s lead and expansive in her own right. Sometimes the best mirrors are old friends.  ‘Swing’ was her third collaboration with Anne, a collaboration stretching back more than ten years.

“I have lots of choices as far as vocalists go,” said Anne, an Avon Lake, Ohio, native transplanted to Music City and back. She is a 5-time winner of Cleveland’s Best Singer/Songwriter award. “But, my choice for support vocals is in Cleveland.”

“It was supposed to be a one-gig thing,” said Kelly.

When the Cleveland-based folk group Odd Girl Out broke up in the mid-90s, its lead singer Anne DeChant embarked on a solo career. When she needed someone to do backing vocals on her ‘Something of the Soul’ in 1999, one of the former singers in the band recommended Kelly Wright.

“I knew her in high school, so when she recommended me to Anne, it all came full circle,” said Kelly.

Kelly Wright’s father hails from Pennsylvania and her mother from Michigan. They met in California in 1967. “They both wanted to go to California to get away from their families. My dad joined the army and my mom went to nursing school.

“But, they always wanted to come back to the Midwest. My dad learned how to weld in the army so when he ended up in Cleveland he opened a welding shop.”

Lakewood-raised since fifth grade, Kelly was a freshman at Lakewood High School before breaking into song. She commuted to school with a neighbor. “This girl started picking me up to take me to school since she lived right on my block.” One morning she tagged along to her friend’s audition for Roadshow, the school’s Downbeat Magazine award-winning vocal jazz ensemble.

“I was just sitting there doing the homework I had sloughed off the night before, and the director asked, aren’t you going to audition, and I said, no, no, I only know campfire singing. But, in the end I auditioned, and I made it, and my friend did not. It was the last time I got a ride from her, but it was the start of music for me. It changed my whole life.”

She never stopped singing in high school.

“It was a great program, I got to travel with Roadshow, and we made a record every year.” She later attended Akron University on a music scholarship. “I was not very good at the scholastic, so I never finished college.” She went to a broadcasting school and became a DJ. But, she gave up spinning records and singing to open the Borderline Café in 1994 with her culinary school-trained sister Carrie.

“This is all I did for a long time,” said Kelly “Even now I still wait the tables, pour the coffee, and pretty much do all the talking. I’m exactly like my dad, hell, yeah. I tell everybody what to do. I think I’m the boss, but Carrie is really the heart and soul of Borderline.”

Kelly’s younger sister Carrie is a graduate of the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. Two women founded the school in 1914. They had one student and one typewriter their first year.

The culinary program was created in 1973. Since then the school has graduated Emeril Lagasse, Michelle Bernstein, and Tyler Florence, among others. It has been featured on the Food Network and recently three of the school’s alumni challenged and beat celebrity chefs on the Iron Chefs television series.

The Borderline Café is a breakfast-only diner on Lakewood’s west end. Outfitted with ten, maybe twelve, tables, the walls are painted a peach yellow and “suns coming up, I got cakes on the griddle,” among other John Denver lyrics, gambol over the walls.

It’s been said breakfast is the most important meal and skipping it might be the worst thing anybody can do first thing in the morning. The good thing about having a hearty breakfast is you’re not going to be starving by lunch. The eggs Benedict and pancakes at the Borderline are famous for keeping hunger at bay.

Scene Magazine has voted the Borderline Cafe one of the ‘Best Pancake Spots in Cleveland’.

“It’s the best breakfast place in town and all immediately surrounding towns,” said one patron, washing his stack down with coffee.

“The two of them are good together,” said Colleen Wright, their mother who commutes from Marblehead more than an hour away and pitches in at the diner on busy weekends. “Kelly remembers everybody’s name. They all come to talk to her.”

“I’m always the one goofing off,” said Kelly, “but I’ve come around as I’ve gotten older.”

“She’s a brat, but she’s got a heart of gold.”

“Thanks, mama, that’s nice.”

Kelly Wright was bartending and singing on Kelly’s Island, a Lake Erie vacation destination west of Cleveland, and her sister Carrie was finishing up her degree at Johnson & Wales, when their father, Don Wright, offered to help them buy the greasy spoon that would become the Borderline.

“He wanted to get both of us closer to the family, maybe so he could keep his eye on us,” said Kelly.

“My husband thought we’d never see that money again,” said Colleen Wright, “but they paid us back every penny. They work hard at this.”

