“Escaping the City”

I feel that it is so important to escape your everyday life and environment from time to time to reset, rejuvenate and take time out for yourself. Not only does this allow to re enter your normal life with a fresh, relaxed perspective, but it also gives you something to look forward to in the lead up to a trip. Whether it is an extended weekend or a couple of weeks vacation, I feel that these “getaways” are crucial to a balanced life, at least for me anyway!

For those that know me well I LOVE to travel and it would be weird to think I did not have something brewing on the horizon. In NYC there is a winter break that the schools take towards the end of February and this year I decided to jump on board. Courtesy of some interesting travel experiences late last year I had flight vouchers to use, so in need of a winter blues escape I booked! I left behind the cold, icy, dreary weather of the city and took myself to greener pastures – California the land of 80 degrees and palm trees. If the happier weather wasn’t enough of a motivator I also have several of my closest friends living out on the west coast and what resulted was a week of complete bliss.

A few highlights included brunch at the Soho house in west Hollywood. We were treated to the feast buffet while brushing shoulders with some high end celebs including the ever gorgeous Chris Pratt who was behind me in the omelette line. A smoothie whilst wondering along Venice Beach and a sunset view while cruising the PCH was also quite spectacular. I can safely say that I do not take ocean views for granted now that I live in NYC – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone I guess?

I then spent a glorious few days at Hotel Milo in Santa Barbara – what a devine little spot. I explored mountains filled with glorious wineries, stuffed my face full of cheese, sat ocean front for my morning coffee and sat by the fire pits in the late afternoon enjoying a good book. A ritual for me was my morning bike ride which took me way back to my childhood. With the wind beating against my face and the stunning scenery of SB at my fingertips I was on a complete high. I took myself over to Butterfly beach and into the lush town of Montecito past the mansions in the mountains and along various coastal routes – what a way to start each day!

I capped off my mini break with a day in LA connecting with two of my very first friends in the states – Lindsey and Jona. We had a fabulous brunch at a place called Republique which has the fluffiest french toast you will ever taste. I returned to the city with a glow to my skin and very full heart. If you are ever sitting on the fence about whether or not to book a trip – DO IT!!

“Competition Season is coming”

When I say that it is coming, it has kinda, sorta already has arrived. Everything in my life is pointing to fact that dance competition season is a massive GO! However tomorrow is the day that many of the studios I work for will compete for the first time and competitions I judge for will hold their first regional shows for the year. From my social media feed to how the next few months of my daily life will be structured, dance is certainly taking the spotlight. Although there are several conventions in the fall, it is the next few months when momentum picks up and studios across the country showcase their new routines (solos, duos, groups) on the competition stage – all the blood, sweat and tears will finally pay off.

This “Strayan” is extremely fortunate to be involved in many facets of this wonderful season. I work in several dance studios throughout the New York area and I can feel the excitement growing amongst the dancers as their first performances draw closer and closer. I was lucky enough to set choreography on many of the elite company dancers at these studios and it is extremely rewarding to watch how the pieces have come to life and the students have worked hard on perfecting the challenging elements of these creations.

Many studios in the US hire theaters for their dancers to perform all of their routines on a stage in full costume – this is a wonderful idea as it enables the dancers to iron out all their nerves and for the choreographers to see their vision come to life in a setting outside the studio. I am fortunate enough to attend a critique weekend at a wonderful studio in Little Rock, Arkansas – it is a highlight of my yearly calendar and I leave with my heart full and my mind inspired. Collaboration is KEY on these weekends and it is the minds of many working together that can bring the company pieces to new levels and see them peak before the season commences.

This weekend I am heading to Washington DC to teach the tap classes at The Process which is a wonderful dance experience created by working artists in New York City. This company prides itself on guiding students towards becoming industry professionals and I am honored to be a part of this talented team. Towards the end of the month I will also begin traveling all over the country and internationally to judge competitions. The talent I know I will witness on stage is so incredible and I sometimes have to pinch myself as a reminder that firstly these are only children, and secondly that this is my job! I also get to experience so many new places and connect with dance friends I have made all over the world – can you tell I am excited? It is definitely worth the long weekends of travel.

