Hiding in Plain Sight: From Broadway to the Bottle and Starting Over Sober

Dancer. Choreographer. Teaching Artist. Personal Trainer. This “all things related to movement” daisy chain of identities is something that I wear with pride.

The clever flower metaphor, to be sure, also integrates some of the things that have created my foundation that I would classify as fertilizer: shame and fear.

Let me back up, down towards stage left, and start here: I’m Johari, and I have been dancing my whole life.

My plan when I came to New York City was to dance, with dreams of “FAME! I’m gonna going to live forever!” (to date myself just a bit). I can hear the song in my head and can sing it. I grew up with the TV show, went to a performing arts school, and performed in every major theatre in NYC.

Being an expert mover, I had the ability to hide and dodge things. Or so I thought.

There was the time after a rehearsal when I went out with friends for $2 margarita night, added in some Jameson shots, and, after sliding under a bar, ending up on my neighbors stoop making a mess. I remember waking up on my couch with a note for my roommate on me saying “Jo got a little sick.” I remember downing an entire bottle of Nyquil and performing, in a gallery, a piece on themes of bondage and Roman Catholicism. I have no idea, how I got through it, but I did know that NyQuil was a great substitute for other substances when the drug store was more accessible. You could also find me, then, grocery shopping while high or drunk, walking up and down the aisles taking swigs in plain sight.

You see, hiding in plain sight like that, I figured, was always the best place to hide. As a seasoned performer, I got so good at role-playing, camouflaging and artfully dodging things that  I hid who I was as “the child who loves to dance and move” and used it to wear a thousand masks instead. Soon, those layers became suffocating enough for me to have to seek out help.


I chose recovery in a room where a bunch of different “me’s” that are black, white, gay, straight, old, young, transgender, mother, father share their experiences openly and start to take off those masks in favor of dealing with who they really are, and moving through life that way, no matter how painfully naked it feels, at times.

In sobriety, I’m learning how to support and love “the woman who loves to dance and move.” I’m letting go of the need to be seen. It’s more about connecting with others.  

Since entering recovery, I have a new life as an artist and personal trainer because I have a greater ability to help others in recovery from a myriad of illnesses and challenges. I understand that change is hard from a deep and visceral place.  I used to be on automatic pilot and just “do do do” whether I was in pain or not. I did not care about my feelings. Numbness got things done. Now that my feelings are returning I see that others have them too. Because I’m being more truthful about myself, I’m less fearful and showing up as myself everywhere I go. I had no idea how liberating that would be.    

So, I also started teaching fitness in rehab centers. Participants are coming off of drugs and alcohol. Because who I’ve been, I can meet people with empathy and compassion. Regarding the task master mentality- although I got cash and prizes, I created a lot of destruction in my life and to those around me.  

My film, Recovery, is one of the first pieces that I’ve made where I’m showing up unmasked. I can actually breathe. It’s one of the first pieces I’ve done where I’m not trying to prove something. I hope that it creates a feeling of connectivity with anyone coming back from a setback.

I’m sharing this now because I have a new start. Two years ago, I lost a friend to an overdose. Ever since her funeral, I made a promise to be a lighthouse of hope for women in recovery, and for women who may be starting over for any number of reasons at a time they may consider “late in life.”

Movement and dance to heal lives. I wasn’t thinking about that before. I wasn’t thinking about much besides myself. Now, I care about people and how they feel beyond what the physical body is able to do.

Movement is the primary focus of my work, but I also have a message: we are more than our bodies, and we have the strength to brave enough to live within them without anything that alters who we truly are.

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Gratitude in Recovery

Recovery from cancer, chemotherapy and other treatments is more than a major accomplishment. How do I stay healthy and return to activities of daily living? How do I keep the cancer from recurring? These are questions that all survivors must grapple with as they continue to heal. Although exercise and diet are vital in terms physical recovery, there are also important emotional components in one’s return back to health.  Having a sense of gratitude connects us to the people who have been essential throughout the recovery and connects us to a deeper reality of who we are and why we are here. People who regularly practice gratefulness are known to have better emotional, physical, and mental health than those who do not. “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life,” writes self-help author Melody Beattie. “It turns what we have into enough, and more.”

