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June 2013 Archives

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Julie Steffen may be a master instructor and the co-founder of WERQ Dance Fitness, but she spent most of her adult life as a CPA. “I was very active in my childhood” Steffen says, “but as an adult working full time, I was struggling to find the time to work out and also lacking any kind of direction.” It wasn’t long after friends introduced her to group fitness classes that Steffen teamed with WERQ co-founded Haley Stone to create the newest craze in group fitness. Not only is WERQ a hit at gyms, but Steffen and Stone have brought the pop, rock,and hip hop-based class to clubs, making it an afterWERQ destination as well. Steffen spoke with Our Town about fitness, dance tips and afterWERQ’s upcoming event at The Double Door.

Our Town
First let’s talk briefly about Werq. How did you come up with the idea for the fitness classes?
Julie Steffen My business partner Haley Stone first mentioned developing the WERQ format in 2010.  We were in her car and she looked at me and said, "Julie, we are going to start the next big trend in dance fitness.  We're going to call it WERQ."  I was a full-time CPA, teaching fitness classes part-time and I must have looked at her like she was insane.  We're going to do what?  Once she explained that the term WERQ was used in the hip-hop dance world to express confidence, dominance, and leaving your heart on the dance floor, I was sold.  Haley and I began to hash out the format and the details behind the choreography design, and WERQ was born.

OT As a teacher, what’s your main concern when leading a class?
JS My students!  Can they achieve?  Are they able to follow my cuing?  Are their heart rates high and are they crushing calories and building strength and cardiovascular endurance?  My goal as an instructor is to inspire people to work harder than they think they can work on their own. Fitness is a lifestyle commitment, not a quick fix and creating achievable workouts that are fun helps participants return week after week.  

OT
 It seems like more and more fitness and socializing are being combined. Why do you think that is?
JS We all struggle to fit what we need to do into 24 hours.  Events such as afterWERQ blend all the fitness of a gym workout with the social experience of going out with your friends.  

OT What do you think draws participants to the afterWERQ events?
JS The energy is always so infectious at afterWERQ – everyone is talking about their favorite song or favorite dance move and it's so wonderful to hear everyone so excited about working out.  It is a fitness experience complete with a stage, concert lighting, dance floor and bumping stereo system.  Also many participants enjoy getting out of the gym setting.  There are no mirrors at afterWERQ so if you're intimidated by the wall full of mirrors in an aerobics studio, this gives you the option of getting lost in the dark, dancing like no one is watching.  Also while I loved going out dancing in my early 20s, I'm past the time in my life where I enjoy the club scene.  afterWERQ allows participants to still enjoy the nightclub setting without the high heels, makeup and random guy dancing behind you.  

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Are you a woman who loves motorcycles? Well, Organized Chaos Motorcycle Organization, a new group for female Chicagoland riders may be the group for you. Our Town spoke with co-founder Tammy Sciortino about the groups origin and future goals.

Our Town What inspired you to found Organized Chaos?
Tammy Sciortino Organized Chaos was started because an honest group of women wanted to form a group to help out the community and assist charities with fundraising efforts. The founding of this group is credited to ALL our charter members. It's my job to keep us legal.

OT What is the importance of a women’s motorcycling community?
TS Women are powerful creators and nurturers. We are leaders and inspirational thinkers who happen to also love to ride. It is imperative that we, as a collective group, have a voice AND a presence in a male dominated arena.

OT Do you consider yourselves straight inclusive?
TS We welcome ALL women riders.

OT As a woman motorcyclist do you feel accepted by the motorcycling community as a whole?
TS As a woman motorcyclist I feel very welcome in the MC world. I know there are some men that welcome us, and others who don't. For those who don't, it is not my problem, it's theirs.

OT What kind of bike do you have and what’s your dream bike?
TS I ride a black 2013 Honda Goldwing. I am a distance rider, so I have a cruiser. This is my dream bike, for now.....

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Writer Barry Wightman is a rock and roller at heart. His debut novel, Pepperland deals with the connection between music and technology. After years spent in Chicago, Wightman spoke to Our Town from Milwaukee, his new home base.