Noted for its fresh food, inventive seasonings, and Southwestern-inspired twist on traditional morning fare, the cozy and often overflowing diner is roundly considered to be more than worth the wait.

“The food is some of the best I’ve had anywhere,” said a man from Ravenna, fifty miles southeast of Lakewood. “The first time we ate here we went right in. The second time we waited in a line outside.”

“If there’s a wait you have to stand in line,” said a local man standing in line. “They don’t take names.”

“Not your ordinary breakfast,” said a woman visiting Cleveland from Pittsburgh.

“Everything Carrie makes is fresh,” said Kelly. “Nothing comes out of a zip lock bag or frozen. There are as many local products as we can find. Those eggs are cracked exactly when you order your omelets.

“The people who eat here are a lot of everybody, mostly from the neighborhood. They know it’s going to be real food made exactly the way they like it. They’re very patient, too, because sometimes you stand out there, finally get a seat, and we still have to get you your breakfast.”

Kelly lives a stone’s throw from the Borderline. “The older I get and the more gigs I play, I had to move closer to work because I was getting here later and later. I could throw a rock from our dumpster out back and hit my house.”

A single woman twice over, she lives alone. “I was in a gay relationship for nine years, but I lost that gene. I don’t know what happened. I stopped being gay.” After breaking up with her partner and selling their house, she married a man she had known in high school.

“But, I was not good at that,” she said. “It lasted for about three weeks, although we’re still friends.”

Performing with Anne DeChant has taken Kelly coast-to-coast, from New York City to clubs in California. “I’ve played everywhere with Anne,” she said. “It was a weird late-in-life kind of youth, joining the band when I was thirty-three. I thought I could be a kid again. It has led to many great things for me.”

Although she still tours, her priorities have shifted back to her family and the Borderline Café. “That was a bump in the road for this place,” she said, “because it put a lot of responsibility on my sister. I risked the wrath of my dad, too. I don’t take every gig out of town anymore. I try to be a good partner to Carrie.”

Nevertheless, Kelly continues working with Anne DeChant, recording in Nashville, as well as playing guitar and singing in an acoustic combo at summer spots. She is also the voice of a jazz duo often heard at Brothers Lounge on Cleveland’s west side.

In addition, she is involved with the Ohio City Singers, an all-star cast of Cleveland-area musicians including a choral group and sometimes featuring more than thirty vocalists, musicians, and their family and friends.

“It’s all the guys from local indie bands, like Chris Allen of Rosavelt and Doug McKean of the Stuntmen,” Kelly said. ”They write original rock-and-roll Christmas tunes and we do a big show every year.”

The Ohio City Singer carols aren’t the kind of carols Bing Crosby sang, nor are they the kind heard in the background at shopping malls. More than 300 revelers packed the Around the Corner Saloon in Lakewood on an icy afternoon when the group in Blues Brothers-style steamed up the windows. They have brought their raucous holiday jams to Cleveland’s Stone Mad Pub, Music Box Supper Club, and House of Blues.

“How I got started in music was an accident, like many of the things in my life,” said Kelly. “Music was a great part of school for me and I am forever in debt to my first teacher. I never actually knew I could sing. It really did change my life.”

At Christmastime the Ohio City Singers and Kelly Wright perform at several outdoor venues, like the Holiday Circlefest on Wade Oval in University Circle and Light Up Lakewood. Even if it’s cold and blustery, or some flakes fall, or there’s a snowstorm, as will happen in winter on the North Coast, Kelly doesn’t mind.

“I’ve bopped around a little bit, although I don’t travel very much anymore. I’ve lived here my whole life, for the most part,” she said. “I love this neighborhood. I’m not good with just two seasons. The Midwest is better for me. I’m a big gal. I like to layer, so I love it here.”

And at the end of the day, after belting out tunes outside at Light Up Lakewood, she can always slip back down the street inside to the Borderline Café, strip off the layers and wrap her hands around a steaming cup of hot joe.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Slap Happy

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By Ed Staskus

By all accounts Ryan Woidke seems to be a normal 19-year-old born and bred in Lakewood, Ohio, where he still lives on weekends while in his second year at Kent State University. A graduate of Lakewood High School now majoring in Criminal Justice, trim and athletic, a full-time academic with two part-time jobs, he blends in with most other backpacking students.

