11 | Sherry Lin, Founder of Rhythm & Nutrition
As dancers, we often have to juggle work, school, dance, more dance, and pretending that we have anything else but dance into our busy schedules. A lot of you are probably looking through your April calendars right now, trying to figure out how 👏 on 👏 earth 👏 you are going to make time for all your "life things" on top of all the upcoming competitions, video shoots, showcases, and jams. 😵
With busy lives like ours, it can be too easy to forgo prioritizing nutrition. Believe me, I loveeee love love fast food and especially fried chicken 😍🍗 as much as the next guy (Confession #39: My roommates and I have definitely ordered McDonald's via UberEats delivery even though it's maybe a block away from our house. Mutliple times. 😭), but the importance of taking care of our bodies is incredibly important. We have to take care of our bodies and minds, especially if we want to keep dancing for the long-term. In the same way that we might take classes or go to conventions to improve our technique and creativity, what we put into our bodies is also an investment that will push you to be an even better (and happier) dancer and individual.
For Rhythm and Nutrition's Sherry Lin, it was a car accident that pushed her to focus a lot more on her holistic health. This was a time when Sherry wasn't eating as healthy, performing in back to back to back shows in a short period of time. Although Sherry got through the first few performances, it didn't take long for Sherry to be physically and mentally wiped out. She ended up falling asleep at the wheel.
That accident was a huge wake-up call that ultimately motivated Sherry not only to focus more on her own health but also to pursue a larger mission to help dancers and other individuals find their nutritional balance. That doesn't meet cutting out all of life's guilty pleasures (including Sherry's weakness, Krispy Kreme 😉 🍩), but Sherry wants to help all individuals find that practical and healthier balance, where ever they may be in their lives.
I had a great time sitting down with Sherry to talk about her journey with dance, and how she's combined that with her other passions to serve others!
Six-Steps in the Basement
Sherry attended a summer camp hosted by the Taiwanese American Foundation for several years, starting when she was six years old. The camp was for second-generation Taiwanese-Americans, and throughout her time in the camp she would take leadership, cultural, and identity formation workshops. This summer camp also happened to introduce Sherry to dance and hip-hop in general.
Sherry: "We would learn little numbers. Little choreography pieces that we would learn throughout the week and perform for our parents at the end of the camp. (Laughs) This was back in the 90s, and I remember doing Spice Girls and Men In Black routines, and I absolutely loved it. We also had breakdancing workshops, which was the coolest thing.
After learning how to do the six-step and how to top rock...my cousins and I would practice breaking in their basement during junior high. And so that's kind of how I got into dancing and freestyling. I would consider myself starting out as a freestyler, learning how to wave, pop - just having fun with my cousins. We would do talent shows, and I even joined a step team in high school and I loved it."
Primo Dance Troupe x Hip Hop ConnXion
Sherry didn't take her first official dance class until she went to college. Dionna Pridgeon taught Sherry's first dance class - a free midnight workshop at Lou Conte Dance Studio. Sherry decided to just go by herself, even if she didn't know anyone. Sherry notes that it was Dionna's unique style and teaching that inspired her to pursue dance even further:
Sherry: "I loved it. I hadn't danced in the way that Dionna did with hip-hop and contemporary like she did before, but I loved the way it felt in my body, and that motivated me to join Primo and be part of a dance team for the first time."
Sherry joined Primo Dance Troupe at UIC her freshman year in college. Through her collegiate dance experience, she witnessed companies like NonStop and CODA perform for the first time and she was hooked. There was a whole world of dance she had never seen before. Something she wanted to be a part of. Even after graduating college, she wanted to continue living in that world, and eventually auditioned for Hip Hop ConnXion (HHC). (Coincidentally, both Primo and HHC recently joined forces to form Hip Hop ConnXion Primo, based out in UIC).
John: "Was there something about Hip Hop ConnXion that resonated with you more than maybe other companies you could have auditioned for at the time?"
Sherry: "I had seen kids in Hip Hop ConnXion and already knew a few of the dancers. I just really liked their style. Even though they were all the way out in Aurora, I really liked the training that they had, and a lot of the alumni from ConnXion started their own companies and are now doing really well. I was really inspired by that, so I went out and joined ConnXion, and I've been with them since!
I really enjoy the family feel and dynamic of it. And everyone's really focused as well. It's actually pretty intense. We do over 40 shows a year...
