Did you know that today is International Dance Day? I didn’t either, and honestly, I would not have known about it (I’m no dancer) except that I had the lovely honor of interviewing Kara Tatelbaum, whose latest book, Putting My Heels Down: A Memoir of Having a Dream , , , and a Day Job, officially releases today with Motina Books! The book is “a brutally honest look at [Kara’s] life as a dancer and very reluctant Pilates instructor trying to make it in NYC,” and readers are loving it. One of my favorite reviews stated: “Reading [Kara’s] book was like sitting with a best friend while she shares her hopes, fears, and humorous moments. As I watched her persevere on the page, I felt she was whispering in my ear: dreams are important, so pursue yours too.” Remember that friends, “dreams are important, so pursue yours too.” My hunch is that Kara will be receiving many more positive reviews on this wonderful memoir, and I can’t wait to celebrate with her! Just like all my other awesome author interviewees, Kara is a woman of many talents, which means she has little spare time; I’m so grateful she thoughtfully answered by questions.
Christina: Congratulations on the publication of Putting My Heels Down: A Memoir of Having a Dream . . . and a Day Job, which “exposes the harsh realities of life as a dancer but more importantly, the conflict so many of us experience between having a day job and having a dream.” What prompted you to tell this story, and why choose to write a memoir? Did you ever consider fictionalizing the story you wanted to tell?
Kara: Thank you so much Christina for having me on your blog! I started writing this book over ten years ago. It started with ranting and raving about my Pilates clients! I thought I was writing a Pilates tell-all book. Like a Pilates Diaries exposing the antics of my high-end clients and secrets behind NYC gyms and trainers. As I started gathering all my notes, I realized I actually might have a book and reached out to friends who were writers about what to do next. That lead me to working with a few writing coaches who quickly prompted me to write about my dancing life too.
One of my coaches encouraged me to consider my memoir as a piece of dance history. This became very important to me. There are NO memoirs written by post-modern choreographers who aren’t famous and didn’t “make it” in the way they dreamed. There are only a handful of memoirs written by non-famous dancers who are mostly ballerinas. Dance is not valued by our society and modern dance is not as well-known as ballet. I took the responsibility seriously to represent my small corner of the dance world in a relatable way. And we all know what it’s like to have a day job, right?
There was never a need or want to fictionalize! The events that had happened to me in my dancing and Pilates teaching life you couldn’t make up! I had more than enough material and being honest was so empowering.
Christina: Author Ellen O’Connell Whittet wrote, “Putting My Heels Down is a book for anyone who has ever had to put aside their dreams for the sake of practicality,” which means your story will resonate with a lot of people. What’s the main message you hope those readers walk away with?
Kara: My main message for readers is to DREAM BIGGER! When our dreams are too narrow, as mine were for myself as a dancer, they become near impossible to realize. The pressure of our goals being accomplished in a specific way and time frame can really work against us. When we broaden our goals, we increase our chances of accomplishing them.
For instance, my goals for myself as a young dancer/choreographer were to get into a top conservatory, join a major dance company, get invited to choreograph for said company, start my own company, tour the world… Never mind from a young age I was told not only would this NEVER happen but that I shouldn’t even attempt the first steps. That did not deter me. I fought against doubt, physical pain, and all the discouragement. In fact, this fueled me to reach for even higher goals. Until that fuel ran out. Anger and resentment can only take us so far. Especially if we want to find joy in our lives. The truth is most dancers, even the most accomplished ones, follow exactly the same path.
I want to encourage readers to ground themselves as they continue to dream big. We decide how to define ourselves. I am a dancer for life. No one can take that identity away from me. Even if I never perform or choreograph again. Owning that allows me to ground myself and find my power so I that I am still a dancer in whatever I’m doing in life be it writing, teaching, parenting…
When your day job doesn’t align with your identity, spend time exploring how to make a connection so you avoid burnout. Practical doesn’t have to mean a dream drainer. Maybe your day job connects you to future donors or inspiration for your projects? Or you’re helping others which feeds your self-worth? Perhaps before/after your day job you devise a plan to nurture yourself, a routine you can stick with.
Christina: As a runner who is not flexible at all, I’m awed by your abilities to dance, do pilates, perform matte exercises . . . any and all the things you do in a day. What is one of the most difficult routines/exercises/moves that you’ve had to learn? What’s your favorite routine/exercise/move? And finally, what’s one routine/exercise/move that people like me can do daily to help us be more flexible?
