Turning Point: Christopher Shaw Faces Addiction, Mid-Pirouette

10952107_602228903245304_8237018684180516505_nChristopher Shaw was my roommate in a sublet in Washington Heights. While we were living together in 2004, this Southern boy dipped into a full six-o-clock penché while cooking an Italian meal at the stove. (If you’re new to dance, that’s a split while standing on one leg!) Through his posts on Facebook, I’ve watched him bloom as a licensed social worker, chemical dependency counselor, and psychotherapist in Austin, Texas. In Shaw’s practice — Mind, Body, & Spirit PLLC — he works with clients who experience a broad range of issues, including addiction and recovery. Recently, I caught up with him through email.

Ann Votaw: Tell me about your dance education and career.

Chris Shaw: I obtained my Bachelors in Fine Arts in Dance Performance and Minor in Advertising from Southern Methodist University in 1997. My dance career took me to fascinating cities such as Rome, Milan, Naples, Sicily, Bari, and Genova where I performed with Graham-esque modern dance company Danzare La Vita, danced on Italian television, and performed in the Italian tour of An American in Paris. I became fluent in Italian and made Rome my home for five years. After completing a two-year tour of An American in Paris, a knee injury forced my early retirement. For years afterward, I experienced a wide range of careers in various professions (Press & PR, Graphic/Web Design, Retail Manager, Airline Industry – Inflight Crew & Interpreter, Creative/Art Direction, and others); however, my addictions were always with me.

AV: What was the turning point for you?

1435357875CS: Shuttered in a cold dark basement room in New York City during the spring of 2008, I awoke to a voice saying, “This is not what you are meant to do with your life. Get help now!” I entered inpatient treatment for addiction and mental health issues where I finally admitted that I was an addict, that my life was unmanageable, and that I needed help. I have not used alcohol or drugs and have been living a life free from the horrors of active addiction since that day.

My sobriety has given me life and connected me with purpose — to be a vessel of healing for others and the world — which led me to obtain my Masters in Social Work from Wayne State University (2010). My training at WSU was centered in Clinical Social Work with a psychodynamic concentration. My research areas included the following: addiction, dual-diagnosis treatment, program development, specialized individual and group therapy, MSM and methamphetamine/high risk sexual behaviors, HIV/AIDS, and LGBTQ- Affirmative therapy.

AV: What do you do to maintain your health?

CS: For continued mental, spiritual, and physical health, I regularly engage in daily “conscious contact” with my Higher Power, ongoing 12-step fellowship activities (e.g., sponsorship, service work, step-work, meetings), and weightlifting.

AV: Are you working on anything new?

CS: I am currently enrolled at the National Academy of Sports Medicine where I am working toward my CPT (Certified Personal Trainer), CES (Corrective Exercise Specialist), and FNS (Fitness Nutrition Specialist).

AV: How has your background as a dancer benefited your work in the healing profession?

CS: Dance taught me to open my heart, express my emotions, and connect with my soul. Dance taught me to never give up and that self-discipline was essential. I learned to practice integrity, hope, faith, brotherly/sisterly love, perseverance, willingness, and humility. Dance taught me to honor and believe in myself, follow my dreams, and to create this amazing reality we call life.

[Christopher Shaw, LCSW LCDC, is the CEO of Psychotherapy for the Mind, Body, & Spirit PLLC located in Austin, TX. Christopher is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor, and Psychotherapist, who offers individual, group, and family therapy for teenagers, emerging adults, and adults.]

Ann Votaw is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. “Turning Point” is her Wednesday blog dedicated to dancers and their transitions. If you liked this story, read “Turning Point: What Dancers Bring To Business That No One Else Can.” Stay tuned for more insightful interviews each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on LinkedIn. For other must-read articles on spirit and thought, follow Ann on Twitter @AnnVotaw or her blog at AnnVotaw.com.

Pedometer Prep


by Ann Votaw, CHES, MA

While researching pedometers for a corporate walking program, I’ve determined three factors: (1) cheap translates into useless landfill plastic (often branded with your company logo), (2) batteries must be easy to change, meaning the chamber must open with a regular-sized screwdriver, not a watchmaker’s tool, and (3) reset buttons must do their job within this century and with minimal effort.