One final thought is something I was discussing with a past student of mine who also now resides in NYC. We were reflecting on how much dance and competing has changed over the years, not only in terms of trends and styles but in how the preparation process is approached. “Back in the day” it used to be enough to simply move together as a group and perform a routine reasonably well. In this day and age the stakes are higher – every finger tip, every eyelash is detailed and cleaned. Sometimes I’m left thinking how sad it is that such well rehearsed, professional level items will only ever be seen on a competition stage and not in front of massive crowds. It really is the “best show in town” if you are lucky enough to witness a dance competition on group day and it is safe to say the future of the performing arts industry is well taken care of.

I’ll be in my little dance bubble for the next few months or as the Aussies day off in “eisteddfod land” – CHEERS TO DANCE COMPETITION SEASON!!

“The perfect New York weekend”

Many will say that no place will ever compare to New York and as a person who day dreamed about a life here I completely concur. However the reality of living here often means that New Yorkers can get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of work and the daily grind, that they forget to stop and smell the roses (or I guess in this city the trash on the side of the street). This past weekend I was able to get a weekend off to enjoy the city and it reminded me of the energy and thrill I used to feel as a tourist embracing the magic and possibility of the city.

I began my weekend with a yoga class which was the perfect start. Practicing is so important for me on many levels – my muscles need the stretch after all the walking carting around my heavy winter coat/backpack, and my mind needs the calm and peace to center itself in my crazy fast paced life. I then headed to midtown to teach my class at Broadway Dance Center which is always a rewarding part of my day – a little bit of a crazy commute given the Women’s march was taking place on my street but I got there in the end. Given that the weather was so “warm” which I say lightly as it was still much colder than the coldest winter day back home, I chose to walk the 30 blocks home from class to breathe in the city vibes. I took in the buildings really looking and appreciating the many cafes, restaurants, smells, fire escapes and iconic sights. My stroll took me up past columbus circle, the empire hotel, Juilliard and lincoln center – scenes out of a movie and a very good reminder that I am one lucky Srayan to be living here.

Next on the agenda was a night out to watch two of my very first NYC dance students perform at The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater as part of the Joffrey Jazz and Contemporary Trainee program. This was an extremely special moment knowing that I had been a part of the reason they were on that stage  – I have seen many of my Australian students go on to see great success and this is the beginning of a new era as my USA students embark on their success stories in the performing industry.  The growth in their technique in performance over the past three years has been magnificent and it was a joy to watch them perform – one proud dance educator!

One of my very first friends in NYC, Lindsey was visiting from LA for the weekend and she happened to be at the show so in a moment of spontaneity (these are key in NYC) I jumped on the subway and headed to midtown for a catch up with her at the very trendy Ace Hotel. It was so wonderful to chat and catch up on life with her – her infectious energy is great for my soul! It also didn’t hurt that we got treated like royalty given her hotel hookups #kenanjones.

Sunday began with a morning gym session. I know some people reading this are shaking their heads and thinking this cannot be part of a Shannon Atkins ideal weekend but it is still January and my new years resolutions are holding strong. Following this I met for brunch with my good friend Gabby Soto – another of my first and dearest friends here. In New York City on a Sunday “it is all about the brunch darling.” We chose a cosy spot on the Upper West Side called Ella Bar and Kitchen and caught up on life over mimosas and eggs benny.  Feeling relaxed and happy another spontaneous decision found me at the spa on my street treating my neglected feet to a pedicure. I then capped off my blissful weekend catching up with a friend I had not seen in years over drinks – I think this catch up actually carried on into Monday which is when you know it was a good one!

All in all the stars aligned for the ultimate weekend to inspire, rejuvenate and refresh me for the week and year ahead – NYC really delivered the goods.

“A big tick for the first week of 2018”

Despite experiencing weather colder than I have ever imagined was possible and recovering from a horrific bout of Montezumas revenge I’ll give a big tick for the first week of 2018. So far, so good!

