DWTS Blog #3: Seriously, why did I sign up for this again?

Written by Erin Santos, ISF Executive Director & President

Current status… not in last place.  I’m in second to last place.  Thanks to some sponsorship funds from Barings, DHG and Fifth Third Bank and some serious votes coming in from my friends at Levine – I have slowly moved to almost $47,000.  I’m a far cry from these 2 gentlemen who are well over $200,000.  (Which is honestly incredible.)   But I find myself being a little less depressed with my current number.  I have lots of people reaching out to me, asking how they can help.  Sadly, my answer is only to vote – because that’s all that moves my needle.  So, ask your friends, ask your friends who own businesses, or anyone really!  Every single vote counts.  

I also have 10 tickets still on hold, but I lose them to the general public  TOMORROW on February 14th.  So, all of you last minute people who want to come (and those ticket dollars count as votes), here are the instructions on how to get them.

Instructions for how to purchase from the held back tickets

1.    Please visit the website here and make a donation of at least $350 to equal one Gold ticket, $700 for 2 Gold tickets, etc. Once the transaction is received it will be recoded from donation to tickets.

2.    Within the guest names field please indicate “Gold Ticket Purchase” and the names of the guests using the tickets.

Day?  I have lost count… so now I will just ramble.

I love my drive up to DWTS rehearsal because I take the 30 minutes to blare the music in my car and walk through all the steps in my head.  Not to give anything away on my actual performance but today I’m playing the song “Baby Got Back” so loud my windows are shaking.  For those of you who know me, you know this was once my go to Karaoke song.  I absolutely HATE Karaoke and had such a horrible performance of this song maybe 8 years ago that I swore it off forever.  But this song has still been in heavy rotation in my house for years because I think it’s absolutely hilarious.  Now, if you ever look in my house windows – what you will find is probably me in the kitchen dancing to the most ridiculous songs.  My kids and I have always had no shame in busting out moves just about anywhere.  I dance all the time in the house, the car, the shower – everywhere.  And I’m raising kids that do the same.  My son is kind of an awesome dancer too and will break out today’s hottest moves on the sidelines of the football field, at a nice restaurant – anywhere.  Kind of like his mom.  Sophia has some moves too and we are constantly trying to get her to quit the Dab.  I find that her moves tend to be a little too sexy for her age too.  Yikes.  I’m probably to blame for this.  

But this Sir Mix a Lot song brings me back to my other child.  Bless her heart.  Isabella was quite possibly the WORST dancer of all time.  This girl had a beat in her head that was nothing like what was actually playing.  However, she didn’t give a damn.  This bald child in a dress would dance and dance, all while carrying a tune that was so off key that it was difficult to be around.  But one thing is for sure – dancing made her so happy.  We would have garage parties with our neighbors, blaring the most child inappropriate songs over the speaker with bottles of wine around us.  Occasionally one of us would get up and bust a move, but she would always trump us with her horrible white girl moves.  We would cheer her on and giggle under our breathe and she ate it all up.  It makes me chuckle just thinking about it.  So, while you may think a 42-year-old Mom from the burbs of Charlotte, dancing on stage to Baby Got Back is weird.  Just know all these songs have meanings and memories of a little 7-year-old girl that knew every word (even though she shouldn’t) and danced her little heart out beside me in the kitchen as the songs played through my house.  I think she would have loved me being up there on stage and really make a total ass of myself.  But she would also sit in her seat and find a beat with her foot on the ground and probably laugh knowing these are all the songs we would dance to in the kitchen as I made dinner too.  

Now on to the dancing… or at least what kind of looks like dancing.

Day 12

It’s time to start piecing this routine together.  I can do each little 30 second part but now Juwan is making me add a song or two together.  Wait one minute of straight dancing?  After a full 60 seconds I find that I’m winded.  Wait add another 30 second piece?  After 90 seconds of this routine, my heart is beating out of my chest and I collapse to the floor at the end of each round.  How do these dancers to do this?  Juwan tells me to kick my cardio up a gear – which I take in stride.  My birthday was February 2nd and I can honestly say that my cardio has been on a sliding scale the past week as my alcohol consumption has increased.  I mean you only turn 42, once right?  Ok ok… back to Orange Theory.  

Day 13

Here we go on putting the entire routine together.  Luckily Juwan cuts me a break and tell me that we will just walk the routine a couple of times in its entirety until my body just goes into muscle memory so I don’t get scared.  I find that this is becoming easier.  I don’t have to think about the steps, my body is just doing it.  I’m doing so well that we start practicing with the music.  Okay, now I’m winded but it’s actually happening.  Great.  Now instead of skipping all the stunts, we are actually going to do them too.  Holy crap.  Each time we go through the 3 ½ minutes – I’m getting better.  Sure, there are mistakes, but Juwan just yells – KEEP GOING!  I just keep going, each round has less and less mistakes.  Hmmm…. This is actually coming together.  Still winded.  