Except on Friday nights, when he changes his t-shirt and blue jeans for deer-hide leather shorts, wide embroidered suspenders, a white cotton shirt, a green wool hat with a grouse feather ornament, knee socks, and black shoes with thick two-inch heels and cleats as big as horseshoes.

Once transformed he goes shoe slapping at the Donauschwaben German-American Cultural Center in Olmsted Township on Cleveland’s southwest side. The shoe slap dance is schuhplattler.

The Donauschwaben are the Danube Swabians of Eastern Europe, a German people who colonized parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire along the Danube River in the 18th century. After WWI their lands were parceled out to Romania, Yugoslavia, and Hungary. After WWII most fled their farms and towns when faced with the advance of the Iron Curtain. Many relocated to Ohio, to Cincinnati, Akron, and Cleveland.

The Donauschwaben have a Coat of Arms. It is made of a German Eagle on top and a fortress below. The eagle is black and the fortress towers are between a sun, symbolizing the rise of Christianity, and a crescent moon, symbolizing the setting of Islam.

“What happened was that in my freshman year at Lakewood High one of my best friends asked me to help serve dinner at their winter dance event,” said Mr. Woidke. “Later on he invited me to a practice, and, of course, when you show up they start making you dance. I was hooked on it right away.”

Schuhplattler, or hitting the shoe, as it is called, is native to the mountainous regions of Bavaria and Tyrolean areas of Germany, in which women spin around their partners or simply spin in place and men execute a syncopated series of loud slaps on lederhosen-clad legs and soles of their shoes.

Between slaps men and women both waltz to the accompaniment of accordions, sometimes three or four or more of them, a wall of wheezy but smooth sound ranging from very soft to very loud.

Accordions are assembled with wax and the best ones are always fully handmade.

“I had never danced before,” said Mr. Woidke. “I don’t know if I have plattle or not, but at least for this I do.”

Rhythm is known as plattle in schuhplattler circles.

Schuhplattling requires flexibility, stamina, and unity of the group, so that the slapping isn’t just loud only, but is one loud slap in concert. Men slap themselves on the knees, thighs, and feet. Traditionally a courtship dance, a means to attract the opposite sex, it became a way to showcase the agility and strength of men and a spectacle to dazzle women.

Watschenplattle is a variation of schuhplattle. During the slap dancing men smack each other firmly on the butt in addition to everywhere else.

Schuhplattler is almost a millennium old, first described in 1050. In modern times washing one’s hands afterwards, especially if watschenplattling, has become a rite before starting up any other courtship-like activities.

“Some of us are younger and have the endurance for it,” said Mr. Woidke. “Others are in their 50s, but they’ve been doing it since they were little kids, so they’re used to it.”

Schuhplattling originally came to Cleveland in the early 1920s when four couples toured the city demonstrating the European folk dance at civic functions. The dance group Schuhplattler und Trachtenverien, better known as STV Bavaria, was formed in the mid-60s and today thrives with more than a hundred members, ranging in age from 7 to 70.

“Many of our young adults grew up within the club, but Ryan came to us as a teenager,” said Paul Beargie, vice-president of STV Bavaria and a long-time Lakewood resident.

“He has taken to the dance and fully immersed himself in the culture. It is encouraging to see his enthusiasm to learn and pass on what he has learned.”

Five years of weekly practices, competitions, and cultural events have immersed Ryan Woidke in the history and customs of his adopted Bavarian Alps and the dancing that dates back 40 generations.

“Ryan is more than a dancer,” said Kenny Ott, president of STV Bavaria. “He’s second-in-command of the men’s teaching. He’s a young man who has stepped up and assumed a role of responsibility, perpetuating the culture for at least another generation.”

One of four dance directors for the group, Ryan Woidke brings a young man’s energy to the thousand-year-old tradition.

“I’m at the point where they can show me five dances a night and I’ll know all of them,” he said

Every year STV Bavaria participates at the Cleveland Labor Day Oktoberfest, drawing large crowds. It is the club’s major fund-raising event, as well as an opportunity to perform their native dances, and sometimes even strut their stuff before an audience often unfamiliar with schuhplattler.

