Breath of fresh air, this one right here! Kimberly is a tell-it-how-it-is champion of self-love. We bonded over our obsession with mental health, the unspoken and written girl code, and a Broad(er) way to view life, happiness and fulfillment. Interested in understanding solitude vs. loneliness? Kimberly sheds light on the importance of that distinction and her journey through both. Read on for a heavy dose of honesty and tons of tools for your BeWay toolbox from Miss Kimberly Dodson!
Note from Kimberly: Hi readers! My name is Kimberly and I’m currently twirling and step-touching in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical on the Broadway! Michael Jackson, flowers and donuts are the quickest way to get me to stop watching Law and Order: SVU or American Pickers. I’m an 87 year old millennial so I follow estate jewelry buyers, cats, and NPR on Instagram. But I’m still a millennial so Rihanna is #goals and anything pink excites me irrationally. I am a proud Slytherin. But one who really loves fluffy animals. Really long walks in NYC and new adventures in new places keep me feeling sparkly! Love yourselves hard!
Q: Kimberly! It’s Mental Health Month and you are such an advocate for therapy and taking care of your mind, body and spirit! I can’t wait to dive in with you but want to start at the beginning… what was your journey to Broadway?
A: Wow wow. I wish there was one story that led me to NYC and Broadway, but truly, my entire life has been about getting here. Which is extremely scary and outrageous and couldn’t possibly be true, but it is! Like, in 1993 (Yes, this is how I’m choosing to start this) a brilliant movie titled, “We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story” came out. It was an animated movie about a scientist who brought dinosaurs back from the past to put them in the Museum of Natural History. That movie told me that dinosaurs were in NYC. Talking dinosaurs. So when I was 3 years old, I decided I needed to live in NYC.
It was pure alignment of the stars that 7 years later I decided to dance and realized NYC and dance were one in the same. So, 10 was when I started seriously dancing pre-professionally in young adult companies in Baltimore. I laugh a little now because I was so passionate about performing at such a young age. I remember quitting soft ball in the 6th grade to dance more, telling my father (who was also my coach) “Dad, dance is my career.”
And I’ve been determined to make dance and performing my career ever since. My mom sent me to dance summer intensives every year and exposed me to movie musicals, clips of Black Broadway stars and Black concert dance. My dad, after mourning the loss of having a softball player for a daughter, sent me to a camp called “Shakespeare Summer Camp.” That camp was my first performance in NYC and my dad says that on the bus back to Baltimore I looked out the window and told him, “I’m going to live here.” Of course I already knew this because of the dinosaur movie I saw when I was 3, but I think it was news to him. From age 10 to 18 I was performing in school and after school in dance concerts and plays. Then I went to college and studied Theatre and double minored in Dance and Sociology. I have always loved studying how people moved and how people interact with one another.
The games really began of course when I graduated in 2013. When I got here I just kinda started. I had an agent which was a nice push. I booked my first job after a few months in the city; A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre. Great first gig since it gave me my EMC card. Then a few months later I booked a cruise ship. I was only in NYC 4 months before I left the city for 9 months to sing and dance on a floating hotel. I can get in to my time on the ship a little later, but it wasn’t great. So after that I spent 5 months in Baltimore to restart.
After 4 months of being back in the city I decided to go to my first EPA ever. That was how I booked A Bronx Tale at Papermill Playhouse. That really jumpstarted both my career and my spirit. After that I did a number of workshops and labs, landed a commercial, worked a ton of struggle jobs, and during that time I heard there was going to be a Donna Summer Musical. I remember calling my parents and talking to my step dad about it. It was just a rumor at the time, but he was already excited. Cut to maybe a year or less later, I was auditioning for the La Jolla version. And now here I am on Broadway.
Q: Any road bumps along the way?
A: I mean yes, so many! My cruise ship experience nearly knocked me out of the business. From day one of rehearsals I felt completely unsafe. I watched a creative team full force yell at one another. And the way they spoke to us…it was something I had never experience before. Micro-aggressions, fat shaming, sexism, racism, a total lack of communication…and that was just on land. It continued when I got to the ship. The shows were great, but the people I worked with were so ego driven and manipulative. And I was so young, I didn’t know how to respond! So some days I fought back, some days I shut all the way down, but every day I cried.
