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Mary Louise King Speaks at FestiVall on Firsts, Favorites and the Future

This April, I recently had the privilege of speaking at FestiVall as a guest on "Three Things" - a live monthly speaker series featuring three unique professionals discussing their first, favorite, and future works.

As a seasoned performer, I often speak at live events, but this one was truly special because I got to share a little more about my first, my favorite and my future.

My "first" is my many struggles and how they made me stronger.

My struggles led me to my "favorite" - dancing!

And my "future" is helping others discover the same!

In this talk, I reveal my plan of how younger and older generations can collaborate to discover light, lovely living by finding the joy in movement and in socialization. I hope you'll enjoy the video and a transcript is provided for your convenience as well.

FestiVall, Three Things, Mary Louise King

Three Things - My First, My Favorite, and My Future

Transcript of Live Speech - April 20, 2022

Put your left arm above your head. Now brush it with your right hand, down over your armpits. We just cleaned out your lymph nodes. When was the last time you put your hand above your head? So when you see me out dancing and I’m raising my arm above my head or extending it to the side, you can tell the person sitting beside you: she’s just cleaning out her armpits.

You may find it surprising, but I was born handicapped in my feet and legs, and through a long series of struggles, I learned to be graceful.

My FIRST will be about my struggles and how they transformed my life. My struggles led me to my FAVORITE, which is dancing. My FUTURE is about how I have a plan to help myself as well as other baby boomers to stay out of nursing homes and to live a light, lovely life to the very end, finding joy in movement.

Moving our bodies in playful ways strengthens them so we don’t lose it in the end. Someone did an experiment on trees in Arizona, building a perfect place for them to grow – the right amount of sunlight, water and nutrients in the soil. But when the trees grew to a certain age, they all fell over! There was no wind that caused movement, and therefore the trees didn’t put down solid roots.

When a tree is being blown by the wind, it may feel that it’s struggling, but it’s that struggling combined with grace that produces a tree that’s majestic and strong, able to provide shade and resources for others to enjoy. We want our lives to be an example to the younger generation that sees us as graceful and poised, strong and ready for all the opportunities life offers us.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I wear pearls almost every day of my life. A pearl is made by the oyster when it is introduced to an irritation. It transforms that seemingly bad experience into a thing of beauty. All my FIRSTs were similar to what the oyster might feel when it has the bad experience of discomfort. The FIRST part of my life was peppered with struggle. To strengthen my weak legs, my mom took me to an orthopedic doctor. He gave me special shoes and therapy. Mom also enrolled me into ballet and tap classes, but I was the clumsiest in the class.

In second grade, I received a blow to my face which broke my front tooth. They capped it silver. No one had braces or silver in their mouth back then. I stopped smiling and I felt like a wallflower. Other kids made fun of me.

I had the silver tooth until tenth grade when it was in the process of being capped white. A girl charged into me playing girls’ basketball in Pittsburgh and knocked the tooth we were preserving all those years out onto the floor. It was packed in ice and a dentist did an emergency root canal and put it back into my mouth. My smile is one of those smiles that was made possible by kind dentists all along the way in my life.

The first part of my life, I lived in Pennsylvania. When I was 17, I went to West Virginia University, where I started to see my value. I was a runner-up for Ms. Mountaineer in 1975. I was out on the football field with two other contestants during halftime, dressed as a true Mountaineer. My parents had first row seats on the 50-yard line in the concrete bowl we called our beloved stadium. It just happened to be at the game when WVU played arch-rival Pitt. The Mountaineers won even though they played against the famous Tony Dorsett. We tore down the goalposts!

After college, instead of going back to Pennsylvania, I got married and moved to Charleston, so I’ve been a West Virginian for 50 years now. I worked as an interior designer at Boll Furniture and then raised two sons.

When I was 49, I had another setback that took me back to my childhood days. I herniated a disc in my back and lost the use of my left leg. I had to pull on it manually to move myself forward. To recover, I joined the older adults’ fitness classes. They were all much older than me and called me, “the child.” Through those classes, my legs got stronger. This is when I FIRST realized that I needed to exercise to keep my body strong. I then certified to teach yoga and Pilates, and I became licensed to teach SilverSneakers.

Since I had gotten so strong, I started to think of all the ways I could give to others as a way of paying-it-forward. I remembered a near-death experience I had when my second son was born. After everyone had left the hospital, my uterus got soft, and I started to bleed to death. A nurse came in and noticed I didn’t have any pulse. She called a bunch of other hospital workers, and they ran in to pound on my abdomen. It seemed as though I watched all this from the corner where the wall and ceiling meet. The next thing I remember was feeling freezing cold because of the blood I was receiving.

I have a rare blood type, O negative. I am a universal donor, meaning that I can give blood to anyone, but it’s difficult when it comes to finding blood for me as well as all the other 0 negative blood-type people. I started to give blood as a way of paying something valuable I have forward.

While donating my blood on March 3, 2011, I had an accident at the American Red Cross. I had a vasovagal episode. My body panicked, and all my blood rushed to my core, leaving my brain. Normally, when this happens, a person faints, and once they fall to the ground, blood can get to their brain. You’ve probably seen this in movies when a lady swoons from seeing something tragic and falls to the ground. The problem on March 3 was I was sitting up in a donor’s chair, and the blood could not get to my brain. I was without brain blood for 2 1/2 minutes. In three minutes, I would have had brain damage. Four minutes would have meant death.

When I regained consciousness, a nurse from next door had arrived and she was calling 911. They had raised my feet. The paramedics got there before my husband, and I said I didn’t want to go to the hospital until I talked with my husband. He was in charge of our money, and I didn’t want to spend any and get myself in trouble. When he arrived, he was furious and yelled at me in front of all the people around me who were trying to be so kind.