‘We do all kinds of funny skits,” said Mr. Woidke. “In one of them we come out dressed as old men with canes. A lady comes out with a sign saying she’s got a special brew, and we drink it, go around the glockenspiel, and when we come back, we’ve lost our beards and scraggly wigs, and we’re dancing upright. It’s like the beer that makes you younger.”

A recent poll on the Oktoberfest Facebook page rated the colorful STV Bavaria pavilion and their folk dances in full costume tops for the holiday weekend, for more reasons than one.

“We have sponsors who donate bead necklaces and sunglasses, and we toss stuff out to the crowds right after the shows, “said Mr. Woidke. “One year they gave us Jagermeister apparel to throw out.

“Another time it was thongs. That was nuts, everybody was grabbing for those.”

Affiliated with Gauverband Nordamerika, a non-profit foundation formed in 1966 to preserve and carry on the cultural heritage of Bavaria and Tyrol, including their ethnic costumes and dances, Cleveland’s STV Bavaria group regularly competes in the biennial Gaufest national competition. Since 1973 they have won 7 gold medals.

In Orlando, Florida, in July 2011, STV Bavaria brought home first place in the Gaufest group dance, and well as placing two couples in the top three of the singles competitions. They qualified for the 2012 Bayrischer Loewe in Germany, at which event they will go shoe-to-shoe against teams from both the fountainhead and from around the world.

Mr. Woidke can’t wait.

“We’re going to go and compete against all of their best,” he said. “I’ve only been here five years, so there are many things I don’t know, but I’m still going.”

By his own reckoning part German, largely on his father’s side, Mr. Woidke dances schuhplattler for the heritage, for the competition, but mostly for the camaraderie.

“The people are great,” he said. “It’s like one big family. They’re fun to hang out with.” What he meant was the energy and community of putting on a show, the village atmosphere of people who care about what they’re doing and about each other.

Mr. Woidke’s future plans include getting his undergraduate degree, attending the police academy at Kent State University, possibly enlisting in the Marine Corps, and definitely schuhplattler.

“No matter what, even if I go into the military, I’ll keep it up,” he said. “I can jump right in when I’m on leave. You can’t beat it.”

At the Bayerischer Lowe in Gauting, Bavaria, in May 2012 Mr. Woidke and the Cleveland group, STV Bavaria, took 5th place in the Gruppenpreisplattein, or group dance.

In 2013 STV Bavaria defended their first place North American Gaufest medal, again taking the gold.

After transferring to and graduating from Cleveland State University, Mr. Woidke, a life-long gun enthusiast, enlisted in the United States Army. He is currently stationed in South Korea, where he works as a Military Weapons Specialist.

Slap dancing is unknown in South Korea, although the actor Tom Hiddleston improvised a schuhplattle one night for his fantasy fans in Seoul, South Korea, during the premiere of the movie Thor: The Dark World.

Ryan Woidke, meanwhile, continues to work on his plattle, with the thought in mind that it’s never smart to give a sword to a man who can’t dance.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Blairpen House Turns Twenty

Riggs Picture #2

By Ed Staskus

It isn’t hard finding many first-rate inns, hotels, and bed-and-breakfasts in Niagara-on-the-Lake. But, finding one in the heart of Old Town less than a five minute walk from all the Shaw Festival’s theaters, as well as the shopping and restaurant district, is a little harder.

Finding one whose roots are as deep in the town as the Blairpen House on Davy Street, whose innkeeper bakes the bread and makes the yogurt, mixing in seasonal blueberries, for the European-style breakfasts is even harder.

“My father, who was going to become one of the town’s two doctors, bought this building in 1946,” said Tim Rigg of Blairpen House, a cozy and charming six-room inn a block-and-a-half from the Festival Theater.

“He and his brother renovated it and it became their office. The dining room today was their waiting room then. They practiced medicine together.”

Blairpen House, which turns twenty this year, was originally built as Niagara-on-the-Lake’s high school gymnasium in 1909. The high school, built in 1875, stood at the corner of Castlereagh and Davy Streets.

“They closed the high school during World War Two,” said Tim Rigg. “All the men were away and after the war there were very few children in town.”

Tim Rigg’s grandfather was the town doctor until 1939, and his father, Bruce Rigg, practiced medicine in Niagara-on-the-Lake until 1990, when he retired.

