When I was 13 years old, my uncle took me to see a performance of the Nutcracker, and I decided right then and there that I wanted to be a ballerina. But, it wasn’t until I was a full-time student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, that I began my intensive training in the Russian (Vaganova) style of ballet. After my university classes, I’d commute to Denver, to attend classes at the Academy of Colorado Ballet. This is where I met my first Russian ballet teacher, who I told that I wanted to dance professionally. For the next 5 years, I trained hard with her, learning and performing many of the classic ballets and character dances from the Russian ballet repertoire.
Being a perfectionist, I wanted more, and I felt that I wasn’t progressing fast enough. So, I decided to audition for the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC, which at that time was under the direction of Yelena Vinogradova (wife of Oleg Vinogradov of the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburgh), and was considered to be the best Russian ballet school in the country, having produced some of the best dancers worldwide. I was accepted into the academy, and trained there for 2 years with some of the best (and strictest) ballet teachers including Alla Sizova, Vladimir Djouloukhadze, and Anatoli Kucheruk. Training at the Kirov Academy of Ballet was not easy. Expectations from the director and instructors at the academy were very high, and the feeling that I was behind from starting my training so late, haunted me. I began to commute to Maryland to take additional classes at a small school where Mr. Djouloukhadze also taught. He ended up becoming a mentor to me, and I attended even more classes of his at a Jewish Community Center. With a full dance schedule from morning till evening, I lived on lots of very strong coffee and 4-5 hours of sleep every day. My stamina was on fire, but deep down, I knew that I could not keep going at the speed I was without breaking. I eventually became injured and the doctor forbid me to dance for 2 months. I was in love with a cruel and unforgiving art. Dancers are constantly dancing on injuries, so it was no surprise that I was told to keep dancing. However, my injury was bad enough to prevent me from walking normally...
This injury led me to trying my 1st yoga class. When I first heard about yoga, I rolled my eyes in disbelief that it could help me. Afterall, as a dancer, I was an athlete, and I needed to perform, not meditate and/or chant. I went to a Bikram Yoga class (an intense yoga class done in a hot room heated to 105 degrees). Before the class, I explained my injury to the yoga teacher. I couldn’t believe how difficult the class was. The yoga teacher, who happened to also be the studio owner, apparently saw potential in me, and refused to charge me for the class. “We have classes 7/week from early morning till evening. You can take classes whenever you want” he told me. It wasn’t ballet, I certainly didn’t understand it (yet), and I didn’t love it, but it was something, and I was happy to be doing some kind of workout. So I took yoga class everyday.
Somehow, my injury healed rapidly when doing yoga, and I started to dance again. I was invited to take class and perform with an Armenian ballet company, ARKA Ballet, under the direction of Rudolph Kharatian, in Washington DC. I took both yoga classes and company ballet classes everyday. This new training schedule helped me reach my peak with my ballet dancing. Sadly, I have no photos or videos from my best dancing days, but I have hopes that someone out there might one day appear with something ;) I danced my final ballet performance with ARKA Ballet, and my teacher from the Kirov Academy of Ballet (Madame Sizova) came up to me backstage, hugged me and told me “you did very good”. For me, this was a huge accomplishment, as I was so used to hearing “nyet” on a daily basis in class, and it was very rare for her to say “good” to any of her dancers.
So, why did I stop dancing? I had pushed myself to such an extreme, that I think I’d fallen out of love with ballet. For a long time, I couldn’t even look at anything that reminded me of ballet. I hung up my dancing shoes, and shifted my attention to what healed my injury... yoga.
Yoga had healed my injury, and I wanted to learn more. So, I made the decision to attend a Bikram Yoga Teacher Training in Los Angeles. I didn’t really know what I was doing in yoga, as it was so different from ballet. At the teacher training, I somehow became the star of my class, and was put front and center in the graduation yoga demo. However, I think I was quite distracted during the 9 weeks at teacher training...and I believe it was from the feeling of emptiness and sadness of not dancing anymore. At that time, Bikram convinced me to move to Los Angeles, which I agreed to since I was no longer dancing. “You’re going to be famous. I’m going to make you a star” Bikram told me. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about, as in my mind it was “just yoga”, but I suppose he was partly correct about this statement, when talking about the yoga community. I worked full-time at Bikram’s Yoga College of India International Headquarters, working the reception/membership area, managing the teachers & class scheduling every week, teaching classes, as well as taking classes.
It wasn’t long before Bikram and his wife, Rajashree Choudhury, took me aside and convinced me to compete in the Bishnu Charan Ghosh Yoga Competition. I was skeptical when they first approached me about it, but they told me yoga competitions in India are a very common and popular event. So popular in fact, that they usually have to divide the competition into age divisions. “I don’t like competitions” I told them, and they responded back saying “this is not a normal competition”. “It’s a competition with yourself”. “Competition with yourself” were the magic words for me. I ended up competing several years in a row, claiming the US National Yoga Champion title for 2006, 2007, and 2008, and the World Yoga Champion title for 2008. As the World Yoga Champion, I put together a tour with Ball Rattanapong (the male World Yoga Champion who was from Thailand), where we taught classes, conducted seminars, and coached students all around the US, Europe, and Singapore.
I didn’t tell anyone this for many years, but while I was really good at yoga, I didn’t love it. Perhaps because I don’t consider it to be an art. In fact, I think of yoga as medicine, and I firmly believe that medicine should only be taken as needed. I taught yoga for 13 years, and while it was a true gift to be able to change peoples’ lives with my teaching, I felt that there was something missing. And there was also a lot of politics in the Bikram Yoga community, but there’s no need to talk about that here... The important fact here is that just because someone is good at something, doesn’t mean that they love or enjoy doing it.
I think one could say that I’ve had many career changes. While teaching yoga in Houston, I also was a model (fashion, commercial, runway), actress, freelance photographer, and even a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness for a brief period of time, before I finally got what my mom calls a “normal job” working at an investment firm. However, I’m a creative soul, a problem solver with a strong desire to fix and build things,... all of the qualities that would get a person into a lot of trouble working at an investment firm, which by standard is extremely regulated. While working at the investment firm, I started to look for a new career, one that would satisfy my creative cravings. This is how I found design. I enrolled into an immersive design course where I worked closely with my mentor, Mike Dekker, and trained in UX & UI Design as well as Frontend fundamentals. I was fortunate to get my first design job working for a startup company, before I even graduated from my design course. Since then, I have had the pleasure designing for companies & brands such as VMLY&R (my current company), ExxonMobil, Mattress Firm, T-Mobile, ADT, Murphy USA, Sam’s Club, ArcBest, and multiple smaller companies and startups.
Outside of design, I’m a big Star Wars & Lord of the Rings fan. One day, I’ll have enough time to actually finish reading The Lord of the Rings ;) I’ve also recently discovered that I love ballroom dancing. Because like they say, “once a dancer, always a dancer” :)