Kara: The most difficult physical move for me to achieve has remained the same since I am three years old! Touching my toes! No matter how many exercises, stretches, or even surgeries I’ve had this has never been easily accomplished. Even if, on a good day, I can touch my toes either from standing and reaching down or sitting with my legs straight in front of me, it sends a knife-cutting pain through the back of my legs.
In 2018, I released Lazy Girl Pilates: Morning which features a series of Pilates exercises you can do in bed, the shower, while drinking coffee, even on the toilet! These are my favorite exercises. Ones you can integrate throughout your day without the need the carve out a special moment or time.
The best, best, best exercise for your mind, body, and soul is dancing! Rock out to your favorite music. Do this at least once a day. Alone. No judgements. Just move your body however you want to. Nothing will feel better. You can even do this sitting!
Christina: Dance and writing take extraordinary amounts of discipline. Did you find that being a dancer helped prepare you for writing a book? Does the self-doubt that can plague both professions feel similar? Did you find anything similar or different that surprised you?
Kara: The discipline I have as a dancer absolutely shaped my writing process. I woke up at 5am for two years to write at my desk before leaving for an early morning client or a daily ballet class. Dancers like routine. So, as a writer I gave myself one immediately. Also, editing is like rehearsing. Chipping away at movements or words. Making them perfect. Making them fit.
I have much less self-doubt as a writer because I don’t consider myself one! I am a dancer who writes! That allows me so much more flexibility in how I have approached the entire book journey. As a dancer, I ripped myself physically and emotionally to shreds with doubt, criticism, and physical pain. As a writer, I only do what I enjoy. If something feels painful or simply too much, I don’t do it. That’s not to say I don’t challenge myself as a writer, I do. But I don’t torture myself the way I did as a dancer.
Christina: Susan Priver said, “Kara Tatelbaum’s story is told with great humor, pathos and aching honesty. Bravo to Kara for taking us on this exhilarating journey of finding her own voice.” How long did it take to find that voice? Did your voice surprise you? Was there anything you felt you just couldn’t include in the book?
Kara: My voice definitely needed to be toned down and refined. As I said earlier, there was a lot of raving and ranting the beginning of my process. That may feel good to write, but no one wants to read that! My voice surprised me in more revelatory moments. When I started to figure my life out in real time it opened me up in ways I wasn’t expecting.
I couldn’t include it all in the book. There was a ton of editing. I probably could fill a whole other book with chapters that just didn’t make it in. Maybe I will someday! There wasn’t anything I couldn’t include because of emotional reasons. More for technical ones.
Christina: I loved your dance party with James Whiteside on Instagram! Have you thought about recording more videos like that for your fans? Aside from James, what other dancers could you envision having an IG party?
Kara: Ha! I had so much fun with that! Never in any other time or way would I be able to have a duet with James Whiteside! That’s such a fun question to think about! The beauty of IG duets is that you don’t need permission to dance with someone! If they’ve opened up their privacy setting to allow duets on their posts than game on! Dancing next to famous ballerinas I would have no other opportunity to dance alongside with makes me giddy! Who knows who I’ll duet with next!
Christina: Also on Instagram, you’ve revealed a series of THINGS MY DANCE TEACHERS TOLD ME. (I agree that you should publish a book of witticisms, and I’m really sorry you experienced what you did.) Imagine a student of yours in the future who is doing a similar series. What are three things they might say you told them?
Kara: People have been really relating to those posts, and not just dancers. We all have stories about what our teachers have told us which may have hurt our feelings or made us laugh. Of course, as a teacher for over twenty years I hope I’m the latter!
I think the three things I’d like my students to remember I’ve told them: take your space, own your power, and dream bigger.
But I do teach a lot of very young dancers who likely will remember me saying: keep your hands out of your pants, sniffing a flower (inhale) and blowing out a candle (exhale), and first po (position!) let’s go!
Christina: If a dance was named after you, what would the name be and what would it look like (generally)?
Kara: Wow. If you were dancing “the Kara” it would mean specifically eight-counts of free-style, full-bodied, wild movement taking up as much space as possible, laughing until your core is about to burst.
See below for a listing of some upcoming events!
Thanks to Kara for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.