My first big job and my dreams were dying. I needed to mourn that loss and learned early the phrase “booked and blessed” is simply not always true. You can have a job and be miserable! That’s something we’re not always allowed to admit in this business. We’re taught we need to be grateful and thankful for any job we have because jobs are so hard to get. I held a lot of guilt for hating that job so much. But, even though someone is paying you, it does not give anyone the right to make you feel worthless. Your work environment shouldn’t make you feel like you can’t ask questions, no one should ever make you feel like your body is wrong, no one should EVER be talking about what you’re eating, and no one should ever speak to you like you are a child.
My cruise ship experience was a big bump, but only the first. My boyfriend at the time cheated on me a month after I got home from the ship. On Valentines Day. So I didn’t have much time to recuperate from the trauma of the ship before I had something new to deal with. I was also dealing with being Black at the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. I spent almost 4 months at home before I moved back. I was just trying not to feel worthless.
But I was also angry and that anger fueled me. I was determined to get every thing I wanted. But my determination didn’t make anything easier. I took five struggle jobs when I got back. One being working as a receptionist for a mental health clinic in the Bronx. I still had my agents and was still going to auditions, but they were submitting me for things that were painfully wrong for me. Like “30-50 year old black woman with Caribbean accent” wrong. I just started to tell them I couldn’t get off work or just lying. I stayed with them far longer than I should have out of fear.
All my jobs and all my auditioning were just masking the pain I wasn’t dealing with. I was determined to be happy instead of sitting with my pain. So, for the first year I was back in the city, even though I was working and auditioning and booking, I was having random panic attacks. I’d turn a corner in Soho, see something I thought was familiar and start sobbing in the street. I avoided contact with friends and completely closed myself off from people I thought didn’t really care about me. I was suspicious of everyone.
Then I met someone. And then we broke up! HA! But, during our break up we promised each other that we would both go to therapy. And I love this because, you really never know who is going to be a true angel in your life and this person was mine. Before that moment I had never really considered therapy. I thought I could get back to “normal” on my own. But therapy really changed everything for me. I said ‘no’ to the toxic people left in my life. I began to let go of the deep and intoxicating comfort of rage. And I felt normal. That my pain was normal. That mourning dreams, and people and safety was normal. I was given the ability to invite the people truly on my team back in, back into my pain and move forward.
Every “road bump” was absolutely worth it and needed. I found the lessons in all my loses and truly believe I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am without everything that has happened thus far.
Q: Do you remember when you discovered your interest for health and wellness?
A: Oh yeah it started in high school. I went to an all girls school, and I had a lot of friends who had eating disorders or general issues with self esteem. I was the school president and I had always truly loved myself and the body I was in, so any time I was in front of the school speaking I worked hard to express the importance of being and loving yourself. But my interest was geared more toward the empowerment of others.
Dealing with all the things I dealt with after the ship changed everything for me. Hating myself was not an option. And I hated myself. So pre-therapy, I began working on what health and wellness looked like for just me. I was learning what loving myself really meant. I bought myself flowers every sunday. I was in yoga twice a week. I went back to church. I took long walks. Although I isolated myself, I do think of that time as my cocoon stage. I had a lot to work on. This is when what I had been preaching for so long really came into practice for me. I worked to find tools for myself that made me feel healthy. Then I was able to reach out and find a true and honest support system, which is so necessary. It takes a village. From birth to death it takes a village.
Q: feels on these themes…
A: Physical: There’s nothing more satisfying than that feeling of accomplishment after a workout. You’re sweaty and tired and you probably want a cheeseburger. My workout routine has gone to the wayside now because of the show. But I’m excited to get back into my favorite ways to keep my body moving. Yoga has always been my go-to workout. I love that yoga gives me the time to check in with myself. Taking all different types of dance classes is another way I love to stay active. This will be especially important as the show continues. My body gets bored with movement so easily, so it will be nice to jump back into a sweaty contemporary class.