Our Town Who are your influences?
Barry Wightman This may sound crazy, maybe a bit pretentious, but a few of my major literary influences are Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace and Jack Kerouac. Also Albert Murray, a venerable jazz journalist and novelist, John LeCarre and Vladimir Nabokov. Pynchon and DFW, both “postmodernists” (whatever that really means) of different generations, gave me permission to try new things, new structures (e.g. Pepperland’s footnotes or other contrary-to-fact devices). Kerouac and Murray’s jazz-inflected writing led directly to Pepperland’s humble attempt at a musical or rock ‘n roll rhythmic prose. Music on the page. Nabokov’s wondrous way with words is something I can only dream of. And LeCarre’s beautifully written tales of betrayal are books that I go back to time and again.

OT What’s your writing process like?
BW Read. Read more sources. Think about it. Think some more. Read. Scribble in notebooks. Write a bit. Try it out. Go back and work on the words, try for great sentences. Fail. Try again. Fail better. Thanks to Samuel Beckett for that. Then work with great readers and editors. I’ve been very lucky to work with real pros. I wish I could write 1,000 words a day or more…writers who can do that have my undying admiration. Another thing—I can’t write while listening to music. Just doesn’t work. I find that I end up thinking too much about the music. Bummer.

OT What’s interesting to you about the connection between rock ‘n roll and technology?
BW The revolutionary times of the ‘60s faded away in the early ‘70s and many were wondering—what’s the next big thing, who will be the next Dylan or Beatles? Where’s the next revolution that will change the world? Turns out that by about 1974, the next revolution was beginning to occur in high technology and it truly would change the world. Like Pepperland’s Sooz says, “high technology is at its best when it’s indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke said that. And many of those early pioneers were longhaired hippie freaks. Pretty cool.

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Melissa Ferrick loves Chicago. Each time I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing the prolific singer/songwriter, she’s made a point of telling me. “I love the art, I love the architecture, I love the hotels, I love the shopping,” Ferrick says. And Chicago loves her right back. On the heels of her new album The Truth Is, Ferrick will hit the Windy City just in time for Chicago Pride. Meanwhile, she took time from her intense touring schedule to discuss social media, the pros and cons of being an independent artist and of course Chicago.

Our Town You have a great new video for "Home." Can you share any behind the scenes gossip?
Melissa Ferrick Well, the actress who played my girlfriend is really pretty and she made me really nervous. And her boyfriend was the director of photography and then right before we started shooting on the couch where I’m like, flirting with her she was like, “Just so you know, I haven’t only slept with men,” and I was like, “Oh my God.” And the woman I’m with was at the shoot so she was watching this go down. But the video is really cool. And the fans have really enjoyed the east coast shows I’ve done so far. The band is sounding really good and people are buying the record. It’s nice when you know your fans like it. That’s always the most nerve-wracking thing. You try to not think about it but it’s a long six months to wait. I finished the record in December so I’ve been sitting on it for a while.

OT When you’re writing, do you think about how fans will respond?
MF Not when I’m writing. Unless it’s a song that feels poppy like “Go Easy On Me” or “Closer” or "Never Give Up"--songs like that, as soon as I start writing them I think, well, maybe this could get radio play, so that can creep into your head. But I don’t think about it when I’m recording. I focus on what makes the song work best and what kind of groove I want under it. And whether the reciprocity is working, like, does the music relate to the lyrics, or should I make it the opposite, not have the lyrics and music reflect each other?

OT What’s your favorite song off the new album?
MF “Take In All The Plants.” I feel really proud of the whole arrangement. I actually dreamed the drum part. It’s the first time I’ve ever written something that outside the box, that metaphorical. I worked a really long time on the lyrics. I wrote the whole thing in first person and then switched it to second person. I also took the word ‘and’ out of the whole lyric except for before the word ‘pray.’ That was hard to phrase. And I worked really hard on the last verse which switches to first person. I’d been saying “I am, I am I am,” but I realized what I really wanted to say is ‘I think therefore I am,’ meaning I am alive. I’d worried it would be too pretentious. Second person can be a pretentious place to sing from anyway. You gotta be really good to get away with it. It’s gotta be a social change song or really coming from a place of inclusion. But when I looked up the quote I realized there was a line before it-“I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.” I thought if I could sing the whole original quote that would take it out of pretension-land.