Day 14

Wardrobe.  

Thankfully, the most awesome stylist in town Whitley Hamlin (Queen City Style), has agreed to help style me for the gala.  I love this because sometimes it can be hard for me to crank up the sophistication.  Her peeps at Neiman Marcus have stepped up to help and we start chatting about possibilities.  The fact that I don’t have to think about this piece is really saving me.  Juwan and I have been chatting about performance outfits for a while and have been coming up empty so taking this off my plate helps.  I decided to sit down at my computer and start ordering stuff online.  Let’s pray when it arrives, something speaks to us.  It’s also an added difficulty when you and your partner are trying to match.  Did I mention that I’m a 5’5 mom and he is like an 8-foot-tall ballet dancer?  Yeah… 

Day 15

It’s Saturday night and we have a birthday dinner organized with some friends uptown.  Juwan has a performance that night but has assured me that he and his fella will meet us out after.  I drag my crowd to Dandelion Market where we are WAAAAY too old to be.  I care zero.  I want to dance like I’m 22 and I’m not leaving until they turn on the lights.  Juwan shows up around 11 with his man and I’m so happy I can barely stand it.  We dance and dance and dance like no one is watching until my boyfriend (who dances ZERO), finally pulls me out my arm a little after 1.  I haven’t had a night like this in so long and I loved every minute of it.  Now, while we weren’t necessarily practicing our routine, this night of dancing took me to another level of being comfortable with Juwan.  It’s hard to dance in front of someone – it took a while for me to loosen up with him.  But we are becoming little dance partners – I may even say he is my favorite dance partner ever.  And this is exactly where I wanted to be with him at this point.

Day 16

I got the routine down.  Now it just needs flare.  It’s one thing to have the steps but it’s another to dance the steps as good as Juwan does it.  We may have spent 20 minutes having him walk me through how to get my ass to “twerk”.  I still don’t have it.  I may have googled it when I got home that night and worked on it in my kitchen.  I’m less winded, it starting to not look like a mom from the suburbs.  I’m doing moves and Juwan is saying, “YES!  YES!  That’s it!”.  Confidence is building.  We are laughing, it’s working and I’m loving it.. minus the twerk.

Now I know rehearsing in an empty studio is one thing, on stage is another.  Next week he stops allowing me to watch myself in the mirror and will start picking at every little thing.  He’s going to eat my “twerk” alive.  I will continue to practice in my kitchen.  Also, my kids are starting to learn my routine.  Grant may have it better than I do.  Where is Isabella when I need her???

More performance outfits arrive.  One is baller – and I think we may have found it.  Now time to accessorize.  How is this performance just 2 weeks away.

And vote already.  I’m twerking and that’s got to be worth something right?

Erin’s DWTS Blog #1

Erin’s DWTS Blog #2

Event site: gala.charlotteballet.org

I’m ready to be somebody other than just her mom

Written by Erin Santos, ISF Executive Director & President

Erin, Grant & Sophia

We are moving.  Hoping to have the house on the market April 1st and in a new home between SouthPark and Uptown the day after the kids finish school.  I’m so excited I can barely stand it. This house that was once purchased 8 years ago was for a family I no longer recognize.  A husband and wife, 3 kids and dog and a cat has now dropped to a Mom and 2 kids. The house is huge (which I know is inappropriate to say) but we needed it when Isabella was fighting cancer.  My Mom was living with us on and off and with a revolving door of help – we used every inch of the home. The kids played in the yard because we needed to keep Isabella close and Bailey and Jake roamed free alongside them.  The Marvin school system was our backbone for support with an amazing free education and my neighbors became my extended family.

But 6 years after she has passed, a divorce, a dog that passed away and a cat that one day left and never came back – this house is a graveyard of my past life.  I have no idea how to fix things in the house (although I’m learning) and an acre of yard that the kids no longer play in has me dumbfounded on seeding, aerating, lime and who knows what else.  Other than Sophia’s best friend next door – we keep to ourselves and find our inner circle is completely new. In fact, the majority of people close to me have never met Isabella and sometimes one step removed friends don’t even know I have a child that passed until I throw it out on the table.  I need a change badly.