It is safe to say for those that know me (and even those that don’t) that I spent the last few days of 2017 in my version of heaven on earth. Just give me sunshine, the ocean, a pinà colada and a good book and I’m “pig in mud” happy to quote my Mark Bonenti. My vacation in paradise was not only a fantastic opportunity for relaxation and rejuvenation but a chance to reflect on the year – I took some serious “me” time to catch my breath and gather my thoughts for the year ahead. This involved beach walks, yoga, great food, reading and even a questionable yet enjoyable massage at the resort spa. It was the perfect getaway to recharge my batteries!

Returning to my cosy upper west side apartment was a bit of a shock to the system with the frigid temperatures freezing the city, however it has been a great New York week. I find January in the city is a fantastic time to nestle in and keep low key – a great time to Netflix, seamless and chill!

Returning to Dance this week was fantastic as all the dancers are focused and gearing up for the first competitions of the year – exciting times in all studios throughout the city. We were blessed with a magical snow day. I’m sure most New Yorkers would disagree with my use of the word “magic” but for me not growing up with snowfall I still get a thrill when I see snow. My favorite part is looking at it in the tree branches- it is so picturesque and like a scene from a movie I could only dream about back in my warm winters on the Gold Coast.

To complete the week my best friend gave birth to the most perfect baby boy. It really has been a fantastic start to the year full of love, hope and warmth (in the heart not outside!) Cheers to week one of 2018! You go alright!

“And that’s a wrap”

The last work day of 2017 has finally arrived and I can hardly move an inch in Grand Central station to make that final commute as people hustle with suitcases and packages to make it home for the holidays – the energy is electric. In the New York Dance school scene, this final week has involved a lot of classes to holiday music and Christmas cheer has been in abundance. I’m ever so thankful that Mariah Carey created her “All I want for Christmas” album back in the 90s for this particular week.

Reflecting on the last few months of the year there has been a lot of exciting events happening in the world of Shannon and Dance . Over the summer months and into the early fall I was fortunate to choreograph 54 pieces for the upcoming competition scene. These routines were a mix of solo, duo, trio and group items spanning across genres of Ballet, tap, musical theatre, jazz, lyrical and contemporary – I’m already stressed thinking about ideas for the next season.

Throughout November I taught at 3 different conventions – DC, Dallas and Michigan. I was in charge of teaching the tap, musical theatre, jazz and contemporary at these events and I had a fantastic time in each city. I love conventions because they bring dancers together from different studios in front of teachers that they don’t normally work with for a jam packed day of doing what they love the most – DANCE. I wish Australia had more of these events on offer as I believe they provide such an opportunity for dancers to grow in an environment that is not always available at a regular competition. As a newbie to the states I have enjoyed getting a taste of each new city I travel to and have set up life long friendships with the other instructors on the panel. The Platinum National Dance Experience hired me in my first 6 months of living in the USA and I continue to look forward to the experience every year as a highlight of my work calendar.

In December I travelled with the USA Dance Company to Poland for the World Dance Championships in Jazz and modern. This was the experience of a lifetime and it was certainly an honor to wear a USA jacket and represent the country I have called home now for almost 3 Years (on Sunday to be precise). The group of dancers traveling were among the greatest group of humans I have had the privilege to know, and watching them win the silver medal in the adult jazz category is a moment I will cherish forever.

This competition is a far cry from the regular ones we see here in the states – the pressure is on and it is definitely set up to create an Olympic style vibe for the dancers participating. In some countries dancers who receive medals are treated like elite athletes and granted health insurance and sponsorship – so a lot is at

stake depending on where you hail from. The first major difference is that dancers may compete more than once if they progress to a higher round- in fact several of our pieces competed four times if they made the finals. This involved a full day of competing given that categories often had over 60 entries. It was truly astounding to watch a group of young students who had never been in an environment of this nature push themselves further with each performance to better the last – they took risks and dug deep to fight for their place on the international stage.

