Today I am going to talk about something that I don’t bring up often. My intention in writing about this is to help someone who might be struggling with failure and identity. You are not alone and the struggles in life are what make us beautiful human beings. Never give up because sometimes you have to try things and fail in order to find your true purpose.
My favorite thing about living in Los Angeles are the amazing dreamers I meet on a daily basis. The creative energy is intoxicating and for some, toxic. They say Hollywood will chew you up and spit you out and while I guess I could say I’ve seen that happen to a few souls I am and always will be in love with Los Angeles. Despite the dark side of LA Life, I believe the amount of dreaming that keeps the positive energy in this city alive is worth any struggle and tests of failure one may experience when moving here. The truth is, only the strong-willed and good-hearted can survive in Los Angeles while maintaining their true sense of self. There are tons of fakers but not a lot of legitimate makers. Once you’re here for a while you learn the value of self and the lengths people go to lose that value of self in order to attain a superficial goal.
“Man who catch fly with chopstick, accomplish anything.” – Mr. Miyagi
You see, since I was a kid I was told I was gonna be a star. Sounds cheesy, I know. And I always felt a sort of “pressure” to live up to my talents. I felt a responsibility to others to fulfill a role that I seemed to fit so perfectly because of my abilities as a ballet dancer at such a young age. Dare I say that looking back I didn’t really care that much to be a “Star”? While I love performing and I love the stage, fame was never really a “goal” per se but rather a consequence of performing in front of an audience. Fame isn’t a goal, and that’s the mistake so many people make when moving to LA. Eventually, the Internet became my stage, more on that in a bit.
During my career, I was a professional dancer and got my first job as an apprentice at 15 years old, and then after I went to ballet school at SF ballet and trained with Margaret Swarthout (Rudolf Nureyev’s former dance partner) I got injured. I most notably trained and danced with Ballet Hawaii, Shamil Yagudin of the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia, SF Ballet School, The School of American Ballet The Official School of New York City Ballet, Marin Dance Theater, Cincinnati Ballet and Suzanne Farrell Ballet. I was also accepted on a full scholarship but never attended Miami City Ballet School and the Jackie O School for American Ballet Theater, I’m not kidding I was legit pretty good. This was just one piece of me as a whole artist and it took until recently for me to stand up and say “I am not just a dancer who got injured” I am an artist. And artistic people will find a way to express themselves in any way possible regardless of limitations placed upon them. Everyone in my life set me up for “stardom” but no one set me up to lose my identity as a ballet dancer once I had to officially retire from dancing at 22 years old because I tore my plantar fascia and the chronic pain became unbearable. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s the main ligament under your foot that connects your heel to your metatarsal, the tendons in your toes, Achilles, etc. For me, it was the ligament that connected me to the only identity I ever knew: Ben the ballet prodigy. After my injury, my doctor told me I would probably need to walk with a cane for the rest of my life. At the time, I thought I was an invincible 22 year old so the news didn’t phase me right away. I actually continued dancing for a few years off and on until the pain got to a point where I couldn’t walk after taking a beginner ballet class at The Edge. After class that day I got into my car and it just hit me so hard. I cried for about 30 minutes and I couldn’t even stop long enough to calm myself to drive home. I had my first panic attack and didn’t even realize it until later, thats how hard I was inside. The discipline from being trained by the toughest coaches in the world allowed me to prolong coping with the loss of my identity as a dancer. But in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big of a deal to me anymore. I feel satisfied in knowing my ability and that is enough because I am lucky enough to have already had a career that I loved. Not many people can say the same, so I consider myself blessed. The truth is I would’ve grown out of dance anyway because it didn’t completely fulfill me as an artist.
I don’t need a pity party, I am extremely fortunate because God gave me multiple gifts for which I am forever grateful. The eventual grief I experiencecd was lessened by the other talents and interests I kept myself occupied with – gifts and talents the Internet help me express. The internet is my best friend. I say this because not only has it helped me create a brand and business that supports my life, it has also connected me with the people who mean the most to me. And as I became a stylist, it has granted me access to a new world and a new life that helps me with my continuous goal of connecting with new people. And hey, making someone look good is a pretty damn good way to make new friends.