Bruce Rigg was a painter as well as doctor. In 2009 the Niagara Historical Society Museum hosted a retrospective of local art in the period 1929 – 1973 titled ‘The Forgotten Years’. Along with works by John Shawe and Mary Jones were exhibited several paintings by Dr. Bruce Rigg.

Two of his paintings depicting the town in the late 1940s hang on the back wall of Blairpen House’s dining room, including one of fishermen hanging their nets to dry. They are windows into a place that doesn’t exist anymore.

After his father’s death Tim Rigg, who had grown up in Niagara-on-the Lake, but was working in real estate in nearby St. Catherine’s, returned and took over the building.

“It was close to the theaters so it made sense to try to convert the building into an inn,“ he said.

The conversion from small town medical center to country inn included adding a second floor, a gable roof, and a suite to the back of the building.

“We updated the mechanical, electrical, hydro, and put in fire-rated drywall,” he said. “The footprint is the same, it’s just that everything is new, brought up to modern building standards.”

The ensuite queen rooms on the ground floor look out onto a brick patio, while the three rooms on the second floor have balconies. There is a guest lounge, a library, wi-fi and computers, as well as private parking. Sofas and chairs front a gas fireplace in the guest lounge, looking through sliding glass doors out onto the deep, backyard garden.

“It’s immaculately clean and yet welcoming,” said Julia Richardson of Toronto. “It’s quiet and literally a short walk to downtown.”

The patio and garden, with its masses of pots, plants, and thick bamboo, look like they might have come from southern France, not the Niagara Escarpment.

Along with the Shaw Festival the region’s more than eighty wineries dotting the landscape attract taste testers as well as cognoscente.

A couple from Scotland commented on their comfortable room, and especially appreciated how their used, by which they meant recently emptied, wine glasses were replaced daily. The guest lounge includes a wine cooler for convenience and an ample supply of stemmed glasses.

Growing up in Niagara-on-the-Lake Tim Rigg attended both grade and high schools in town, and lived two blocks from the Royal George Theater, originally built as a vaudeville house to entertain troops during World War One.

“It was much different then, much quieter,” he said. “There’s always been tourism, but before the Shaw Festival people often came for a few weeks and sometimes an entire month.”

Trains brought summer people up King Street and returned to Toronto and Buffalo loaded with fruit. Large trees lined Queen Street. Their canopies overlapped across the middle of the road.

But, the sleepy summer town began to change in the 1960s with the launch of what was then called ‘Salute to Shaw’. Since the 1970s the town’s many landmarks have been restored and in 2003 the Old Town was designated a National Historic District.

The Shaw Festival is what draws many theatergoers to Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Blairpen House.

“We have people who come here for seven or eight days,” said Tim Rigg. “They like it here because they don’t have to drive anywhere. They try to see everything and then they go to Stratford for Shakespeare.”

In the winter book clubs come for a weekend of getting together, talking, and drinking wine.

“It’s an easy walk to the shops and restaurants,” said a book lover from Toronto.

Occasionally some reading gets done, too.

Although the inn’s great location in the Old Town is a plus, it is old-fashioned service that keeps Blairpen House humming summer and winter.

“The real value of staying with Tim and Sharon [Tim’s partner] is the service,” said Mike Scullen of Alpine, New York. “Like a Continental hotel they provide nothing short of true concierge service.”

From dining establishments to wineries to local outings the innkeepers are a wealth of information. Between them there is little they don’t know about Niagara-on-the-Lake. They even make sure there is hot milk at breakfast for anyone who might need it.

”The inn is fun. I’m up at five in the morning every day,” said Tim Rigg. “We get people from all over the world, Australia, Great Britain, all over. You meet a lot of interesting people.”

Those people include composers of movie music, former premiers of Ontario, and a scientist from the Livermore National Lab in California.

“He would sit on the patio writing poetry. His wife and he would drive up from Cornell and I always wondered how on earth they got here in a car, since they were both such very small people. I resolved to stay off the roads until they left town.”

The inn is closed for several weeks at the tail end of winter while Tim and Sharon recharge in Spain. But, even then, with their laptops and Skype at hand, they are never really closed.

“It works remarkably well.”

When asked what lay in store the next twenty years at Blairpen House, Tim Rigg had an easy answer.

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing this. Our guests are on holiday. Everybody’s happy and it doesn’t seem like hard work.”

“They’ll probably have to carry me out,” he concluded, laughing wryly.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”