Sherry: "...Which is unheard of!" (laughs) It's over every other week - and a lot of times its just crazy. I can't wrap my mind around that, but I've learned so much. We'll do marking and blocking right before a show - maybe an hour before a show."
Sherry: "That style of show prep has definitely helped me - it's really challenging at first, and I messed up a lot. But it helped me to learn how to pick up things really quick. And now, when I do things outside of Connxion, I'm much more able to adapt based on the tools and fundamentals I've learned through HHC. I think the fundamentals of popping and isolation is what ConnXion is known for, and I definitely appreciate that training aspect as well."
John: "Has that practice of doing things right before a performance always been a part of Hip Hop ConnXions style?"
Sherry: "Yeah - it's been like that way since the beginning. ConnXion does so many shows, we reserve rehearsal time to learn and clean pieces and we don't have much time to mark. Our shows will range from high school performances to larger performances like Hip Hop International. It's inevitable that you'll have dancers injured at times, or the stage might look different when you show up. So being able to adapt to whatever environment is given becomes a very beneficial skill."
Finding the Rhythm
Sherry continued dancing until 2014 - but ended up taking a little bit of a break that year. There was a point where Sherry found herself spread reallllllly really thin: working full time at Breakthrough Urban Ministries, as well as taking a part-time leadership position at her church. On top of that, she had put her nutrition degree from UIC to good use as a part-time clinical dietician at a hospital.
Sherry: "Haha, yeah I couldn't do it. Around 2013 is when everything started to pick up, and the reality is that eventually, something is going to give.
I believe there are "seasons" in life where you have to focus on different things - and during that season I took a break from dance. Taking a break was necessary, but I also decided pretty soon afterwards (laughs) that dance was too important not to do. I cut some hours back from my part-time job, rejoined Hip Hop ConnXion, and made dance I priority again."
John: "You had to create that new balance after college. I think I was similar where it was thought, 'Oh I'm just going to stop dancing after college, especially with work commitments.' But if you really love dance it comes back into your life, and you end up finding new ways to make it work for new stages in your life."
Sherry: "Yeah, I just really felt that dancing was something I needed to focus on during the next season of my life. So it was around 2015, and I did a couple dance conventions including Monsters, Dance Revolution, and the Word in Motion Urban Dance Festival in LA. I also did the Establish Your Empire Program (EYE). I was like - I'm going to invest time and effort into this."
Establishing Sherry's Empire
Speaking of the EYE program, EYE Founder Gigi Torres has played a huge role in Sherry's development as a dancer and creator. In 2015, Sherry did Vol. 5 of the Establish Your Empire program in Chicago, where dancers undergo a rigorous program that not only focuses on developing your dance technique, but also creates a space where dancers have time to reflect and create goals for their own personal development.
Sherry: "For the program, we had to set 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year goals. My 1-year goal was to make Hip Hop ConnXion's elite team, which is their top 8-ish dancers. There isn't an elite team now, but I do feel like I've grown a lot - I'm satisfied with my dance trajectory so far.
My 3-year goal was to was to choreograph, and my 5-year goal was to teach."
Sherry made these goals in 2015. Two years later, Gigi Torres debuted a new program in the EYE series known as Build Your Brand, which focuses more on helping creators with brand creation and their overall choreography process. Sherry recognized that she was coming up on her deadline to reach her 3-year goal, so when the opportunity arose, she signed up for Build Your Brand and began making good on her goals. At the conclusion of the Build Your Brand program last year, there was a showcase that all the participants performed in, and as part of that night of performances, Sherry debuted her latest piece.
John: "For me, that was one of the most impactful pieces at the showcase. I remember you created a piece to a John Legend song. Can you talk about the motivations behind that piece?"
Sherry: "Yes! Love Me Now was the song. The biggest spark was in November 2016, when Trump was announced the winner of the presidential election, and then got inaugurated in January of the next year. Honestly, That was the initial spark. I remember waking up the next day after the election and feeling just...grief. Disbelief and grief. Anticipating the damage that would come; not only as an Asian-American but also as someone who works in a predominantly African-American community.
And I guess - it wasn't a feeling hopelessness, but it felt like we took a step back. All the hate crimes and rhetoric that came the election was just so disheartening and devastating. So in February after Trump got inaugurated that feeling came back, and John Legend's song was playing on the radio a lot during that time. And I was like - that's all I can hold onto. Love. Not hate. Combating hate rhetoric with acts of love.
