“When I help you feel good, I feel happy...
If everyone did yoga, Pilates or even chair-based exercises and followed their passion to dance or to move in some other way that gave them joy, there would be much less warfare and strife in the world.”
– Mary Louise King
Mary Louise King
Telling stories is the way we make sense and can enter into the mystery of life. I told my story to the late Sandy Wells.
Some of this content originally published by WV Gazette; Author, Sandy Wells
Sandy described me: She’s a personal trainer. She teaches yoga and Pilates and leads an exercise class for seniors. And she dances whenever and wherever she can.
She radiates health, verve and confidence. A caring nature reflects inner serenity. She doesn’t look even close to her age.
She wasn’t always like this.
Mary Louise King remembers a withdrawn, awkward little girl mocked for her silver tooth, peeing her pants in sixth grade, and the disorder that gave her an odd, clumsy gait.
She describes herself as the poetic ugly duckling who blossomed into a graceful swan, a transformation she embraces as the defining theme of her life.
The journey wasn’t easy. Her mother’s encouragement meant everything. Yoga, Pilates and dancing strengthened her legs and released her from the agonizing repercussions of a herniated disc. Later, a diagnosis of psychosomatic hip pain led to counseling and introspection and a healing way of thinking.
Now the vibrant survivor shares her hard-got knowledge as she helps others stay mentally and physically fit.
Dancing fuels her soul.
Sandy Wells and I chatted for a while as I told my story.
I grew up in Irwin, Pennsylvania. I was born handicapped with my toes and knees turned in. That made me very clumsy. I was clumsy about everything. I spilled my milk every single mealtime.
Consequently, being so awkward, I was very withdrawn as a girl. I was reluctant to speak for fear I would say something wrong. It didn’t help that in second grade, I received a blow to my face that cracked my front tooth. It was replaced by a silver tooth. Back then, no one had braces or silver on their teeth and I had a big silver tooth. Other kids made fun of it and I didn’t want to smile.
I had another accident in sixth grade that was another blow to my self-confidence. I was taking a very important test for ranking in junior high. The teacher would not allow me to be excused to go to the restroom. We all wore dresses back then and pee ran down my legs and onto the floor. When I returned to school, the other kids sang songs using my name in, “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the pee.” Even my friends were embarrassed.
In seventh grade, a bunch of guys bullied me. One day, after school, one of them grabbed me and pushed me into a bush while the others laughed.
I thought my peers made fun of me because I looked different and had odd accidents. That’s why I felt like the ugly duckling. Was there any place that I fit in?
Fortunately, I had a wonderful mother who encouraged me. She taught me to “think something nice about Mary Louise.” She put me into dance classes, so I would use my legs and strengthen them (although I was the clumsiest kid in the class). She often would say, “pretty is as pretty does.”
Mom taught me that beauty comes from inside of me and reflects outward I believed her and accepted this graceful truth into my heart. As I learned how to express the grace I believed had in me outwards to others, grace outshined my silver tooth! I noticed that people saw the silver tooth first, but they could look past it to the true person that lived inside of me. Accepting my embarrassing moments gracefully, helped me to know how to help someone else who had experienced similar moments.
I learned not to be so afraid of what people said, or the songs they sang about me. I got through humiliation by laughing at myself and by laughing with the people laughing at me. Inward grace taught me to love myself, “just as I am.” I am quite a character in my own story.
Eventually, I became more graceful and athletic. In tenth grade, I became a gymnast, a diver on the swim team, and a girl’s basketball player. But those activities led to more teeth injuries. A girl charged into me during a basketball game and knocked out the front tooth we had preserved all those years with a silver cap. My mom saved her money and took care of the additional dental expense and my teeth were finally fixed to look normal.
I went to West Virginia University to be a physical therapist to help handicapped children, but I changed my major to interior design because my mother needed me in her store, Interiors by Woleslagle. My dad worked in the store also. He was a painter.
I love the whole concept of interior design. I have studied the concept of whole-part-whole. Being able to see my life as a whole life on a journey with individual parts is like seeing my life story as a design on a tapestry. Just looking at the underside of my life, it looks like a bunch of tangled loose ends, but as I’ve gotten older, I can see the beautiful design that is being formed. In the process of my life unfolding, I began to see my purpose of using my life experiences to grow into being kind to myself, as well as how to be kind to others. We are all unique and we all have our place we fit in and we are all connected in so many faceted ways. Each one of us has our sparkle to shine forth.
Swans are happiest when they act like swans and ducks are happiest when they are being ducks. I am thankful we know both kinds of beautiful creatures. We are all connected and being true to who we are, being authentic, is a delightful way to live.
At WVU, I was into everything. I was very kind. I treated people the way I wanted to be treated. I was on the football field in 1975 when we played against Pitt and Tony Dorsett and we won! I was a runner-up for Ms. Mountaineer. My son, 34 years later, was runner-up for Mr. Mountaineer.
I married and moved to Charleston to work at Boll Furniture until my first son was born. Shortly after his birth, I became a stay-at-home mom and did freelance interior design. I asked my clients to “pay it forward.” I would help a client with my talent and they were to do something nice for someone else with their talent. They didn’t pay me money.
