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Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

An Interview With American Ninja Warrior’s Allyssa Beird

As regular readers of this blog know, it is generally focused on art and creativity. However, those themes can expand far beyond what one might think. In the case of possibly America’s most well-known teacher, and almost certainly the most athletic, creativity comes in the form of finding the right balance between her full-time career in the classroom and her passion for competition. That person would be one Allyssa Beird, one of the biggest names from the television sensation that is American Ninja Warrior.

I recently had the chance to communicate with Ms. Beird and got some wonderful insight into her world.

For those who don’t know, she has always been an athlete. She started out in gymnastics at the age of 3 and competing in that sport until she was 18. During middle school, she began cross country and continued through high school in which she also went into track and field. Later, she would get into marathon running and eventually obstacle events like ANW.

Before every run, she makes sure she warms up properly and has visualized the course a few times. “I find a quiet place, close my eyes, and try to run through the course in real-time, timing myself after a few run-throughs in my head,” Beird stated.

And in case you are wondering, the camaraderie between competitors on the show is real, it’s not just something made for ratings. “The ninjas are like my second family. There’s even a hashtag across social media of #ninjafam,” she stated. She mentioned that she actually gets more emotional when friends reach their goals than when she reaches them. One example was when Michelle Warnky and Jesse “Flex” Labreck made history by completing the Cincinnati City Finals this year.

Some of her closest friends from the show include the aforementioned Warnky and Labreck as well as those she started her journey with, Jenny and Dave Cavanaugh. And of course, we can’t forget James McGrath.

“The ninja community is one of the most warm, welcoming, amazing communities of which I have ever been a part,” Beird mentioned.

Photo Credit: The Ninja Coalition www.ninjacoalition.com

When it comes to her work as a teacher, she mentioned that there are several aspects of the job that relate in some way to the competition.

While there is sometimes a mixed reaction, all generally positive when students and parents first meet “Ms. Beird,” she finds her mild celebrity status a bit humorous. And, after a brief time of answering student questions and parents interested in chatting, things go back to “business as usual” in her classroom.

Even though she doesn’t use many ninja-specific elements in her classroom, Beird knows there are lots of things that apply to ninja competition, school and as a general approach to life overall. Goal-setting is one such idea. She likes to help students set goals and make progress to achieve them. And when they get there, they have a buzzer celebration in which each child gets his or her picture taken while hitting a buzzer similar to the one on ANW. The picture goes up on the wall along with the goal. “It’s really motivating!” Beird stated.

Whether the goal is something to do with math, reading, writing, etc, it’s key to have them. “If students truly believe that they can succeed in doing something through hard work, there is never a reason to give up, even when things become difficult or confusing,” she mentioned.

Photo Credit: The Ninja Coalition www.ninjacoalition.com

And when it comes to her role, she says that teaching and competition have similarities in a few ways. The ability to respond instantly and adapt to unexpected events is critical. And when they happen, having a lot of mental fortitude is essential so that the bumps along the road do not affect her decision making.

And for those of you out there who might be considering making an ANW run of your own, she’s got a little advice for you.

If you live near a ninja gym, make sure to go. If not, find another option to train like a park, playground or structure you can use to make your way across like an obstacle. Build your strength with exercises including the all-important pull-ups for the upper body. But perhaps the single most important thing is to be ready. “There is not a right way or a wrong way to train for ninja, but I think it’s best to truly feel ready when you hit that ‘submit’ button on your application,” she stated.

 

Creative Contortions: Talent in Western PA

The city of Pittsburgh and nearby areas have long been known for cultivating people with great skills and talent. The list of athletes, performers and artists is extensive and growing all the time.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting two of these young ladies, along with a mentor who has helped mold their remarkable skills. And interestingly enough, they sort of fit into all of the categories I mentioned earlier.

Ashley King (21) and Alexa Siska (15) recently wowed audiences on the reboot of “The Gong Show” with their contortion performance. The girls are from the Dance Extensions Performing Arts Center in Canonsburg, a facility run by owner and director Betsy Shuttleworth and co-owner Dawn Churney.

The girls aired as the first performance of the evening and scored one of the highest scores of the night. Watch it here:

 

As you probably expect, a lot of hard work goes into these routines and contortionist training in general. The show was taped in May 2017 and the girls only had about one month before the show to practice the act after the show contacted Betsy when coming across an account on Instagram (@bendytrainer). And while due to unexpected circumstances, the girls has only paired up a few months earlier, Ashley has been working on her craft for about 14 years while Alexa has been in training for 4 years. Ashley is also one of the instructors at the studio.

heart of pittsburgh

The girls flew out to LA for on a Monday, rehearsed the next day, recorded their segment on Wednesday and returned to Western PA on Thursday. The recording session took 12 hours on the Sony Studios lot. While Ashley had been to the International Contortionist Convention in Las Vegas a few years back, this was certainly the most unique experience in Alexa’s dance career so far.

Both girls attend school online, Alexa is in high school while Ashley is working on a business degree. As that it was during the school year when the performance took place, the show had a social worker and a professional approach to making sure younger students would stay focused on their schooling.

Contortion in Western PA

According to Betsy, creative opportunities for dancers and contortion artists are growing in the region partly due to resources like GigSalad and the Global Sisterhood of Empowering Women. That’s wonderful news because both girls have aspirations of owning their own studios some day in the Western PA area.

A Chat With Hula Hoop Superstar Katie Sunshine

After her recent appearance on the new version of “The Gong Show” I reached out to this talented young lady who is widely recognized as one of the major talents in hooping today.

Q: Where you always a performer or did hooping start this for you?