“I am grateful for my health,” said Amy E. Herman is the renowned author of Visual Intelligence and breast cancer warrior. “You don’t take your health for granted. I will go to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for the rest of my life for maintenance. When I am within five to six blocks of it [the center], I am a nicer person. I give up cabs, I hold doors, I hold elevators because I know what people are going through. They’re tired. They’re sick. They’re moving slowly. I’ll never be grateful for my cancer experience, but it has enhanced my life in its own way.”

Her inner strength is manifested in her outward beauty. Shot with a clean beauty approach by Angela Cappetta, Amy is living proof that anyone can come back stronger than ever.




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Teaching Artist Reflection

Being a teaching artist is one of the roles that have in my fitness/movement practice. It has  been a pleasure, honor and privilege of serving children and families in many settings, including in afterschool programs. One of my assignments was to help children with their homework. Early on, I noticed children coming into the program with snacks from the convenience store. Have you ever tried to help a child do homework after school where they have been sitting all day, while doped up on Ring Pops, Doritos, Takis, cookies, etc? Try doing a Common Core math problem with children under those conditions. Times 15-20 students. I had an assistant, but it was still challenging. Anyway, instead of getting mad at the convenience stores and our educational system, I decided to work on some solutions around food, nutrition, math and convenience. Lunchbox season is here. I love snacks too. Too much I admit. We made a “butterfly” creation in one of my classes. It’s really easy and a great way to practice portion control for kids and adults. You can use any snack and it’s an opportunity to bond through art and practice real life math skills. Last thing- I hate the Common Core. I’m sorry if it offends anyone, but I do. I’m looking forward to being a part of a new conversation around health and wellness in our communities.

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What is performance?

I had a conversation with a friend about performance. She said that in regards to my wellness/fitness practice, I’m performing acts of kindness towards myself and others. I was struck dumb for a moment because I didn’t think of being kind to myself as an act of performance. It’s always been about the external projection- whether it be on stage or in some other form of artistic expression. Speaking for myself only, I know that performing on stage and being kind to myself don’t have to occupy the same space. As I’m getting older and seeing more clearly, I’m striving for more unification and truth between what’s happening on the inside and outside.

So taking a walk on a nice day, going to the aquarium, Noguchi museum and eating a healthy meal are all acts of kindness that I’m happy to say “That’s performance too!” And those kinds performance will translate well for me, those around me and those that I seek to help.

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Easy wellness steps

Being at the beginning of any journey can feel scary. Try these suggestions as an easy onramp into your wellness routine.

Create consistency with small steps. Feeling successful with the “little stuff” helps to create desire and willingness to take bigger steps towards your goal.

Here are two tips:

1. Drink more water
2. Take the stairs more often

Remember Push, Pull, Squat, Twist. All movement falls into one or all four of these categories. We practice them whether we drive a truck, dance or practice t’ai chi. I invite you to think about how you can create a cohesive and harmonious understanding of movement as it applies to exercise, weight loss and strength training.

Here are some exercise and movement options:

1. Push ups
2. Upright Rows
3. Squats
4. Abdominal twists in different positions

Nourish your body.
I know you know a lot of what I’m about to say, but you want to make sure that you’re getting enough micro and macro nutrients into your body. It is just as important to consume variety from the food rainbow as well as eat it consistently.

Watch this video about nutrition and exercise.

Please feel free to share how you are staying healthy –

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February is Heart Healthy Month!


According to the Heart Foundation, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Here are few strategies for preventing heart disease and encourage people to live heart healthy lives.

  • Get regular exercise
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Reduce bad and increase good cholesterol
  • Stop smoking
  • Get enough sleep (6-8 hours)
  • Lose weight

Check out this link for more additional information about how to prevent and reduce your risk for heart disease.

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