I have been going about this change fairly mechanical.  Any free time I get is spent devoting my time to a room, a closet, a drawer.  There are very few items in my house that mean much to me at this point. My goal is minimal living, kill all these toys the kids don’t play with and trinkets that junk up my life.   I’m plowing through each area with very little emotion. We had done a few passes on Isabella so luckily I’m not tripping over her in every drawer, which helps. I’m throwing everything away.  Tubs that have crap in them that I haven’t even looked in – the entire tub goes in the trash. If we haven’t used this in the last 60 days – it’s gone. Goodwill is making out like a bandit and my trash screams of a purge. 

Grant has been okay with the process.  He’s a lot like me with very little attachment to stuff these days.  Other than his Beats headphones, his phone and some items he likes to sleep with – the rest of it can go.  He is stuck in a little boy’s room and the promise of a new room is enticing to him.

Sophia would keep a speck of dust.  She struggles a lot with Isabella still and Mommy and Daddy not being together so her “stuff” is on lockdown.  The only way I can convince her to purge is her little cousin Eden who is 3. “Wouldn’t Eden love these books you read in preschool?”  Sophia’s heart is bigger than anyone I know – so of course, the thought of giving to her little cousin throws the book right in the box.  God, I love her.

Isabella’s room

The house is about halfway done now with the purge.  I’m enlisting the help of my Mom to come for Sophia and Grant’s room because I need a little reinforcement.  But there was one last room that deserved some attention and I have been holding off for 6 ½ years for it. The time had come.  My hand was being forced.

My first step was explaining to the kids what I needed to do.  I had to assure them her stuff was not being thrown away. In fact, it’s just being boxed up and moved with us so we can still have her in our new house.  I was just merely “cleaning and organizing” her room so we can find a better place for it when we move. They seemed okay with this idea. However, I knew that I couldn’t have them there for it because they would freak out if they watched.  Thankfully, two families graciously took my kids for the day and night so I could focus on the task at hand.

Now, how do I focus on the task at hand?  I knew myself and I knew that I had to be very strategic in how I went about this.  If I didn’t do this right, I could tailspin into something that could put me under water for days.  Do I bring my Mom down, or will that be too hard? Should I bring in some friends who don’t have a connection to anything?  I honestly almost went this route. But, I figured that I would be too quick with the process because I didn’t want to explain every item I picked up.  Otherwise, that would be another tailspin. Then it finally hit me. Miss Chrissy. If Isabella wasn’t with me or my mom, she was with Miss Chrissy.

Miss Chrissy & Isabella

I knew Miss Chrissy would be perfect because sometimes she comes over and just to kick herself in the heart she goes up there.  She fingers through her dress (that she mostly purchased) and revels in the tailspin for a brief time. This is usually done at Halloween when she comes over and we drink waaaaay too much on the front porch, passing out candy and listening to 90’s hip hop and some 80’s favorites.  It never fails, the alcohol content rises and we find ourselves stumbling up the stairs. She and I like to torture ourselves together.

Of course, she accepted the invitation because it may be the last true torture.  This woman… there is no one like her. Love.

She arrived and I tried to be organized.  Boxes, plastic bins, loud music… I was ready.  We walk in the room and we stand there quietly.  Then I start to cry. Well, that was fast. We start to attack it piece by piece and the conversation stays light.  She gets the update on my crazy life and I get to ask her about hers. We stop every couple of seconds as we hold something up and we just pause.  A large sigh comes over the both of us.

Isabella’s Drawing

We have a system.  Trash, goodwill, Eden and keep.  The system works well because the trash really is just stuff others have brought into her room to play with.  Sure, there are random beads and broken Barbie arm but otherwise, it filled up easily. Some things were hard. It pained me to get rid of anything that her handwriting was on, which was honestly stupid.  I remember saying, if Isabella were here – she would say, “Mom… why are you keeping that? It was a homework assignment.” But, I figure in a couple of years I will hit those papers again. For today – I wasn’t ready.

Goodwill.  Stuff that I have no idea why she had, who gave it to her and no memory of her wearing.  I have a memory that is a steel trap, so if I don’t remember then this is why Miss Chrissy was perfect because she would remember.  “Do you even know what this is?”. NOPE! Then off to Goodwill it would go.

Eden.  This was easy too because if you know Isabella, you knew she was picky about her clothes.  Anything that was pants – definitely for Eden. I’m not sure if I can remember her wearing pants 10 times.  She hated them because of how they fell on her bone marrow scars on the front and the back. And if she did wear them, it was because I forced her and a day of Mommy hate was to come, and I hated those days.  Needless to say, Eden has enough pants to last her awhile.

