Pull Quote: I had found my fire again, & could see a future in the world of the web.

When Life Throws You a Curveball, WordPress is There

Things certainly don’t always work out the way we plan. Life throws you curveballs and you end up in a completely different place to where you started. I had my life completely mapped from when I was very young, but it was not to be. This is my story of my curveball and how it doesn’t have to leave you winded, and in fact, can take you to an incredible new place if you let it.

Setting the Scene

For my whole life I thought the stage was my home. Since I can remember I danced and performed, I loved music and creating movement to it. I was certain my destiny lay in being an artist and making work, as a child I was always dancing, everywhere. At home, at the supermarket, at my friends’ houses, it was in my blood. Through my life dance was my foundation and joy. As I grew up and became more politically active I wanted to use dance to motivate and ‘change the lens’ for people. Political activism helped me find ‘new circus’ (circus with no animals) in the early 2000’s and it was here that I started to really explore political theatre, using it to renegotiate how we define our bodies and explore gender stereotypes and try to break them down through creative work. Blending dance, aerials and acrobalance, I found a style of physical theatre that saw me collaborate with some incredible artists and perform work that was deeply personal and satisfying.

Performing was a wonderful experience, but it certainly wasn’t always glamourous, in fact it rarely was. I was training constantly, my body was always in pain and it was tiring, which saw us performing late nights for very little (often no) cash for shows or rehearsals. Making ends meet was a tricky balancing act, which meant I always had a day job, mostly in arts administration, but also working in hospitality, or being an office temp. There was a handful of times I was fortunate enough to receive government funding or theatre commissions for the work I did. But I was by no means rich, so there was often lots of stress around cash.

Growing up without computers, the internet and (gasp) social media, I was a late bloomer with technology. It wasn’t until the last few years of my performance career, that the wave of digital self publishing was starting to swell. It was here my digital literacy skills really started to take shape. Artists were learning how to edit their own music, photos, videos and MySpace was an unwilling CMS at the time, which forced me to start learning how to add code snippets to make my profile look interesting. We were expected to become digitally savvy to keep up with the demand of self promotion and to keep costs down. So the tide was turning but I didn’t realise until later how important these rudimentary skills would become to me.

Enter the Curveball

It was in 2009 when I was working on my own solo show that I started experiencing some strange health issues. The show was a huge privilege, I’d be funded by the Australia Council for the arts, I had a stellar team to work with me, sound artists, costume makers, choreographic consultants, the lot.

I was between rehearsals for my show and working on another cabaret show. I had just finished an acrobalance trick and was coming up from the ground when the entire room started spinning. I felt like I was falling, my heart started racing and my vision was distorted. I couldn’t move as it just made the spinning worse and I felt like I was going to be sick. Imagine the feeling you have after spinning around 10 times and then stopping. Remember doing that as a kid? This was a similar feeling. But instead of fun, this was disorientating, sickening and very frightening. Finally, after slowly moving inch by inch for several minutes, I made it up to sitting. Having no idea what it was, I put it down to a hot day, not enough water, needing lunch and carried on. I had some residual dizziness but it seemed to disappear by the afternoon.

Unfortunately, that day was just a taste of the struggle to come for the next 2 years. A struggle that would make performing a hellish and dangerous ride and eventually put an end to my career on the stage for good.

Not long after that incident, the spinning came on during the closing night of my solo show. It was a full house with loads of interstate guests, the media and industry peers. My vision was so blurred I couldn’t really see, so I persevered for as long as I could to try to get through the show. However a scary moment on the trapeze meant I had to give in, so walked off stage and canceled the rest of the show. I was devastated. My moment was lost.

I was eventually diagnosed with BPPV, or better known as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. It’s a vestibular condition that causes severe dizziness whenever you move your head. It’s commonly known now but at the time this wasn’t well understood. Treatment is possible for the acute symptoms (when it works) but the recurrence rate is as high as 50%. As well as making you feel constantly dizzy, it can also make you feel like vomiting, tired, depressed. Even after an attack, your vision and proprioception can be out of kilter for months as the nerves get temporarily damaged. My work was extremely physical seeing me bust into handstands, climb trapezes or spin on the spot, so you can imagine the havoc it wreaked.