Furthermore at the end of each round infractions could be given by the judges if a rule was broken eg.costume was showing too much Skin or in our case of a prop marked the floor “floor damage”. Another moment we won’t forget quickly was the whole US team cleaning the stage in “Its a hard knock life” fashion. Gaining an appreciation for the fact that people from different walks of life view Dance differently has inspired me to become a better educator and it is safe to say I had the time of my life!

So as you can see it’s been quite the busy few months, especially when you squeeze an extra trip back to Australia into the equation. Thus I feel rather victorious making it to my final day of 2017 and very ready to curl up in front of the fireplace with a hot cup of cocoa (or perhaps a sneaky mulled wine).

“New York at Christmas”

There is nothing quite like New York at Christmas. It surely has to be labeled the holiday capital of the world. As a major Christmas lover, living here is heaven on earth at this time of year. There are a few personal highlights that I like to indulge in around the city in order for me to feel like I have had the full “holiday” experience.

The first is buying my own real tree and decorating it with the ornaments I have collected from my travels around the world. My latest addition is of a course a handmade creation from Warsaw. It certainly is a far cry from the palm trees we decorate in Australia and the smell of the fresh pine really helps create a cosy atmosphere inside my apartment.

Another favorite activity is making a trip to visit the Rockefeller Center tree. After first viewing this tree in Home Alone 2 as a child I’ve been obsessed. This years visit was like a scene from a movie. I had organised to meet one of my close friends Sandra at 11pm at the tree, however a series of events unfolded that made our meeting seem impossible – my train from work was 15 mins late, her phone died and we hadn’t even made a precise meeting point for our date with the tree. Fate stepped in and a Christmas miracle occurred – we randomly bumped into each other, made it in time to watch the fabulous saks lights display and got a perfect Christmas card worthy shot in front of the tree just seconds before the lights were switched off. We both agreed we would remember this night forever and it would go down in history as one of our favorites in NYC.

I also like to wander the streets down near Chelsea and soak in the atmosphere from the immaculately decorated brownstones. One can only dare to dream they might live here one day. Carefully hung wreaths and stunning trees with warm fireplaces are just a few examples of the sights you will see strolling along these streets and peeking in the windows – lifestyles of the rich and famous!

My final highlight is of course seeing the Radio City Christmas spectacular which I will be doing on Christmas Day. My favorite number is the bus scene that takes you on a tour of New York at Christmas. The other best part of this show is that several of my favorite people perform in this show making it an extra special annual event. The only other thing to make this Christmas perfect would be for it to snow- I’ll be dreaming of a White Christmas!

“Dance Olympics”

Today I can barely contain my excitement as the day has finally come for me to head to Poland with The USA Dance Company (USADC). This amazing group of dancers will compete over the next week in the 2017 world championships in Rawa Mazowiecka, Poland. This competition is hosted by the International Dance Organisation (IDO) and includes Jazz, Modern and Contemporary dance categories. More than 8,000 performances from over 4,000 dancers spanning over 30 countries across 6 continents will compete to earn a gold, silver or bronze medal. Given that dance is not represented in the Olympics this is the closest thing to a “Dance Olympics”. To add further to the excitement, this is the first time the USA has had representation in the jazz/ modern component of this event- the World Tap Championships is currently taking place in Germany with plenty of excellent “red, white and blue” representation.

One of my best friends Kristen Pittman has been named the national director and head coach for this team and I was invited to work closely with her to assist with coaching duties and choreography back in September. This has been one of the highlights of my dance teaching career and the opportunity of a lifetime. Blood, sweat and tears were at the large the weekend I spent with these dancers, however the work ethic and determination that was displayed prove that this team will be a force to be reckoned with.  I have worked with several of the dancers previously and I have great confidence in saying they are an extremely special group of humans whom I believe have the talent, dedication and passion to bring home the gold. I have my Canada goose and USA beanie packed and ready to go. Stay tuned for further updates and highlights from this fantastic event…

“The Perfect Date”