Isabella’s pumpkin outfit

Keep.  This is where things got weird and I thank god we weren’t being watched.  The mounds and mounds of dresses that Chrissy bought her that were over the top.  These dresses were ridiculous and are why Janie and Jack are still in business today.  Huge dresses with sweater cover-up and matching headbands. The outfits that were purchased specifically for holidays that you could only wear maybe twice.  My favorite, the orange tulle ballerina skirt with the cream shirt that had pumpkins on the collar and the matching cream button-up sweater with pumpkins on it.  One outfit sends you spinning into a memory. She wore this Janie and Jack pumpkin outfit (estimated value $150, ridiculous) one October and got a massive nosebleed due to low platelets.  We were in her bathroom and it was pouring out of her, all over this outfit. We couldn’t stop it. We called Miss Chrissy to come and stay with our kids and rushed her into the car – driving 30 minutes to Levine.  We stopped at a light and flagged down a police officer to escort us up, allowing us to run lights. She was bleeding everywhere. The outfit was ruined and it was all that mattered to her. Not the fact that she was bleeding out in the back of Stuart’s truck.

In Miss Chrissy fashion,  the outfit was fully replaced – with a matching outfit for Sophia.  The both wore these outfits together proudly almost into December. That is what you call a keep outfit.  

I could go on for hours on the clothing but I will spare you the details.  Although, just to add a funny story to the mix. Let’s talk about Isabella’s underwear.  Bear with me. If this girl wasn’t in a full-length gown, she was just in her underwear. A constant mix of fevers made her body temperature a little above normal.  So most times you were with her, she was walking around in a pair of princess underwear. We open the drawer and this one shocks us. Every little pair in the drawer I could see her in.  But now we feel weird because we are saving a little girl’s underwear. I’m actually laughing as I type this because we felt like creepy women. But it was actually an outfit. We couldn’t figure out what to do.  “I feel weird taking a pair!”, Chrissy said with a laugh. But I got what she meant. We saved a few in her clothing box and decided not to judge ourselves. I swore if it had a memory, it needed to be kept. So there.  I kept some undies. Ugh.

Isabella’s unopened letter to her best friend

The rest of the day proceeded and we found lots of really amazing things.  We found so many pictures she kept of her and Soliel (her best friend) and even notes she had written her that were still sealed.  We hated to open them but when we did we found they just said things like asking her to come over. They were simply just notes a 7-year-old writes her BFF.  We kept them all. We found pictures she had drawn of her and Grant that we knew he would love. We found a box of letters her class had written explaining how each of her classmates were going to live their life differently now that they met her.  All saved.

In the end… we finished.  Miss Chrissy took some items, pictures of them together etc.   And then there she was… all in boxes.

I don’t remember what all I said to Chrissy when she left but I know it wasn’t what I really needed to say.  She needed an hour-long thank you for what she did for her, for me all while killing herself I’m sure in the process.  The definition of selfless. I hate that she doesn’t have her anymore and I know she aches as much as I do. I hate that.  But all I can give her now are these torture moments – that’s all I have left.

I just rocked

I took her sheets off the bed to wash them and then I just sat in the empty room.  I sat in her rocker that I used so many times to rock her to sleep. I just rocked.  Then I sobbed like I never have – for a long time. Sobbed like it just happened all over again, which I rarely do anymore.  I couldn’t stop. I think I just let it happen because the house was empty and there was no one there to console me or hear me.  I was truly just crying about losing my daughter and how completely awful the whole thing is. I can’t tell you what was all going through my head.  I can only describe it as the worst pain I have felt in years.

I could barely move the rest of the day.  I ordered food and seriously ate a bowl of pasta in my bed. Forrest Gump was on TV and just stared at the screen.  I was in a full coma of heartache. So many people reached out to me that day and I’m so thankful for that. I’m not sure anyone could understand what that was like, but it really felt like my last goodbye to her, which is silly.  We talk about her every day in our home, at work and casually in life – but for some reason, it felt different. Closure that I had never had – but I needed.

And now we just have to move on.  I’m ready to be somebody other than just her mom.  I’m honestly ready and excited.

 

DWTS Blog #2: Why did I sign up for this again?

