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I was discharged from the Marine Corps in September 2008 after being stationed at MCAS Miramar in San Diego and three deployments. I was a helicopter mechanic on the CH-53E Super Stallion. I chose to live in Oregon because I flew over this beautiful state in 2006 in our helicopter, and I fell in love with it aerially. I knew after I was discharged I would move here. In September 2009, I did just that.
I didn’t find Diva Den until September 2010 after trying and failing to find a method of working out that I could commit to. I experienced extreme body pain and fatigue post deployment from wear and tear, and I couldn’t exercise the way the Marine Corps had taught me. After you’re forced to run miles in boots and utes (translation: combat boots and utility uniform), working out like that no longer appealed to me. I remember thinking about what I enjoyed before I enlisted, and I remembered how much I enjoyed dancing.
I didn’t realize how active the Marine Corps kept me until I got out and started packing on pounds at a rate that I was not used to but also was not surprising because no one was holding me accountable to the strict weight requirements of the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps prides itself on all Marines being combat ready. We have a long-standing history and tradition of being Spartan, fierce, tough, unrelenting, and deadly. Physical fitness standards are strict because there is a tremendous mental burden to never give up, and you need a body that doesn’t quit. Marines go to war. We are the first in and the last out. Physical fitness equals a higher chance of survival when all hell breaks loose. And trust me...at war, it will.
I found Diva Den when I was online searching for dance classes, and I saw a very small ad on the side of my screen that said "free one-week trial." Little did I know how clicking that link would change my life. I was excited to see the different dance formats and exercise classes that did not use typical gym equipment. I was a little hesitant because it was an all-women facility, and I had just spent the last 7 years in the predominately male world of the Marines. I didn’t think I would fit in.
It took time for me to feel safe enough to start opening myself up. It didn’t help that I now have permanent flat affect, AKA resting vet face, which does not make it easy to approach me.
I got to know Rosella first because I took a lot of her classes in the beginning. I started doing things without permission like moving the stage, sweeping the floor, and cleaning the mirrors because I wanted to make sure she could start class on time. The reality is I get anxiety just waiting there, and I also feel like I should always be doing something productive, the lasting legacy of a Marine Corps mentality. Eventually Rosie introduced me to the owners of Diva Den Studio, and that’s how I got on their radar.
After a year and a half of consistently attending classes, I had lost about 35 pounds, and I felt confident enough to try pole fitness. It’s something I had never done before, but I definitely went to many strip clubs with my Marines. It felt like a challenge I could embrace, one that wouldn’t put too much pressure on my body that still had lingering aches and pains. I loved the way I was able to see measurable progress in my fitness, the first goal being to hold my own weight on a vertical pole. I also loved the acrobatic floor movements and different styles of dance that pole incorporates. After about a year of pole classes, Kristin (the owner of DDS) asked me if I was interested in teaching. I was so honored and accepted the offer. I’ve been teaching pole classes since 2011, and I love being a part of the Diva Den Studio team and family.
I am still working on my transition to civilian life. I don’t think that’s something that will ever end. It’s been 11 years since my discharge, and I do see myself as an outlier in the Marine community and also somewhat outside the community I exist in now. I don’t know if I will ever fully fit into “normal society” again. Veterans see the world differently. Veterans experience tremendous sacrifice and pain, and it can be difficult to connect to others who don’t have that experience and who can’t truly comprehend the sacrifices of military service. It can be difficult for people to understand why we don’t “get over” some of these experiences, but it all goes back to the traumatic events we had to live through and the lifelong work of trying to find peace around the memories.
The Marine Corps reprogrammed me to think differently than civilians, and it’s not something that gets turned off. The best I can do is adapt and be grateful for the life I have. What keeps me going are my Marines and my Diva Den Studio family. I needed a place where I felt accepted and from there, healing can grow. I am stronger now, stronger than I ever was in the Marine Corps. I would have loved to have seen what I could have accomplished in the Corps with the strength I have now. But one thing I am certain of, women can do anything men can do physically. I am living proof that women can pull the weight of a man. I’m proud of the strong community of women at Diva Den. I wish I could have seen more of these badass women in the Marine Corps! It would have been nice to have so many strong women fighting for equality right next to me.