The concept of the perfect date can come in a variety of packages in a city like New York. I think it comes down to personal preference which is your top choice however I will outline three standouts that I have encountered during the course of my NYC life . One of my dates of choice is that of the solo kind where I embark on an adventure alone doing all of my favorite things in the city.  There is a saying “I don’t have a boyfriend I am dating my true love New York” and I must say it is extremely hard not to be lured in by the charms it has to offer. One of the best parts of this style of date is that it can be embarked upon any time you feel the need and you can almost always be guaranteed to get exactly what you are looking for. There are a number of activities usually on the agenda for a date with my dream city (of course many of these are dependent on the season) and the first typically involves stepping outside and pounding the pavement – there is a certain liberation and magic to this in Manhattan that I have yet to find anywhere else in the world. The energy of the people walking with great purpose, the noises of the public transport, the grandeur of the many buildings and the smells of the pretzels from the street vendors just to name a few all help to create a wonderful buzz that can very quickly turn a day of doom and gloom around. A meal at Tavern on the Green would be a “must do” for my solo dream date. This is such a classic spot and is the pinnacle of class and style – the fairy lights, the extravagant decor, the swing style music and scenic view of the park allow you to relax and succumb to the charm of an elegant fine dining experience. A date with myself would not be complete without seeing a Broadway show. I love nothing more than being transported to a world of song and dance for a few hours , not to mention the excitement of the timeless theaters and bright lights of Times Square. All of this would be capped off with a rooftop drink at the Boom Boom room where cocktails you can only dream of are sipped while overlooking all of the highlights of New York. Days like this can make you realize that New York really does have your heart and it is very hard for “anything”or “anyone” else to live up to the high standards that it sets.

Recently I went on a date with a very handsome gentlemen – which is also another fabulous style of dating in Manhattan if you can find someone to get it right and boy did this guy get EVERYTHING right! I was left questioning whether I had just stepped off a movie set when I arrived home. The night began in a cosy wine bar in midtown and quickly progressed to a hidden jazz bar called “The Backroom NYC” that has a live band on Monday nights. Once you enter through the secret passage way to this speakeasy you are transported to another era where cocktails are served in tea cups and Fred Astaire is on the playlist.  We  managed to secure a prime spot by the band and after one cocktail he smoothly lifted me off my chair to slow dance to “Cheek to cheek” – highly romantic and it didn’t hurt that he looked like he belonged on a Calvin Klein advertisement. We then progressed to sitting on a park bench in the west village while the leaves fell on a perfect fall evening – it felt like nobody else was around and that I was floating on a cloud.  Enough to make you sick! However the reality is that New York has has the powers of seduction to transport you on a fantasy date that will starry- eyed and loved up.

However in my eyes the “perfect date” especially for a Christmas Enthusiast like myself is at a place called Rolf’s on the lower east side with the company of a close friend. I was lucky enough to live out the reality of this date yesterday. The only other time I have ventured to this gorgeous restaurant there was an hour long wait in a line in the freezing cold, however as fate would have it we were able to get a table immediately. The word that comes to mind is Christmas “vomit” – there are sleighs, lights, tree branches, christmas balls and candles hanging from every roof, wall and fixture. It is gorgeous and magical and I think you could visit this quaint place multiple times and see something new each time. I have been battling a cold this past week so the comfort food and spiked apple cider was just what the doctor ordered. This combined with a girly catch up is in my eyes the ACTUAL perfect date.

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‘Tis the Season

As a true Christmas enthusiast one of the highlights of my year is the holiday season and so naturally I like to kick the festivities off as early as possible. New York City is the ultimate city for a Christmas obsessed person like myself to live in and there are a few little occurrences throughout the city that signify to me the commencement of the most wonderful time of the year; the holiday cups/drinks at Starbucks (my favorite is the Peppermint Mocha), the significant drop in temperature, holiday store at Macys, the construction of the ice skating rink at Bryant Park and the large lit up snowflakes that are displayed along Columbus avenue. However the standout event that has become a tradition and eagerly anticipated event is holiday card making with one of my closest friends Caroline. The date for this evening has been highlighted on my calendar for at least four months and if you ever question who actually watches the Hallmark Christmas movie channel you need look no further.