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OT I’m interested in what you’re saying about point of view shifts. How does point of view impact a song?
MF I’d always written in first person but that can get really boring and limit me as a writer. As soon as you take it out of first person, it opens you up to fantasy and change. When I write in first person I feel more obligated to my own person truth. I’m not as good at getting creative in first person.

OT You mentioned a drum part coming to you in a dream. Is that normal for you?
MF Music, not lyrics usually. I’ve started doing some dream journaling. The alarm will go off on my iPhone and I’ll open the memo and just say into it what I remember--that’s some 21st century dream journaling, you know? I do dream in sounds a lot. So the slow drum sound in “Take In All The Plants” I dreamed. I wanted a New Orleans sounding snare part, like a death march in the distance. The dream was very cinematic. I saw the end of the storm as a person surviving and everything around them being destroyed.

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June's Hot Writer: Kathryn Born

My literary influences:
Richard Brautigan, Barry Yourgrau and Amos Tutuola

My favorite literary quote: “If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.”
Anaïs Nin

My favorite book of all time: Aye, that's a hard question. I was blown away by "The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss

I’m currently reading:
"The Bridge" by Iain Banks

My guilty pleasure book: "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days" - but now I see there's a PDF on the Internet called "How to Write a Movie in 10 Days" - so I might switch to that (because that's even faster).

I can’t write without: Total and complete silence, 5 hour periods of time and ice tea. Writing is fantastic in that you need nothing – borrow a pen and flip over a paper placemat and you can create work. For art, you need supplies; movies you need a crew - so as one who does a lot of art forms, I appreciate the simplicity of writing.

Worst line I ever wrote: Brilliant lines that I later realized were actually written by someone else.

Brief Bio:
Born and raised in Chicago, Kathryn Born is a writer, artist and filmmaker. Her first novel, The Blue Kind was published in November of 2012, and she is currently adapting it into a screenplay. She is also toying with the idea of creating a reader's guide that will clarify the confusing parts of the novel. Her first book, The Essential New Art Examiner, an anthology about the long-running regional art magazine "The New Art Examiner" was published in 2011. She founded Chicago Art Magazine in 2009, along with online publications about technology and film. She lives with her husband and two children in the suburbs of Chicago, and is working on a software algorithm that will match people with the indie films, books art, and music they are most likely to enjoy.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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When Kari Venteris felt frustrated by the lack of queer women in her suburban area, she was determined to do something about it. “I decided to organize a group to help eradicate the issue of queer invisibility in the suburbs and rural areas,” Venteris says. This Out&About was formed. Venteris' main intention? “To help lesbians find each other in the areas located outside of the big cities of Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago and to have a good time doing it.” Venteris spoke with Our Town about her endeavor.

Our Town Why is it such a struggle to meet other queer women outside of Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee?
Kari Venteris Generally, lesbians depend on the bars to find the community. However, many bars aimed at the gay and lesbian population are shutting down. Further, some towns are not large enough to support a gay bar. These circumstances drive the queer population into the straight bars where it becomes absurdly difficult. For newcomers to the area or other women seeking the lesbian community, it becomes a daunting task to find the local hangouts and to connect with other lesbians. Additionally, there are not many activities focused solely on the queer community, outside of Pride events, which are generally only in the larger cities and only occur for once weekend once a summer.

OT
Why is Out&About necessary?
KV I hope with Out&About to make the community more consistently visible year round by having an organization whose sole purpose is to foster connections within the lesbian community through social activities.

OT Aside from the group, how have you met other queer women outside of the city?
KV It appears a large number of queer women are meeting online through sites such as OKCupid or Plenty of Fish. The Internet is a wonderful tool for connecting isolated groups, such as members of the queer community living in rural areas. However, we all know the inherent problems with meeting people online, such as misrepresentation. With Out&About, group members can grow to know each other in a more natural, relaxed environment to connect as friends or even romantically.

OT Any plans to take a group outing to Chicago pride?
KV We certainly plan on supporting Pride events throughout the area in order to not only support our community, but also to let interested parties know we exist.