MySpace was a thing when I was in ballet school and I had almost 1 million friends before I got in trouble with my family for becoming an online idol to kids with eating disorders around the world and I lost my original profile due to violating terms of service blah blah blah. The infamy happened on accident. I was an angsty teenager and I always had a really thin physique (hence my ballet success) but this came naturally to me. I never had to starve or hurt myself to maintain my image but kids online and in my school would make fun of me for looking anorexic so I played off of it and then one day I wrote a song about it as a rebuttal to being teased and posted in on MySpace. A rebuttal that became a giant online “fuck you” to all the bullies I ever had to deal with. My song “Anorexia” went viral after my fans on MySpace thought Jeffree Star (who already had more fans than me) wrote it. Once they realized it was me, my internet fan base exploded literally overnight and there were hundreds of youtube fan videos for my song and I never even had to make a music video of my own. I won’t go into too much detail but I’ll just say I still receive royalty checks today from that stupid song I wrote 11 years ago. At the time I didn’t realize my myspace persona was my first version of a coping mechanism in the making. A mechanism that no one taught me, no one prepared me to create. It’s almost as if my subconscious knew I needed to do that to help myself in the future. Maybe I was just lucky? Purchase the song here and listen to how dumb I was as a teenager. I can’t even criticize “cash me ousside” girl because I was just as stupid in my own way when I was her age.
I recreated a new MySpace after the initial internet drama settled and continued to create music because it was a connection to dance that was familiar to me. Music is amazing because you can be injured and still create it. When I can’t dance, others can. I released more music after my “MySpace days” and learned invaluable skills about social media marketing along the way. Some of the best social media marketers and influencers today were my friends on MySpace so that says a lot about how our generation learned what it takes to maintain an Internet presence from a “stupid website” like MySpace.
Fast forward to my fashion life today. Everything boils down to an image and what that image can make someone feel. One common thread that has been my strength throughout my life is my ability to express ideas via imagery. This is why fashion has always been a secret piece of my success before I even realized it. From the images I created through my dancing to the modeling I dabbled in, to the photos posted on a MySpace profile. All of these pushed me on my way to the Instagram posts that pay my bills today – style, fashion and unique imagery are just pieces of my new “life” and identity that I was able to create for myself. This is why unique people with unique identities interest me most. Because when we meet it’s kind of like we already understand each other without even sharing our stories. What I received from dance was the impact my art had on the people around me. This hasn’t changed just because I am doing something different. I haven’t placed all my bets on “one art”. Why limit myself when I can live as many lives as I want to create? I pity those who limit themselves.
Looking back on my life thus far I really can’t complain because I am so happy with where I am today. If I never stopped dancing, I would’ve never moved to LA to be in a relationship with my boyfriend of 7 years. I didn’t move to LA to be someone famous, I literally moved here for a relationship. Because what is important to me most of all, are people. Connecting. That’s why it’s so ironic that I have all these interests because most fame-hungry people are struggling to be seen and they milk their one interest until its tired, old and outdated and I’m just evolving and hustling so I can disappear. Without the internet, I would’ve never received the first message from my current boyfriend. Without dance, I wouldn’t have been in LA auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance which is when I changed the setting on my gay.com dating profile to Los Angeles and helped my man find me in the first place. I almost never came to LA to audition because of my injury, but I pushed myself to try – and try again because dance meant so much to me I was willing to hurt myself over and over to never give up. Life changes you and teaches you to evolve from closed mindsets and labels placed on you by other people. And more people need to understand that it’s okay to change your life, it’s ok to try new things as scary as it may seem.
I think it’s impossible to know what the right life path will be. Unfortunately, we can’t just call an Uber or use a Waze map to get the fastest route to success and happiness but the important lesson I’ve learned is to follow your gut, hone your abilities and keep an open and disciplined mind. Because sometimes all you need to do to heal a wound is fake it until you make it. They say dancers die two deaths, the first when they stop dancing and the second when they stop living. With my multitude of interests, I know that in my life I will die a few more times and that’s ok because at least this time, I’ll be ready. I’ll always be 3 lives ahead. xoxo