A $12 New Balance pedometer, purchased last year at Target, exhibits all three annoying qualities of flimsy construction, poor access to battery chamber, and a reset button I must stab with a pen using diamond-forming pressure. I imagine how well this bad boy would hold up in a work-site wellness challenge, participants constantly asking for instructions or replacements.

So far, my favorites include the Weight Watchers PointsPlus Pedometer and the Omron HJ-113, both which match nearly every footfall and reset at midnight. (Unfortunately, I needed battery-changing assistance for the Omron at my neighborhood Radioshack because the screw was so tiny.) The PointsPlus is not as accurate but is the most convenient in that the battery chamber opens with a coin, the reset button does its job, and the numbers appear upside down — allowing the user to see steps right side up.

In the days that follow, expect a table depicting my suggestions. On-line searches reveal the Omron brand as a customer favorite as well as Fit Solutions SW-200 Yamax Digiwalker Pedometer, which I purchased on Amazon for $19.50.

Easy battery change is crucial as most die within three months. To my surprise, many health fair pedometers offer no way to get inside, likening them to carnival goldfish — enjoy them while they last.

Most free on-line walking programs range from six- to eight- weeks. My goal is to find the most accurate, inexpensive, and user-friendly step counters. I want participants to work out with well-functioning equipment, anywhere from eight weeks to eight years after the challenge.

Vegetable Stalk-er

This 26-inch brussel sprout stalk is too tall for the picture. I bought it today for $8 at the Farmer’s Market along with these beautiful cranberries. The rosemary is from the local grocer and went into a lunch of pork loin, sweet potatoes, and … brussel sprouts.

by Ann Votaw, C.H.E.S.

On the way home from the Farmer’s Market today, I turned heads while holding a 26-inch stem that looked more Sci Fi than brussel sprout.

Yes, its true! The green buds, named after the city in Belgium, are picked off tall rubbery stalks before they reach us in grocery stores. Such a shame! If we bought them looking like instruments of impalement rather than little guys with scrunched-up faces, children might find them cool. Perhaps, kids and adults would better appreciate this relative of the cabbage family if we sold sprouts in Mother Nature’s unusual packaging. How neat would it be to pass an upright jug of upright stalks rather than dreaded mini heads wrapped over foam backing?

I bought this beauty today for $8, which seems expensive, but a package of about 15 sprouts can cost up to $3 here in Manhattan. As you can see, there are quite a few more than 15. Plus, I can incorporate the greenery into my holiday decorating.

Brussel sprouts are high in fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and folic acid. Each bud is a colon cancer-fighting machine that can be steamed, boiled, roasted, or sautéd with olive oil and garlic! A good batch of sprouts exhibits firmly closed leaves and a robust green color, sometimes with purple highlights, like this one.

Why dance tango?


by Ann Votaw, C.H.E.S.

After my fabulous LivingSocial purchase, $49 for eight tango classes and four social dances, I am entangled with Argentinian tango. I feel my love affair was ordained by Al Pacino, the high priest of tango scenes, who recently sat near me at Café Luxembourg in Manhattan. No joke!

Tango brings out the Pacino in me, and step names – gancho, parada, sacada — trip off the tongue, a glorious vocalization of tango’s smooth and quick steps. As a former musical theater dancer, I am particularly drawn to tango’s wine-like qualities: Rather than becoming rancid, tango dancers get better with age, as suggested by Pacino’s scene in Scent of a Woman!

Recent studies note that tango may relieve certain neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s. Explanations include tango’s use of dynamic balance, walking backwards, and movement at various speeds. As part of a healthcare movement to integrate arts and wellness, tango – like other forms of dance – could be a useful way to coordinate mental, social, and physical well-being.

A Royal Northern College of Music study went further, surveying 110 tango dancers in the Netherlands and Germany. The researcher, Gunter Kreutz, sought answers to several questions, including “Why do people dance tango Argentino?” Reasons included: (1) stress reduction, (2) fitness, (3) emotions, and (4) intimacy.

I feel all these components when I tango. Had I been more on my toes, I would have asked Al for a dance, assuming he doesn’t mind towering women.