Written by Erin Santos, ISF Executive Director & President

Let’s back up a minute.  I realized as a talked to different people about Charlotte Ballet’s Dancing With the Stars that people had lots of questions for me about it.  Maybe I wasn’t doing a good job about communicating what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  In it’s 7th year, the Charlotte Ballet asks 6 leaders from the Charlotte community to participate in their annual event that raises money for both the Charlotte Ballet and the charity of the dancers choice.  You are paired with a member of the company and have 8 weeks to practice a routine.  Then on March 2nd you perform in front a sold-out crowd at the Knight Theater, the one caveat is in these 8 weeks, you are asked to raise funds or “votes” with a suggested goal of $150,000.  The night of the performance, a fundraising champion is crowned as well as a judge’s choice for the best dance.  Seems easy enough, right?  Your selected charity receives 50% of your total funds raised – and for some dancers – it’s a shit ton of money.  As an Executive Director, receiving funds for ISF with no expense on the balance sheet for raising the money is your dream.  So here I am.

Right out of the gate, the dancing piece didn’t scare me.  Don’t get me wrong, that night I will shake like a leaf but honestly, I know I will get through it.  For me, the fundraising piece scares me.  The problem with selecting me as a contestant is that my JOB is asking people for money every day.  The rest of my competition probably isn’t out fundraising for a living so the ask from them may seem more rare – and therefore a little easier.  I have a very giving community of supporters from ISF who I’m hoping will see how important this is and vote for Juwan and I.  But what I’m also hoping will happen is the new visibility ISF receives in the community by being a part of the event.  People who may have never known of Isabella or what we are trying to accomplish for kids with cancer in Charlotte may come across our story and donate/vote to help us build this rare and solid tumor program at Levine.  I’m hoping new supporters and business will come out who want to support the Ballet but see the importance of what we are doing.   Crossing my fingers… also, everyone likes the underdog, right?

Right now I’m a big underdog and the competitive person inside me is struggling as I see my competition inching in on $150,000 raised.  (I’m just over $20,000) But people are telling me it’s early – so I’m counting on that.  So I continue to practice and check in occasionally on my funds raised – that isn’t moving.  But if you read about my journey and want to help – tell a neighbor, post it on your social media – email that buddy that owns a company that might make a big donation.  Anything you can do to help would be appreciated.  I’m honest with myself that I may not be the one with the fundraising trophy at the end, but I need to at least give it my all and would love any help you all can provide.  I just don’t want to embarrass myself. ☺  

Also, my competition has done a great job of filling the audience with their supporters.  I’m so grateful to those of you who are coming that night to watch.  Just seeing some familiar faces in the audience does wonders for me.  I have asked the Ballet to hold 20 tickets for me so I can get more familiar faces to the event.  These tickets are on hold until January 31st.  The event is sold out so if you want them – you have a couple of days to get them.   

Instructions on how to purchase from the held back tickets

1.    Please visit the website here and make a donation of at least $350 to equal one Gold ticket, $700 for 2 Gold tickets, etc. Once the transaction is received it will be recoded from donation to tickets.

2.    Within the guest names field please indicate “Gold Ticket Purchase” and the names of the guests using the tickets.

Now on to the dancing… or at least what kind of looks like dancing.

DAY 6

It’s freezing out.  It’s Sunday and it took everything I could do to get myself out of a warm house and head uptown.  Juwan seems stressed.  This guy dances in the ballet, goes to school, teaches classes, deals with my uncoordinated ass, has a new boyfriend and gave up drinking and social media recently.  I’ve been all over him lately about sending me the music so I can practice at home but I haven’t received it.  I can tell I’m annoying him.   Looking back, I should have been more patient because Juwan’s life makes mine look like I do nothing all week.  We are kind of snippy with each other and there is a little tension.  He takes a seat on the ground and tells me to practice my steps while he works on getting me the music.  I take a walk and realize that I’m probably pushing him because I’m getting nervous.  I also have personal stuff going on that weekend that I’m dealing with and I can feel myself swallowing the lump in my throat before I walk back in the studio.  I am not going to cry because if I do – it really has nothing to do with the music – it’s everything else that weekend.  I’m able to hold it in.  “I’m being a bitch aren’t I?” Juwan says as he comes over to me.  “Yes.  Yes, you are.”  I tell him.  I realize that we are both just dealing with shit that really has nothing to do with dancing.  A mental breakdown is brewing for us both.  We decide to lie down on the floor next to each other and talk nothing about dancing, music or the crap that is really just below the surface for both of us, and I’m okay with this.  Sometimes you just have these days.  I receive the music in my inbox the next morning at 7 am.  I love him.

