GROWING UP IN QUEENS , NEW YORK , DANCING WAS MY LIFE FORA S LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER .
During high school, every free moment was spent performing and practicing. When I was a senior, I auditioned at several colleges, and during my very last audition, I landed badly and really wrenched my knee. The doctor I saw said I needed surgery and that I would never dance again. I refused to believe him, because that was too horrible to think about. Then right after that, I received a letter from Marymount Manhattan College offering me a four-year scholarship. I just about cried. But I was afraid my knee would ruin it all for me.
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REHABBING WITH PILATES
Before the start of the first semester, in 1992, I did a lot of physical therapy for my knee. It didn’t help, so when I walked into my first college dance class with a knee brace on, I dreaded the teacher’s reaction. She looked at the brace, and then at me, and said firmly, “You can wear that during rehearsal, but you cannot wear that on stage. Now go do some Pilates.” That was the first time I’d ever heard of Pilates! My teacher suggested that I go to see Howard Sichel, the founder of Power Pilates, at his chiropractic office in New York City. After doing Pilates two to three times a week for a month, my knee felt 10 times better than it had from doing PT and I was able to pursue a dance major. Even though I was only 18, I knew Pilates would be in my life forever.
I continued doing Pilates all through college. It was the perfect counterpoint to all of my dance classes, and helped enormously in preventing any other injuries. Shortly before I graduated with a BFA in dance, I decided that I wanted to get certified to teach Pilates. That’s when I started going to Drago’s Gym and training with Romana Kryzanowska, her daughter Sari Mejia Santo and Bob Liekens. It’s not overstating things to say that studying with Romana was life-changing. What she understood about the body was extraordinary. I was thrilled when she put me on the cover of her book, The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning (Bainbridge Books, 1999).
After completing my Pilates training in 1998, and having danced in several music videos and on MTV shows such as Club MTV and The Grind, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue other work opportunities. Shortly thereafter, I started teaching Pilates at a women-only gym. Between my dancer friends and the women who came to the gym, I soon had a long list of clients. By 2004, I was yearning to be my own boss. So with some money I had saved up, I bought a full suite of equipment, leased a space and opened my first Pilates studio. Thankfully, my clients followed me there, and I loved being able to work out whenever I wanted.
A FATEFUL TRIP
Then in July 2012, I flew to St. John in the Virgin Islands to join a girlfriend for Carnival. I arrived the day before she was supposed to, and I was standing in what they call The Village, where you can listen to live music and get a meal. It started to rain, and as I stepped back under an awning, I bumped right into this cute guy. I stammered, “Oh my god, I am so sorry!” And he said, “That’s okay, hi! My name is Peter, what’s your name?” And that’s how we met. He asked me if I was with anyone, and I told him my girlfriend was flying down the next day. And he said, “If it’s okay, may I buy you a drink?” We had a great time laughing and talking, and I learned that he had lived on the island for 20 years, running a jewelry store he owned. He loved life there. That night, he gave me a ride back to my villa, and as I got out of the car, he said, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope your girlfriend doesn’t come because I’d like to kidnap you for the week.” I laughed, and said, “Well, she’ll be here tomorrow, but maybe I’ll get to see you.” The next morning, I woke up to a text message from my friend: “I’m sick as a dog. I’m not coming.”
A WEEKLONG DATE
So there I was, alone in the Caribbean. I called Peter and said, “I don’t know what kind of voodoo spell you cast, but my girlfriend cancelled her trip. What are you doing for lunch?” We spent that whole week together, and he said, “If I send you a ticket, would you come back and visit me?” So I flew back for a week every month. And on my fourth visit, in November 2012, he asked me to marry him. (Yes!) I went back to L.A., packed up my studio, rented out my house and moved to St. John to be with Peter.
A STUDIO WITH A VIEW
By the time my Pilates equipment arrived from Los Angeles, we had found the perfect spot for my new island studio, which I decided to call Pilates Worx, just a five-minute drive from our house. It even had an ocean view and was the first Pilates studio in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The next two and a half years were absolutely wonderful. The one worry we had was that Peter had been dealing with some heart issues, and he needed to have a stent put in to open up an artery. Everyone assured me that it was a very common procedure, and since Peter was only 47, there was nothing to worry about. But the doctor screwed up and Peter died on the operating table on July 20, 2016—two months before our third wedding anniversary and eight days before my birthday. I was absolutely shattered.