Did I mention at some points in my life I have been very angry? Well, boxing was my answer to that for a while. Boxing is so hard, but so rewarding. Physical health for me is all about getting the blood pumping to the brain! Depending on what I’m doing (dance yoga etc) it can feel very spiritual.
A: Spiritual: A spiritual belief is really important for me to keep moving forward. I have never been a fan of religion, but I have leaned on the idea of something greater than myself many times. My spirituality is far more grounded in ideas closer to home than far out in space. People who love me worked hard for me to get here. I lean on their spirits and know I have ancestors who see my work and intend to keep me safe. I carry knowledge from them with me and hope to make them proud!
Q: What are the best tools you’ve found for mental health?
A: Being alone. Notice I did not say being lonely. But being alone. Solitude. I have found out so much about myself and my needs while being alone. Taking the time to breathe and listen to my body. Sometimes I tell people I can’t go out because I need to go home and “worry,” but what I really mean is I need to listen to my own thoughts for a while. Especially in this city, sometimes I need to just feel my own energy and not everyone else’s. I learned a trick after I stopped therapy that worked really well for me. If I needed to get something out but didn’t feel like sharing or didn’t have anyone around to listen, I could record myself. Sometimes when I’m panicking, I don’t even really know what I’m worried about. So to be able to verbalize it and listen to myself I can determine what the real issues are. It is alarming to listen to yourself at first, but it kind of made me fall more in love with myself the more I did it.
Q: You mentioned the importance of a strong support system. How did you find yours?
A: I found mine by asking for it! I am an introvert so sticking to myself and doing things on my own comes naturally and makes me feel good. But at some point my greater instincts kicked in and I realized I needed help. So I started reaching out. Some people I hadn’t spoken to in months. But they came and told me they loved me. And haven’t left. You’d be surprised how many people are rooting for you not just from the side lines but from the nose bleeds! I was shocked at how many people came to my rescue.
It’s always important, I think, to be picky about who you call a friend. My friends, I consider family. Not everyone needs to be in your life, not everyone is rooting for you. I had a few people in my life who I felt just wanted to be around me because they thought I’d be successful.They weren’t adding anything to my life. They were just leeches. Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to friends and family who suck life and joy from you.
Q: Ok, I only have 5 minutes to show my mind some love… what should I do?
- First Breathe! Inhale for 5 counts, hold for 5 counts, exhale for 8 counts.
- Find water. Drink it. (I’m bad at this. But every time I drink water I feel a million times better)
- I have different songs, depending on my mood, that bring total joy to my spirit. So, put on your theme song and jam out! MJ gets me every time.
- I always keep a book with me. My grandmother always tells me a book can take you anywhere in the world. Exercise your brain with some good literature.
- Podcasts are truly the answer.
- Do a quick journal entry or (if you’re in the space to do so) record your feelings and listen back to them as I stated earlier.
Q: Longterm, what are some amazing practices to maintaining balance physically and mentally?
A: Have I mentioned how great therapy is yet? No matter where you are in life, everyone should go to therapy. We all have pain and fears and worries. Talking to someone about it just feels good! And oddly, the best part about a therapist is that they are there for you, but they don’t love you. They are on your team in a very different way than say, your mom or your best friend. People who love you tend to want to save you. I know when my friends open up to me about an issue I just want to slay their dragons. Therapists are there to listen and help you work it out for yourself. Do not be afraid to seek help from a professional! There is so much unnecessary stigma around therapy particularly in the Black community. Seek the help you need. Psychology Today, Therapy for Black Girls, and Talkspace are great resources to finding a therapist. And there are all different types of therapist that can help you with what you need. There are therapist who specialize in working with artists! There are movement therapists!! Do the research!
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
A: For my younger self, present self and future self, “Don’t let the bastards get you down. Don’t let the assholes wear you out.”
Book recommendations —
- Swing Time by Zadie Smith
- The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
- Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents both by Octavia E. Butler
- The Other Wes Moore and The Work: My Search for a Life The Matters both by Wes Moore
- All Harry Potter.
- Reading now: The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
Photos & Interview by Jane Jourdan.