A: I wasn’t always a performer, in fact quite the opposite! I was painfully shy in middle school on up into my high school years, I was just one of those kids that took a long time to emerge from my shell. I never did gymnastics or dance or cheerleading or any kind of performance, really. Hooping has definitely done wonders for my self-confidence and my ability to be comfortable in front of a crowd.

Q: Before getting involved with hooping what did you want to do as a career?

A: I have always had a passion for art so from a young age I knew I wanted to be involved in the arts somehow. I taught elementary art for several years before leaving to hula hoop full-time. Now I work for a non-profit art museum in Little Rock managing the gift shop. I get work with local artists and buy their work for the store which I absolutely love.

Katie Sunshine of The Gong Show

Q: How much does it help with fitness and health? 

A: As far as I’m concerned, hooping is the best exercise there is! Hula hooping great for toning core muscles and burning calories. Plus, it doesn’t feel like a workout so you’re more likely to stick with it longer and not burn out. Lastly, hooping is a great stress reliever. It’s easy to forget how important managing stress is to leading a healthy lifestyle and because hooping is fun and challenging at the same time, it’s great a great way to let off some steam.

Q: What type of songs are your favorite for doing your performance?

A: I’m a music lover and I can hoop to just about anything! I prefer songs with a faster beat because it’s more inspiring to get the hoop moving faster.

Q: You are a business woman too. What has that been like for you?

A: The business aspect of my hooping has been a huge learning experience. I’ve learned the importance of networking and nurturing the contacts you make as a business owner. The hula hoop community is a growing one and there are lots of opportunities to work with other performers if you’re willing and able to put yourself in the position to meet new people.

Katie Sunshine hoops on stairs

Q: Can you give me an example of a unique or interesting experience you had during one of your shows?

A: Every show I do is a unique experience for sure but I definitely have some moments that stand out. One of my first ever performances for a live audience happened in Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park. I was going to hula hoop with the Philly Phanatic on top of the Phillies dugout during the 7th inning stretch. The weather had been misting rain all evening and right before I walked out to perform, one of the employees of the park said “the top of the dugout gets really slippery in the rain, that’s not a problem, right?” But before I could even answer I had to go out! I was terrified the entire performance of slipping and falling off the dugout! Fortunately I didn’t fall, the Phanatic was a great hooping partner, and it was the biggest adrenaline rush I had from a performance!

Q: What other creative pursuits are you interested in or considering giving a try?

A: I have so many creative interests I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day! As I mentioned above I love art and painting has been a passion of mine even before hula hooping. I love to paint, although I don’t always get the time to, and I also love ceramics. I’m still a beginner with a pottery wheel but I’m definitely hooked! I also play the drums and want to learn how to do tricks on roller skates

Q: You make your own hoops – how did you get started doing this?

A: I started making my own hoops to try to save money on all the hoops I was buying! Designing hoop tape patterns and colors is definitely another creative outlet for me.

Q: How did you start working with flames and where you scared of getting injured?

A: My first experience with fire hooping came about when a hoop-friend of mine brought her fire hoop to a gathering. I had seen fire hoops on Youtube and was interested to try. I had hooped for long enough at that point that I was very comfortable with my hooping ability so I felt I was ready to go for it. I was absolutely terrified of getting burned! However, with some encouragement and a tutorial from my friend I felt confident enough to try. And I get more and more comfortable hooping with fire every time I do it. Of course, safety is always first priority and I always make sure to take all the necessary precautions.

Katie Sunshine

Check out Katie’s official website at www.katiesunshinehoops.com

New Sci-Fi Fantasy Obsession – Netflix’s The 100

For some time now, my younger brother has been urging me and the rest of my family to check out the original shows on Netflix.

One such show he convinced me to watch is called The 100.

The series is exciting, seductive and mysterious with action and drama all rolled into one show. If you are a fan of the Hunger Games, the former NBC Series Revolution or the classic novel Lord of the Flies this should be something you should check out now.

The basic synopsis is that 100 juvenile offenders are sent to Earth from a space station that generations of humans had been surviving in after the planet was made inhabitable by nuclear warfare. The space station is running out of oxygen and the 100 are being used as guinea pigs to determine whether or not the Earth is now survivable. They are quite possibly humanity’s only hope for survival.

The show is so good I’ve actually joined the ranks of those who binge watch their favorite programs.

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Major talent on American Idol

There is no doubt that the long-running series American Idol has launched the careers of many aspiring musical artists.

Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s competition.

Nick Fradiani 

Joey Cook

Jax 

A quick glance at the American Idol Top 24

For a complete look at this season’t Top 24 contestants, check out this Hollywood Reporter Article. But for this post, I just wanted to go over the ones I consider a few of my favorites.

Top Girls:

Jax

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: RYAN. CR: FOX © FOX Broadcasting Co.

Alexis Gomez

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: RYAN. CR: FOX © FOX Broadcasting Co.

Joey Cook

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: RYAN. CR: FOX © FOX Broadcasting Co.

Tyanna Jones

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: RYAN. CR: FOX © FOX Broadcasting Co.

Top Guys:

Adam Ezegelian

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: RYAN. CR: FOX © FOX Broadcasting Co.

Nick Fradiani

nf

Qaasim Middleton

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: RYAN. CR: FOX © FOX Broadcasting Co.

Trevor Douglas

td

Welcome Back Garth Brooks

The man who could arguably be called the king of Country Music as that he is only the highest selling male soloist of all time, is back with his first album in more than a decade.

While the album “Man Against Machine” is pretty good, there is one song that really stands out. In a world of hurt and suffering, indifference and intolerance, the song “People Loving People” is a welcome message in typical Garth fashion.

Please check out the video of the live performance from the most recent AMA Awards.

 

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