DAY 7

Let’s start dancing again.  We are working on one of my favorite parts.  Juwan’s whole demeanor has changed and I can tell that both of us had a breakthrough of some kind since we saw each other last.  I’m hitting the steps.  I’m moving easier.  I’m not nervous anymore.  He asks how comfortable I am doing a stunt.  Hmmm… He shows me online and I think – okay I can do that.  He brings in a spotter.  Wait – why do I need a spotter?  Just trust me, he assures me – so I do.  And just like that, he flips me backward and I land it perfectly.  Confidence level – 10.  Okay, try it again but no spotter.  5, 6, 7, 8 and FLIP!  I land hard on the balls of my feet, in heels on the hardwood floor.  Both of my feet go numb.  I sit down instantly and he has me put my feet up against the wall.  They are tingling and I feel like I might pass out.  I look at the bottom of my feet and they are already blue.  I thought I had fractured both of my feet.  I take off my heels and slip my Uggs on – I’m done for the day.  I go home that night and watch my feet bruise from the entire sole of both feet, up the sides.  By the morning, the bruises are black.   Welcome to dancing.

DAY 8

Screw wearing heels.  This lady is back in sneakers.  The feet are tingly and a little numb but they are healing.  I’m not going to practice the flip again for a while but I assure Juwan that I’m going to master it.  I also let him know that the other trick I asked him to take out that took the skin off my ankles and gave me the massive knee bruise is back on.  If I’m going to do this thing – I’m going all the way.  My body will heal.  Juwan is in great spirits and it warms my heart to see him laughing and smiling.  He seems less stressed and I feel what little maternal instincts I have bubbling to the surface, wanting to take care of him but also knowing that maybe just by being a little better today in practice could help a little.  I’m hitting steps, I’m sliding on the ground (doing the move that once rattled me), and I’m hitting the mark.  “Look at you girl!  Knowing these moves!”  I shrug him off but I feel good knowing I’m making a little bit of progress.  We are a little ahead of schedule and I know I have 5 weeks to clean it all up.  I think I’m going to pull this thing out… if my body and my mind can hold it together.  Oh, and I’m starting to have fun.  Look at me.  Who knew?

Erin’s DWTS Blog #1

Event site: gala.charlotteballet.org

Erin’s Journey to Dancing With the Stars: Why did I sign up for this again?

Written by Erin Santos, ISF Executive Director & President

No turning back now!

I’m two weeks into my rehearsal for the Charlotte Ballet’s Dancing with the Stars… let’s just say I needed week 2.  The first week was a little scary.  I had an idea of what I wanted to do.  I knew the idea was a little out there and maybe didn’t fall in line with what most of the dancers were doing, but that is kind of who I was.  I figure if I didn’t do something that was totally me – it wasn’t worth doing.  I just couldn’t go out there and do some ballroom dance to some cancer song because it was relevant to Isabella.  This dance was going to be different.  So I worked on a playlist – sent it over and crossed my fingers.  

Juwan and I had met twice already.  Once in a coffee shop where it felt like a blind date where we talked about our background, our hopes and dreams and touched on some personal stories.   I could have birthed him, he’s so young – but I try to get past this.  I figure, let me invite him to my holiday party in December so we can get to know each other in a social setting to shake off the nerves.  He arrived with his boyfriend, Mason, after a Nutcracker performance.  Luckily I was a couple of drinks in so I ran to him and hugged him like an old high school bestie.  Honestly, the night became a little of a blur but I definitely know our eyes connected that night when the music turned up and we really saw what we were dealing with.  My main goal that night was just to prove that I’m not some old, suburban housewife who can barely get out of bed after losing her daughter.  I think all those ideas were lit on fire that night.

DAY 1

This guy is crazy fun & super positive!

The first day of practice really just involved us sitting on the dance floor and listening to my playlists.  10 songs was a bit much so let’s narrow it down and figure out what was a MUST and what part of the song was a MUST.  Once we got up and got loose, he wanted to run through just a few moves to see if I was teachable and if I had any rhythm.  Teachable… yes.  Rhythm… depends on the night.  I was stiff and felt like a sober mom.  But, I must have impressed him enough because he said, “Ok, I can work with this”.  Yikes.

DAY 2

Here we go.  Damn am I stiff.  I decide not to stretch out because who stretches before they go to the club?  One trick in and one slide on the floor and I find myself with a pulled groin, pulled quad muscles and skin missing off my ankles.  Apparently, this is real exercise and there is a way to dress for sliding around on a wooden dance floor.  Noted.  I tried not to complain because it was Day 1 but I left feeling a little discouraged.  I felt like I could dance (a little) and I thought I was definitely in better shape than to pull every muscle in my body.  Homework: buy long sweatpants.  If you know me, you know I do not own this kind of clothing.  But Lululemon pants weren’t giving my skin the protection it required to crawl around like I needed to.  Hoping to find “cute” sweatpants somewhere.  Also, I express to Juwan that I’m getting KILLED in the fundraising.  He assures me it’s early but it doesn’t stop the embarrassment in my stomach with being in last place on the leader board.  