OT What are your hopes for the organization?
KV My hopes are quite simple; I want to have fun while helping people make connections!

OT What are your future plans for the group?
KV Our inaugural event will be held at 1pm on Saturday, June 15th at Volcano Falls in Loves Park, IL. Afterwards, we will head out to Buffalo Wild Wings in Machesney Park, IL for burgers and beverages. Future events will include game nights, visits to attractions in the Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin area, and recreational activities, such as days at the beach, bike rides, or kayaking lessons. The future of Out&About will be largely guided by the membership.


To keep up with the club, find them on Facebook.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Tyler Gillespie embraces his awkwardness, but it wasn’t always that way.

“In my Florida middle school, the tanner you were, the more popular,” he says. “I’m the palest Floridian you will ever meet, so I got this great idea to use self-tanner, except, I did it in shameful secrecy and no one told me I needed to use gloves. Later that week, the most popular guy in middle school told me that it looked like I had “crapped on my hands.” I remember caring so much I was basically speechless.”

Inspired to help people feel connected rather than isolated by their awkwardness, Gillespie and Claire Meyer created "That Awkward Phase," a Tumblr and stage show. They spoke with Our Town about their project.

Our Town What was the inspiration behind "That Awkward Phase?"
Tyler Gillespie We started the Tumblr as an entry for Chronicle Books “Great Tumblr Book Search.”
Claire Meyer Tyler and I knew that we wanted to do something positive. It’s too easy for comedy to turn cynical—we weren’t going to let that happen with this project. Tyler and I are both wonderfully weird and awkward in our own right. Neither one of us hide from it though—we celebrate it. So why not create a project around that idea?

OT How did TAP move from tumbler to stage event?
TG When we were having our consultation with Tumblr (part of the prize for being runner-up) they suggested we do a story-telling night to generate more submissions. Being performers, Claire and I had already played around with the idea, but having Tumblr’s support really made us go full force.
CM I have a photo of Tyler and I right after we hung up the phone with Rachel. It’s pure shock and emotion.

OT What’s the next step with Chronicle Books?
TG The press was super cool and told us they were interested in possibly developing our Tumblr into a book, if we were able to get more submissions like Claire’s post. We’ve received a ton of great submissions and hopefully we will be able to continue developing the project. A few weeks ago, I scanned someone’s high school journal entries. She just gave me her whole journal and said “scan whatever you want, it’s all basically Pretty Ricky fanfiction, but I just want to be a part of it.” We had a moment and it wasn’t awkward at all. 

OT You’ve already produced one TAP event. What was that experience like?
CM It felt like a welcome home party for everyone there. Within two hours there was really a sense of community in that room. People were being so open and real on stage that it allowed the audience to do that as well. I had friends and strangers tell me that during the show they had memories spark that they hadn’t thought of in years—even decades. I couldn’t be more proud of that.

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June's Honest Parents: Rachel A. Walsh and Joshua G. Urquhart

My great parenting strength:

Rachel: I’m not afraid of making the difficult decisions no matter how unpopular/unpleasant.
Josh: Empathy. There’s this idea that kids are completely illogical or irrational. They’re not. They act perfectly logical or rational given their worldview – it’s just that this worldview is often skewed by their developing brains and their general life inexperience. So when one kid has a meltdown because his brother is taking too long with a shared toy, he really is experiencing a traumatic event (to him). I try to parent with this in mind. It’s not to say that you should ignore that behavior or shouldn’t correct it. But you need to do so with the understanding that your kid really is feeling what he’s feeling.



My greatest parenting weakness:
Rachel: Impatience.
Josh: My freakish ability to zone out and to ignore my kids. When I’m immersed in a book or surfing the web or a game on TV, I just don’t hear them. Literally. I could be wearing noise-canceling headphones.

What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent?

Rachel: After we discovered that our hoped-for-baby #2 was actually babies #2 & 3, our lives drastically changed. We’ve never been able to rely on family assistance since our families live in various parts of the country. I realized that I had a wealth of untapped strength that I needed to use in order to continue to juggle my career with my role as a wife and mother. I discovered that I was really physically tough and tackled the insanely difficult task of growing multiple children – who had a combined birth weight of 13lbs, 6oz. – while caring for an active 3 year old, maintaining a career and a marriage. I also became smarter – not more intelligent – but craftier. To manage this kind of lifestyle requires a resourcefulness and street-smart attitude that I thought I had, but never really had to use it until I became this parent.
Josh: How much I hate poop.