I had started choreographing in February or March, but I hadn't done anything with it until October came around with EYE's Build Your Brand program. So I decided to use BYB as the motivation to finish the piece and set it. I wanted that message of love to be louder than what I was hearing at the time."
Finding the Nutrition
That wasn't the only thing that Sherry debuted at the Establish Your Empire showcase last year - attendees also got to see the first taste of her revamped Rhythm and Nutrition brand, Sherry's own personal business that helps individuals and groups create healthier lifestyle changes.
John: "You also showcased your Rhythm and Nutrition brand video, but I know that your business was already up and running at that point right? How did R&N get started?"
Sherry: "So while I've been training in dance the last 4-5 years, I've also worked as a registered dietician. I went to school to UIC for nutrition and got my license as a registered dietician through UIC. During my work as a clinical dietician, while also being involved with the dance community, I began to see that dancers had very similar struggles with nutrition and health compared to the patients I was seeing through my clinical work.
Most often, the struggles were maybe budgeting, or food access, and habit. Habits were a big one, and also just awareness and knowledge of what kind of impact nutrition has on the body. I wanted to bring my two passions together and bring the experiences I have as a dietitian and as a dancer together to bring more guidance to our dance community.
During 2016 going into 2017, I actually did 1-on-1 mentoring with Gigi, before I went into the Build Your Brand program. During that month I had been thinking about starting a new business for maybe two years, but my mentorship period with Gigi really accelerated my creation of Rhythm and Nutrition. Together we were able to establish who I was as a person, what my purpose was, what my goals were, and what practical steps I could take to build a brand. Things like building a website, designing a logo, and trademarking. So so much. There's still so much to learn, but I was able to take those steps to get started!"
Sherry provides 1-on-1 nutritional coaching, as well as group seminars and cooking demonstrations. The nutritional coaching starts off with a review of current diets, habits and overall lifestyle. For Sherry, it's all about promoting holistic wellness. It's not just what you eat, but your physical health, along with your mental and emotional health. Your occupational health. Your spiritual health. Your social health.
The goal to promote holistic wellness for dancers, and also help dancers find their own individual rhythm for health.
Sherry: "Everyone has different needs and has a different rhythm. You won't find me saying that you have to follow this one specific diet, and do this one specific thing that everyone else does. My goal is to help find what is best for the individual. We will look at certain areas, and keep them accountable for those goals. It's going to be a process. It's not an overnight thing, but once people are more aware of what they are putting in their bodies, and how they feel about their bodies, we can start making real, actionable progress. I've also worked with people outside of the dance community, including engineers and high school teachers. My focus is people with busy lifestyles (so all of us lol), where it can be really difficult to create and maintain a healthy balance as much as possible. It's not going to happen all the time, but how can we integrate nutrition, self-care, community - those are all really important aspects of our overall health. "
John: "Speaking of people with busy lifestyles, what advice do you have for people who are sitting there thinking, 'I don't have the time to even think about nutrition in the day-to-day?"
Sherry: "First I would ask them a very general question: Why do you do what you do?
I would first help anyone I work with determine their purpose first. Ask them who they are, and why they do what they do. Then, after that's determined, the quetsion becomes, are my actions aligned with my purpose?
If not, how do can we make adjustments so that those actions do become more aligned with what you want to do? If those actions are aligned, great! Then we focus on finding habits and making something that works with their current lifestyle."
It's becoming proactive in your health, instead of waiting until something is wrong with your body to hit you first.
R&N for the Future!
Moving forward, Sherry has a lot lined up. She wants to teach dance, choreograph and set more pieces, and perhaps most notably, she wants to create a nutrition curriculum for urban dancers.
Sherry: I think especially for urban dancers, we tend to be less conscious of how nutrition affects our bodies. Classical dancers and ballet dancers have traditionally been more mindful of their diets and over health, but I think there's a great opportunity to really take that beneficial information to empower urban dancers in the community to eat better, and overall improve their happiness."
Sherry's already been vending this past year at dance events throughout Chicago (including Reveal and Intensive.PNG), selling great healthy snacks and promoting her new business. Sherry's also been putting in a lot of work on her blog at rhythmandnutrition.com, where she's been sharing a lot of great information for dancers looking to boost their performance and overall health! If 2018 is your year to revamp your lifestyle, Sherry is someone you want to keep an eye out for! ⭐