DAY 3

I have never owned a pair of sweatpants!

This guy is my spirit animal!

I’m in these freaking sweatpants.  I have on no makeup and a hat on.  I look like shit.  Juwan comes in and puts on these 6-inch heels that he got at goodwill, which makes my 6-foot tall partner closer to 6’6.  We walk through what we did last week and I’m just as bad.  I now have a part in the dance that I call my “Dirty Dancing Move”.  You know the jump and lift that she is supposed to do but wusses out?  Yeah, the slide that took the skin off my ankle is stressing me.  We try to do it and I land directly on my knee.  By the way, this bad knee land will produce a bruise the size of a small orange on me.  Not to mention random bruises that are showing up on the other leg.  (This one may or not of been acquired at the Justin Timberlake concert two nights ago.)  I ask for us to put last week’s stuff in the file and move on.  Our next bit comes a little easier for me.  It’s a little more manageable but I’m still stiff.  I’m actually not sure if I’m stiff or it’s that my partner moves like a damn snake across the floor.  It would be easier if he weren’t so good.  I determine that I’m not going to let his moves shake me and I must start dressing the part.  I’m in sneakers, he’s in heels.  That move is over.

DAY 4

Heels! Ah, I love them!

Heels.  This already makes me happy.  I whip them on and instantly feel like a sexpot.  I’m still in sweats but I style the Under Armor pants in a way that is hip and not so… I’m running in to pick up butter and a six-pack from Wal-Mart.  I’m on a work high so I’m a little giddy but start off by throwing myself under the bus.  I’m not practicing.  But, by saying it out loud I agree to change my ways and will seriously put some time in outside the studio.  This is starting to mean something to me and my competitiveness is showing.  New song.  Juwan is making choreography up on the fly and I love watching his process.  He does some moves, then does some fast clapping and says, “Oh my god yes.”  He starts the count.  Today I’m feeling it and the stiffness is fading.  I think an upcoming night out with Juwan plus drinks will help this continue to fade – but he has given up drinking this month.  Whatever.  Quitting is for losers.  He will be back on it soon and when he is ready – I’ll be there to catch him… with a bottle of Titos.  We are rushed but I still have it.  I leave the studio and obsess over the music.  My playlist is annoying my kids but I am assuring them it is their musical education.  One day they will thank me for it.  WTF with this fundraising number?  How are some of these cats doing so well at this?  I tell myself it’s because I fundraise for a living so people are tired of my ask.  But I’m in dead dead dead last.  Wishing someone would swoop in and drop funds on the last place girl.  I mean I’m working my ass off out here and I have the bruises to show it.

DAY 5

My partner!

Like most things in life, one good day usually leads to a not so good day.  Today was one of those days where I was running late (shocker!) and was frazzled upon arrival.  I was still on my dancing high from yesterday but that quickly ended.  Why did I pick songs that are so damn fast?  My body just doesn’t move this fast!  Juwan asked if I wanted him to slow the tempo down, to which he answered as soon as it came out of his mouth to “Nope”.  The songs and steps are blending in my head and we are just adding more and more to them.  I’m honestly looking forward to having the next two days off because I need to gather my thoughts on these dances.  I need to watch the videos, write down the moves and study them like a test.  Just remembering the moves isn’t enough because they have to be sharp and cool on the beat.  Write them down, test myself, and walk through them slowly, put them to music.  Luckily I got a facial this week so my entire face is peeling off.  Sounds like a great weekend to stay indoors and then show up Sunday to impress Juwan with my progress.  I also pulled my groin again.  Welcome to 41.

To add on top of this all, I thought it would be a great idea to add signing up for the Transformation Challenge at Orange Theory.  3-4 classes a week plus dancing on top of that.  I had the weigh-in and measurements done today.  Figure if I’m going to go for it over the next 6 weeks, let’s turn this old bag of bones into something I can be proud of.  Remind me of this when I start breaking down in a few weeks.  

ISF has 20 tickets held for my guests so it’s not too late to purchase them until January 30th.  I would love to have a big group in the audience to help calm my nerves.  Yes, I know the ticket price is a little heavy but word on the street is this is one of the BEST events in Charlotte.  Can’t attend the event?   Go online and vote for me!  I need some people out there who are pushing us out to their networks, business and individuals.  We need all the help we can get!  Go to gala.charlotteballet.org to buy tickets and to vote.  And when you get out there and see some of these people killing us on fundraising, you will want to help.  