I raised and successfully launched two sons with the help of my husband. Along the way, during these years, I was a mentor to many young women. I taught young mother‘s groups what I had learned, how to be nice to themselves, how we should show ourselves compassion and accept ourselves the way we are. We all have a special place in this world. We all have something to do. We’re part of a community. Finding my place in the community introduced me to many interesting people.
I helped a mom homeschool her daughter by bringing her daughter to my house every day to study. Another mom was birthing her fourth child and her appendix broke! When her baby was five days old, he came to my house to live. I was his surrogate mom for the first month of his life until his parents also moved in with my family for a while.
I also was best friends with an older gentleman, Gen. Charles R. Fox, for eight years. He was adjutant general for two governors. He lived right up the road and my children cut his grass. His wife had died, and I just kind of adopted him and took him everywhere with me. As he entered his 90’s, he started to fall down a lot. Trying to take care of him, I herniated a disc in my back and had extreme pain in my left leg. I needed the grace and strength that I had developed from childhood as an adult. I had to drag my leg and lift it to move it forward. The calf muscle atrophied. My foot was numb.
Instead of opting for surgery, I used yoga and Pilates to strengthen my legs. I even became the youngest member of Silver Sneakers® classes, in which the older adults helped me to get healthier through exercise. Over three years, I regained the use of my left leg. That inspired me to learn to teach yoga, Pilates and other fitness courses, including Silver Sneakers®. I began teaching in 2007 and also certified as a personal trainer.
Since I had originally gone to WVU to be a physical therapist and help other handicapped children, by becoming a fitness instructor and Personal Trainer later in life, I had come full circle, finding a new way to help other people be mentally and physically healthy.
I have continued to use the principles of interior design to create a lovely, light life for myself. Some of these principles are balance, rhythm, line (a form of time that carries my life forward), color and emphasis. I can explain these life principles more and later blogs or speaking engagements.
In my classes, we have fun. I live a joy-filled, inspired life, and I show by example how to exercise using the creative, right side of our brains by which we move in playful ways, as a child would enjoy the exercise. We laugh and I am uplifted. My students catch my enthusiasm.
I encourage my class participants to join into the fun I am having. I am committed to making joy a priority in my life and sharing my vibrant, lighthearted energy with all those I meet. This is what makes my classes different than other exercise classes in which performance is the goal.
I help people smile and have compassion for themselves. I teach people how to be kind to themselves, to encourage themselves and to be pain free. Personally, I regularly tap into my childlike nature and allow myself to let go of whatever is on my mind that involves schedules and plans. Play is free-flowing, and since I am this nature, my group and private sessions follow my footsteps.
I am grateful that having worked through the troubles in my life, I understand better how to be healthier mentally, physically and emotionally. With all these experiences, I am better prepared to help others engage in “Lovely, Light and Living, Finding joy in movement.”
I told Sandy Wells, “That’s what I do in my classes. I try to help people come out of themselves and look at themselves and smile at themselves. We need to be kinder to ourselves and show self-compassion.”
My group classes are open to anyone in our area and also to out-of-town visitors. We have a sense of connection. Everyone is invited, near and far, and we all help each other.
I was married for 37 years and engaged for three years. He was from Dunbar. We divorced when I was 61 years old and he moved away.
In my interview with Sandy Wells, I said, “I got into ballroom dancing to try to reconnect with my husband. It didn’t work. He wouldn’t go to the lessons. I took private lessons for five months. When I danced, I forgot all about my problems. My legs got stronger and I became lighter on my feet.”
“I was dancing three to four nights a week before Bollywood, a fundraiser put on by the Indian community. Jim Wallace is my dance partner. We won first place in a swing dance contest at Summerfest in South Charleston.”
At the time they asked Jim and me to dance for Bollywood, I had another setback. I had gotten the divorce, and it was difficult time. I had many worries and financial concerns. Apparently, I had repressed a lot of emotions, anxiety, fear and anger that should have been allowed to come out and be noticed for what they are. I must have been dreaming about things I couldn’t change and they were bothering me subconsciously.
My optimism was low. I couldn’t let go of these negative thoughts. They kept running like negative loops in my left brain. I woke up one morning with a pain in my right hip that wouldn’t go away. It got worse. My doctor put me on pain pills for a day. Instead of dancing and teaching, and doing what I love to do, I rested, which was the worst thing I could have done.
The next morning, the pain was so great that I passed out. My face turned red, and I had convulsions. A friend called an ambulance, which took me to the hospital. Brain-wave tests, cardiac test and x-rays found nothing physically wrong with me.
“How could something like this show up for no reason? Could it be emotional pain that I repressed? I had this book by Dr. John Sarno about healing back pain and the mind-body connection.”
Could it be psychosomatic? We think only crazy people have this. I’m not crazy, but I have had a rather difficult life. So I went to my pastor and Kanawha Pastoral Center for counseling.
Like many women, I put my needs and emotions behind the needs of others. I covered up my emotions to be strong for my children. I had temporarily lost my emphasis or central focal point of my life and my energy became “stuck.”