For the next 2 years I continued to struggle through performances but the vertigo would take hold at random moments. It could come rolling over in bed, shampooing my hair, rehearsing and sometimes during shows. I felt like I was a time bomb. Several times we’d have to rework shows just hours before opening because I couldn’t do certain movements. I started to get so scared about performing that it was no longer something I loved but became something I feared. It was causing so much anxiety that I had to finally stop completely.

Recovering from the Curveball

My performance career was over, but to bury the sadness, I pushed myself to find other creative outlets to keep myself moving forward. Somehow I stumbled across this thing called ‘web design’ and fell in love with code. Maybe those days having fun tinkering with Myspace planted the seed for this moment. I had taken a quantum leap from being a performer but it quickly became my strength and passion in a time when I grieved the loss of what had been my identity and career for so long. I had found my fire again, and could see a future in the world of the web.

WordPress was pivotal to this new direction. After learning basic HTML, CSS, learning about accessibility, and then discovering the world of design, I moved onto WordPress where I was inspired by its possibilities. Instead of learning routines, I learned to code, I swapped my trapeze for a mac so I could design and develop my visions into reality (or virtual as it may be). I was so hungry for knowledge, I consumed blogs, articles, video tutorials, anything I could get my hands on that would help me learn how to develop and design. For 5 years I have been throwing myself into building my own corner of the web, reinventing myself and WordPress was the platform for doing this. I now run a small but successful web studio Shortie Designs, where I create, direct and make visual designs come to life everyday. I love it. WordPress gave me the power to do this and it has been an incredibly rewarding and liberating journey.

By the way: I do still occasionally do a circus trick or organise a flash mob or two for fun (I’m center front)!

12 comments

  1. Alee Lee says:

    Thanks for your your inspiring story Sofia. You have not only reinvented yourself but have been a great support to me and many others, who are tech phobic, tech illiterate or just needing support with their media profile, in the process. I have learnt so much from you and continue appreciate your contributions & care as a human in the digital domain. Might be time for a meet up & make over!

    • Sofia Woods says:

      Thanks Alee! I’ve the loved the work we’ve done together, and excited to see you use the digital space more and more!

  2. At the risk of sounding like an Aunty, I’m so proud of you. I remember when you were just starting out and the nervous early days of wondering if you would get enough clients. Great to see you flying again with your new passion. xx

    • Sofia Woods says:

      I know! Esther you’ve been there through it all, when I was finishing performing and when I started on this new journey…thanks for your support!

  3. Hey Sofia,

    That’s a great story and truly inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing so openly.

    But…

    You left out the part where you became a WordCamp Speaker, then a WordPress meetup organiser (resurrecting a dormant meetup), then a WordCamp Organiser, becoming a central part of the local community. You did this by putting yourself out there and jumping in where needed. I think that’s a great example to people as well!! You make a real difference Sofia. Much props to you! 🙂

    • Sofia Woods says:

      Wow thanks so much Stephen! It’s been so amazing being part of the WP community, and I’ve learnt so much participating in it – there truly is incredible support and so much to learn.

  4. Sophia, I know it’s been years since we hung out together in Copenhagen, but so grateful the internet helped us stay in touch, and that after knowing you as a performer, I get the privilege of hearing about what life has thrown you and how you have triumphed and flourished under such challenging circumstances. It means a lot to read your story also as I currently am going through a huge life change of having moved back to the US from majority of the last ten years being in Berlin and having heath and emotional things coming to a head, there’s just a lot of change going on. It’s so important, reassuring and validating to see strong and powerful people I know having positive life transformations. Our situations are for sure different, but it means a lot to hear your story nonetheless (and re/tripple affirms that you are as lovely a person as I remember you as). Big congrats dear and keep on being fabulous. Xx

    • Sofia Woods says:

      thanks for reading Elliat….and I’m glad that my story could help inspire…sometimes it’s hard to see that difficult times can lead us to something new, rewarding and fulfilling….it was great fun in Denmark all those years ago, I still have pics somewhere of the fun times we had….good luck with the transition….:-)

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