Revealed! Here are the 2019 honorees in CBJ’s Women in Business awards program

Originally published on Charlotte Business Journal

For more than 20 years, the Charlotte Business Journal has recognized outstanding local businesswomen through the Women in Business Achievement Awards program — and the time has come to reveal our 2019 honorees.

This signature awards program recognizes 25 female business leaders in the Charlotte region who’ve made significant contributions to their companies, industries and communities over the previous year.

A Lifetime Achievement Award honoree will be announced in the days to come. She will be someone who’s made an impact over the course of a distinguished career, joining past recipients such as Susan DeVore of Premier Inc. (NASDAQ: PINC) and Cathy Bessant of Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC).

CBJ will honor the members of the 2019 class at an awards event Feb. 25. As was the case last year, that program will take place in tandem with our Bizwomen Mentoring Monday event, which offers brief, one-on-one coaching sessions and networking opportunities. A cocktail hour, seated dinner and awards presentation will follow.

Each honoree has been asked to share a yearbook photo of herself and to consider this question: “What were you thinking at that moment when the photo was taken, and what advice would you give her today?” Those responses will be part of the program.

The honorees also will be profiled in a CBJ special report Feb. 15, with additional coverage and photos to come after the awards presentation.

Check out last year’s special section here to learn more about the program, and check out the photo gallery below for scenes from the 2018 event.

Congratulations to the 2019 winners:

  • Zelleka Biermann, city of Charlotte
  • Sarah Taylor Brigham, Sycamore Brewing
  • Tina Craft, Albemarle Corp.
  • Ruby DuBay, Blythe Construction
  • Caroline Dudley, Accenture
  • Carla Eustache, Style Perfect Events
  • Jada Grandy-Mock, Fifth Third Bank
  • Kim Henderson, Novant Health
  • Diane Honeycutt, Team Honeycutt/Allen Tate Realtors and Cabarrus County commissioner
  • Pat Jones, Carowinds
  • Elizabeth Jordan, Deloitte
  • Kathleen Kaney, Atrium Health
  • Cathie McDonald, OrthoCarolina
  • Rima Mehta, PNC Bank
  • Kelly Necessary, Dixon Hughes Goodman
  • Monika Nessbach, Designbar
  • Diana Palecek, Fox Rothschild
  • Scarlet Powell, Unified Technology Systems
  • Kim Rock, EY
  • Jane Rosaasen, Daimler Trucks North America
  • Erin Santos, Isabella Santos Foundation
  • Christine Steiner, Life’s Food
  • Stephanie Titus, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
  • Marcie Williams, RKW Residential
  • Jane Wu, Panorama Holdings

Charlotte’s unsung heroes: They made Charlotte better in 2018 (Part 2)

Originally published by The Charlotte Observer Editorial Board

Erin Santos with her daughter, Isabella. Santos has responded to Isabella’s death by helping others in similar situations. ANGELO MERENDINO

Each year, the Observer editorial board searches for heroes among us who make our city and region better. This year, we’ve found people who’ve made the most of a second chance, helped dads connect with children, helped students explore and forever changed treatment of cancer in Charlotte. (We published our first two honorees yesterday.) To them, and to all who make our community better, we say thank you!

Reimagining pediatric cancer care in Charlotte

Charlotte’s Isabella Santos was 2 years old when she was diagnosed in 2007 with neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that mostly afflicts very young children.

Her parents couldn’t get the treatment they needed for her in Charlotte. So they took Isabella to Sloan Kettering in New York and to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to try to save her life.

 

Even as they cared for their daughter, they quickly created the Isabella Santos Foundation to raise money to fund research at Sloan Kettering for a cure. At first it wasn’t much – they raised $7,000 at their first 5K race in Ballantyne.

But Isabella’s mother, Erin Santos, quit her job at Lending Tree to work on the foundation full time, and she changed the focus. She had had the resources to take Isabella around the country, but she knew other families didn’t, with deadly results. They needed world-class treatment in Charlotte.

So Erin stopped sending money elsewhere and instead worked with Levine Children’s Hospital to treat neuroblastoma here. The foundation raised $1 million last year and $1.4 million this year. It used part of that money to partner with Levine to build an MIBG treatment room, one of fewer than 20 in the country and arguably the best.

Erin Santos and the Isabella Santos Foundation have forever changed treatment of neuroblastoma in Charlotte. But they’re not content to stop there. They have pledged to raise $5 million over five years to have Levine build a rare and solid tumor program that would treat about 15 different rare cancers. It would be the only one of its kind in the country.

Isabella Santos died in 2012 at the age of 7. But her life, through the work of her mother Erin, will benefit others for generations.