What do you wish someone had told you before you became a parent?
Rachel: How wonderful silence is and to cherish it, because once the kiddos arrive, it disappears…for good.
Josh: How much poop you have to deal with.


How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing--or what you "should" be doing?

Rachel: I often question what I “should” be doing. As a pre-tenure woman in academia, the question becomes one of why do I have children at all, let alone three? And how in the world could I imagine researching abroad, publishing, dedicating the requisite time to my research, teaching and service needed to further my career? Well, the facts are that I am a working woman in academia who happens to have three small children. I can’t change these. What I can do is work with my particular situation and do the best I can. True balance is rarely attainable. And I’m o.k. with that. Sometimes you need to prioritize and to let one particular aspect of your life take a back-seat to another. So, while I may compare myself with others, I always remember that parenting is not one-size-fits-all. Our style works for us. I doubt it would work for others. Yes, it is hectic, messy and exhausting. But it is also fulfilling, enriching and stimulating.
Josh: Rarely if ever. I guess I leave that to Rachel. Sorry.

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Comedian, improv pro and storyteller Deanna Moffitt is undoubtedly funny, so The Chicago Funny Women Festival is a logical fit. This Thursday she and Chicago favorite Robyn Okrant will join forces to tell titillating tales and shameful stories. Our Town spoke with Moffitt about comedy secrets and how to turn humiliation into humor.

Our Town How did you first get interested in improvising?
Deanna Moffitt In 1999 I was living in Portland working as an IT Project Manager and doing some community theater. I didn't even know improv existed; one of my co-workers who had seen a couple of my plays and found me funny in the workplace kept telling me about this show called ComedySportz and that I should go see it. Finally, after months of his encouragement I saw a show and immediately fell in love. They were just big kids, playing on stage. I convinced a friend to take classes with me and on the way home from our first class I told her that I would be playing in their ensemble in six months. She laughed and and said, "maybe you should get through your first level of classes.” But sure enough, almost six months to the day I was called to join the ensemble. The choice to take that first class completely changed the trajectory of my life. I met [my husband] in that class and a few years later, I quit my well paying, insurance providing, secure job, as an IT Project Manager, sold my home and moved to Chicago. So, Tom Hassell, if you're out there thanks for encouraging me to go see that show.

OT Any comedy secrets to share?
DM When I first moved to Chicago nine years ago from Portland, I had a fantastic improv instructor named Liz Allen. She explained that the inverse of laughter was tension and the more tension you create the bigger, richer laughter you'll get from a release the audience needs to have. That just clicked for me, so I enjoy playing the silent tension of comedic situations.

OT
You co-founded This Much is True. Why do you think Live Lit is so hot right now?
DM It's been fun to see the change happen and be involved. When we first started This Much is True the only other story show we knew about was 2nd Story which was a long running well-oiled machine. There are probably several reasons for the popularity.  There's a great book "The Storytelling Animal - How Stories Make us Human" by Jonathan Gottshall that asserts we are creatures of story. That from the beginning, stories were how we learned and how we were entertained. I think the key element of a Live Lit show has to do with the connectedness we feel in the room with a person willing to share their vulnerabilities and failures. We're learning from them what we would or wouldn't do if were put in that same situation. With a good story our minds are totally connected. It's not a passive act to be in the audience; our minds are visualizing and connecting dots in a stimulating way. It's a different experience than seeing something for pure comedy or entertainment.

OT As a storyteller, when something happens to you, are you thinking, this will make a good story?
DM It's not like I'm searching out bad things to happen but now in the moment I tell myself this will be a good story one day. A couple of weeks ago my car died in the middle of an intersection on Kimball. I wanted to cry for about 30 seconds and then I pulled myself together, saw the comedy around me and called a tow truck. It will probably be part of a story one day about my love/hate relationship with automobiles and how a good tow truck driver can feel like a white knight with more body odor.

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