RECOVERY ON THE REFORMER
For the next two months, I just stayed in the house, mourning. But it wasn’t good for me to be alone, and I knew it was the last thing Peter would want for me. I needed to get back to work. Returning to the Pilates studio helped me so much, because not only was I lifting my mood by moving my body, I was also helping others. Healing my clients was healing for me. Doing what I love was the best way to work through my sadness, better than anything I could ever imagine. And when I would get choked up about Peter, my wonderful students understood.
MORE STORMY WEATHER
By last summer, I was back teaching full-time and had made it through the one-year anniversary of Peter’s death. Just when I started feeling that things were going to be okay—that I was going to be okay—on September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma came ripping across the island. I didn’t have a generator, so I spent six hours at a friend’s house, where a small group of us huddled in the shower, terrified, listening to destruction being caused by the 220-mile-per-hour winds outside! The noise was unimaginable—it felt like you would be blown off the face of the earth. The next morning, we woke up to what looked like World War III. Cars were flipped over, nearly all the trees were knocked down, telephone poles were in the road, everything was flooded. We had no power, no cell service, no internet, no way to communicate. It was incredibly scary. The next day, friends were able to clear the road for us to drive into town, but the only cell reception was on the third floor of a single office building. Everybody was up there trying to contact loved ones.
SURVEYING THE DAMAGE
My house sustained a lot of water damage and mold and mildew, but it was my studio that was truly destroyed: The roof and doors were blown off, and my Pilates equipment was trashed or soaked in salt water. I spent the next week trying to salvage anything I could. Then 10 days after Irma hit, news came that a second massive hurricane, Maria, was heading our way, so the authorities started evacuating us. I wound up crammed on a catamaran boat, with my two little dogs, sailing three hours to Puerto Rico.
Two days later, just before Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, I got a flight out to New York. From Peter’s parents’ house, I watched the news as Maria hit St. John and the other islands on September 20 and obliterated whatever Irma hadn’t. On St. John, more buildings as well as boats, roads and the beaches were wrecked. I had no idea when I’d be able to return. While I waited, I decided to stay with my parents in their Las Vegas home. Two days before I flew out there, the awful news came that 58 people had been massacred at an outdoor concert there. I felt like I was going from tragedy to tragedy. But while I was in Las Vegas for a month, I was able to reconnect with some Pilates colleagues; doing Pilates kept my head straight during a period of complete chaos.
RETURNING TO THE ISLAND
I stayed stateside for two months, and then headed home to St John just before Thanksgiving last year. I know it sounds a bit crazy, returning to a still storm-ravaged island, but it was my home with Peter. Though he wasn’t alive anymore, and I didn’t have any family on St. John, I couldn’t even think about living elsewhere. I focused on rebuilding my studio. Otherwise, I would think about everything awful that had happened in the past year and knew I wouldn’t be able to move forward. I returned to a very changed place. Nearly half of the 4,500 full-time residents had left. The two biggest resorts—the Westin and Caneel Bay—were heavily damaged, and still have not reopened. But I had water and power in my house so, like everyone else there, it was nonstop cleaning and clearing. I salvaged and refurbished whatever I could from my studio, but the rust, mildew and rot made it very difficult.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
Around that time, my friend Jennifer, who is also a Pilates instructor, created a YouCaring page for me. I was overwhelmed with the generosity of others in helping me to rebuild my studio. For instance, Gratz donated new springs, because all of mine were ruined by salt water. My Magic Circles had blown away, so Balanced Body donated replacements. While I was off-island, a friend whose office had been ruined called to tell me that he’d found new office space—and there was a place next door that he thought could work for a studio. “Here’s the landlord’s number, contact him!” I called immediately. Finally, this past March, I gave my first lesson in my new space—and I did Pilates for the first time in months!
A RETURN TO PILATES AND FRIENDS
My friends and I have been through so much and lost so much. It makes me happy to have a studio again where we can gather, and where I can help them release some stress. We’re all still recovering from the sheer shock of what happened to our beloved island and to our livelihoods. Almost all of my clients have back problems from all the cleaning and clearing they’ve had to do, so it’s important to stretch and strengthen their bodies with Pilates. It really feels wonderful to help people heal and recover in whatever way I can. Especially since at the moment, I have the only functioning exercise facility on the island!
REBUILDING A LIFE
Pilates has helped me though a lot of challenges in my life, especially all of the losses I’ve experienced in the past two years. I honestly don’t know how I would have recovered from grief without it. It’s also provided a way for me to work and stay on this island that my husband loved so much. It was his home, our home, and I have so many incredible memories here with him. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
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