What I discovered is that I, like many people, have a chatterbox in my mind that can talk to me excessively about my fears. I learned that I needed to express my feelings, not suppress them. I pictured myself sitting quietly, and letting my thoughts and feelings come down into my lap where I could observe them. It gave my mind some kind of rest. And I needed to be loving toward these upsetting thoughts, just as my mother was toward me when I had temper tantrums.
I held this part of me that was like a scared little child, tenderly and helped her settle down. I talked to myself about my life’s design. What did I want to focus on and where did I want to go?
“Acknowledging the pain in the morning as psychological would take the pain away. I did this by writing morning pages. As soon as I woke up, I started scribbling on a piece of paper any thought that came down to allow my subconscious to talk.”
When I was repressing emotion, I didn’t know what the emotion was. It was hidden from me. And my subconscious thought my emotional pain was too much for me to bear, so it distracted me with physical pain by depleting my muscles of oxygen.
Our subconscious is actually our friend, trying to help us, but sometimes we just need to gently talk to it. My cure for my pain was to just say, “Hello, psychological pain. I see you are there today. C’mon. We will go on and do what we are going to do today.” That’s how I got pain free.
Once I was able to label my pain and deal with it from a psychological point of view, I got better. So many people are on pain meds. What if it’s psychological pain being pressed down and not wanting to come out?
I’m my talk with Sandy Wells, I said, “Maybe that is something I should be talking about. I am not afraid to talk about what I’ve been through, my struggles, to help somebody else. I do talk about it in my classes. My exercise niche is that I help my students let go and have fun. My class helps them overcome the stress and pain that life sometimes bring.”
By Bollywood Night, I was perfectly healthy again, body, mind and spirit. I had a wonderful time, dancing as if no one was watching. I felt great joy in being graceful like the swan I always wanted to be.
“There are lots of dance clubs here in the area – seven ballroom and Latin dance clubs, in addition to other clubs that specialize in Argentine tango, shag, west coast swing, and salsa. I belong to all of them.
I did not know anyone in the dance community when I started to take lessons from Craig Giffin, Julia McCormick, and Steve Prowse. After their deaths, I got the vision of continuing their work as an honor to them. I am carrying their baton. I want our Charleston, West Virginia dance community to have a place on the Internet to find out what dances are being held in our area. I also want to inform out-of-town guests where they can dance when they visit our town.
When I dance, it’s like a form of heaven on earth. There’s nothing out there except dancing. It’s as if I am floating across the floor and using brain cells that fire only when I am being creative. It seems like I am in another world, full of grace and joy.
Now, I dance every chance I get, and with my partner, Jim Wallace, help others learn to dance in my home studio. Jim keeps me safe, comfortable and entertained, which are the three rules a leader must follow. I’m always curious about what he will lead, and there’s such a feeling of wonder when I know I can’t make any mistakes as I just respond to The cues he gives. My only responsibility is to keep the rhythm going with my feet and stay balanced on my axis. Rhythm and balance are principles for a well-designed life.
So now I’ve told you all the reasons why I teach fitness courses and dancing. Finding joy in movement is the key to my success, and I use design principles that lead to a lovely, light lifestyle. All of life keeps flowing. Let’s keep current with our lives and flow in the direction that we want to go, overcoming that “stuck” feeling. “Enjoying” life means living “in joy.”
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. We all just take one step at a time on the path placed in front of us, knowing there is something wonderful as well as mysterious, beyond.
And since you’ve read this far in my story, I trust you enough to tell you a secret. I was seriously depressed at one time in my life. I was suicidal. I had a fender bender when my first son was 6 months old. Two years later, we were sued. The lawsuit lasted from ages 30-33 for me. It was a great time of stress. I heard words such as, “you ruined my life” and “I want a divorce” and “I don’t like anything about you.” All I really wanted in life was to become a good wife and mother. It was my greatest desire. I felt like such a failure. What saved my life was to recognize that my left brain could not even think a positive thought, but that my right brain could sing positive thoughts. I started to “sing a new song unto the Lord.” I could sing my prayers, which on the right side of the brain are all songs of joy and gratitude. I changed my thoughts by using this new perspective. Instead of the people who were suing us “taking” money, I was “giving” money. All the principles I learned in interior design played a part in how I overcame these deadly thoughts. I added large physical movements to the mix of various songs that I was singing, and voila, I was dancing. These are the concepts I share in my lovely, light living blogs and speaker engagements. I’ve learned how to engage my right side of my brain and stay in the present moment. Yes, words are on the left side of the brain, but my words are springing forth from a well of deep listening, immersing myself in joy. Coming from this place makes a big difference in how I respond to my path or journey in life.
You are invited to join me as we find the joy of movement as we travel our individual paths. Personally, I like to dance and make big movements with my body, like a child plays, as I move through life. If you aren’t embarrassed by me being myself and want to join in the fun, contact me and we will enjoy life together.
From my story, I think you may conclude that it’s been an act of faith to just keep on walking, skipping and dancing. Someone said, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
is to help you have a sense of confidence about your body so that you can pursue your desires in life.