We go ALL OUT and each year I question why we work in the field of dance and not as card designers for Papyrus or Urban Outfitters. The night commences with wine and cheese and some girly gossip while sitting by our version of a fireplace (the crackling fire image on the tv). This then quickly progresses to a pizza order and the careful selection of a Christmas movie – the corniest, most unrealistic, complete with fake snow galore are usually top of the list. Sequins, gold and silver cards, mistletoe, craft snow, jewels, crystals, robins, holiday tape, glue guns, are all things sprawled across the floor as we set to work on our masterpieces. It is the ultimate in cosy nights in and it is certainly not complete without a cup of extra “chocolately” hot chocolate. If you are lucky enough to receive one of these creations you should feel extremely special and know you have truly received a holiday wish from the heart. It is such a fun tradition and I always leave so energized and excited for the weeks ahead. Living in New York has forced me to change the signs I look out for when the festive season is approaching. No longer is it summer weather, relaxing beach days, bbqs or island style cocktails. I’ve officially traded in the purchase of a new seafolly bikini for a kate spade scarf. It has all been part of the adventure to create these new traditions and in my eyes the holiday card making evening is the official kick off for Christmas!

“If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere”

Finding ANY job let alone your dream job in a city like NYC can be quite the challenge. It is a known fact that the cream of the crop arrive in New York hoping and praying that they have a shot of making it. As the famous Sinatra song clearly reminds us every year after the ball drops in Times Square “I  can make it there I’ll make it anywhere.” This rings very true for people working in the performing arts industry.

During the first few weeks of my life in the big Apple I would sit behind a laptop in my Harlem apartment and send out email after email, CV after CV…crossing my fingers and toes (when I could feel them given it was January). I certainly felt like the little fish in the big pond and was well aware that dance instructors and choreographers are a dime a dozen in the tristate area with Broadway just a hop, skip and a jump down the road. Very daunting. Not to mention the fact that I had never even attended a “proper” job interview in my life and had no connections to my field in the USA. I had been lucky enough in my little bubble down under to receive most of my jobs through word of mouth or relationships I had built in the dance community. Finding a job was also new territory given I was a business owner in Australia and subsequently it was me doing the hiring. I began to picture a bleak future where just like Carrie in SATC I would be choosing between food and the latest cosmo magazine.

Even though it would be an understatement to say I started at the very bottom, about 400 emails later my luck began to change. I was hired by a company titled “Fit for Life NYC” which was a major victory at the time, but little did I know what I was getting myself into. Informed that I would be teaching dance in schools you could imagine my shock to discover this was not the case. My new job involved trekking down into the depths of Brooklyn to teach “animal dancing” and physical education (really not my forte) to very disruptive, undisciplined children. Luckily a studio in Westchester “New York Performing Arts Center” needed a tap and jazz teacher urgently. They saved me! This was a very uncommon occurrence and stroke of luck given that the schools over here were half way through their year. We both joke that it was fate and meant to be – I have definitely found a family in NYPAC. From this point on things fell into place as the saying goes, proving that my move to New York was meant to be.

I have landed many positions as a Dance Judge and convention teacher, not only due to my experience and talent but also by being in the right place at the right time which is half the battle I have come to find. These positions have taken me all over the United States (I can tick off 30 states now) , Mexico and Canada and next month I’ll be off to Poland with Team USA. All of these opportunities are experiences of a lifetime that I am eternally grateful to have had as part of my journey. I have also been lucky enough to create a “family”through dance and have met people that have greatly impacted me and  I know will be in my life forever. Most recently this year I have commenced teaching at Broadway Dance Center – in my eyes the ULTIMATE dance training facility. I used to make an annual trip to this amazing place to draw inspiration for my Australian students- never in my craziest vision board dreams did I think I would be on faculty here but it has happened. So even though I haven’t choreographed a Broadway Show yet and my first official job over here was less than glamorous; from humble beginnings I certainly feel that this Aussie has made a mark in the city of dreams. This really is the land of opportunity if you dare to put yourself out there.

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