I did go to the hospital, and my husband followed in his truck, but while there, he was distracted due to his mother’s sickness. He was afraid she was dying at home. He was her medical power of attorney.

This trauma was overwhelming to me. My brain hurt, and over the next months, it seemed to me that my husband could not see my loveliness. If you are a husband, I urge you to continue to court your wife and don’t ignore her. When my husband felt squeezed or pressured, what came out of him was not safe for me. I felt broken-hearted.

Like a caterpillar, I wrapped myself up in a cocoon, and what I recognized as good earlier in my life changed form. This period was like a dark night of my soul, and I felt like I lost everything dear to my heart.

For the next three years, I was in a time of transition. I outgrew my old way of life. It was a period of restoration g my spirit. Some very gentle people came into my life. They held the space for me and helped me to sustain my life. I finally felt a sense of gain from the loss and my life was being made beautiful again.

In 2014, I started to emerge from this uncertain time by giving myself a gift of kindness. I started to say to myself, “Let’s be kind to MaryLouise.” I felt the kindest thing I could do for my husband and me would be to file for divorce, acknowledging our loss, but I also visualized a different kind of life with him. I felt we needed space between us so that more gentleness and kindness could be expressed, more like what we had when we first met, before marriage and children. My husband was shocked and upset with me. He asked me to try again with our marriage. We decided to take ballroom dance lessons since it seemed like a couple thing. The problem was that he attended very few dance lessons. In the meantime, I found my FAVORITE! I love to dance! My legs were strong enough to dance! As a child, I always wanted to be graceful and I always loved that feeling I felt when I saw two people dancing together.

This is what I learned when I first took dance lessons and what I teach now: There is no stopping and starting again in dancing. If the couple keeps their feet going according to the rhythm, they can make mistakes and keep on going. These concepts as applied to life is what I would call freedom and dancing became a picture of what I wanted my new life to be.

Some more life secrets about dancing: Dancing couples cover for each other. If one makes a mistake the other makes the best of it, not letting anyone else know. And if a mistake is made, the leader takes responsibility for giving a bad lead. The idea behind couple dance is connection, not perfection. It’s all very courteous. I wanted this kind of life for the rest of my days. In couple dance, the leader’s responsibility is to keep the follower safe, comfortable and entertained. I certainly needed to dance more.

After 37 years of marriage and three years of engagement, in 2015, I filed for divorce again. If you’ve ever gone through divorce, you know what a struggle it is. This decision flung me into more loneliness, but like all the struggles I had been through before in my life, I found grace. The unrecognizable mush that was in the cocoon continued to emerge as a beautiful butterfly. I started a new part of my life. My FAVORITE activity gave me the confidence I needed to feel lovely and light. I found such joy in moving my body to various rhythms.

At first, my ballroom dance teachers filled the gap of the loneliness of divorce for me. If I had not filed for divorce, I would have never tried dancing even though I always wanted to dance as a child. As I said earlier, I was put into ballet and tap classes as a child to strengthen my legs, but I was the clumsiest in the class. However, as I kept taking ballroom dance lessons, I found out those wobbly legs were strong. Eventually, one of my teachers invited me to go to a group dance lesson. I was afraid because I didn’t know anyone, but my teacher assured me I’d be safe. At my very first group lesson, I met Jim Wallace, who became my regular partner.

As time has progressed, I’ve met many like-minded people in the dance community. Each step I took helped to heal me and give me a sense of belonging. I fit into my dance “family.”

There are seven dance clubs in our area and lots of places to dance. I had no idea that this world of dance existed here in Charleston until I got into it.

In 2016, I opened my business, called both Charleston WV Dance and Mary Louise King, LLC. I also maintain a Facebook page called Charleston WV Dance where I post all upcoming dance opportunities.

Jim and I teach ballroom and Latin dance in my home studio by appointment only. I try to help get the word out about the wonderful world of dance, as my teachers did for me. Both of my original dance teachers are deceased, so I am carrying the baton, paying-it-forward.

As I previously mentioned, in addition to dancing, I am also a personal trainer and group exercise teacher. I teach yoga, Pilates and also a group exercise program in which the participants sit in or stand around a chair for support. I am licensed to teach SilverSneakers, which is a benefit in many Medicare Advantage programs. The motto of my classes is “fitness, fun, and friends.” My students love to come to class. It feels like a party. We are helping each other have fun while we move and make social connections.

When you think about it, we moved in our mom’s womb before we breathed or could talk and the very next step in our development was to connect to our caretaker.

My brand is “Lovely, Light Living: Finding joy in movement.” I want to help others find this kind of life in a gentle way – to pay-it-forward in the same way that gentle people helped me move from feeling unlovable to knowing my life is worth living.

So my FUTURE is to help myself as well as others to maintain well-being so that we can help each other to avoid being put in a nursing home. The two things we need to do are

1. bodily movement

2. social interaction.

We want to plan for “compressed morbidity” rather than “expanded morbidity.” Morbidity means that we are all are going to die. “Compressed morbidity” means we want a short time of illness before death or just go to sleep at night and wake up in heaven. We don’t want to have “expanded morbidity,” which means having an illness that lingers for a long time. I want to help Charleston and the people of Kanawha Valley to be healthy by encouraging activities for movement and social activity.

Most people need a friend to go with them to activities. I’m sure some of you came here with a friend or you came because a friend was going to be here. There are two things true friends do for each other: we help each other to socialize and to move our bodies if we want to be friends for a long time.

When people lose the skill to make friends, they become sedentary. Then their aches and pains seem more pronounced, which makes them want to become more and more still. Without movement, we can become stagnant or toxic.

So my admonition is to find a person who needs a friend and take them to a group where they can feel like he or she belongs, so they can make new friends who will get them more interested in life. Then they will use that model to help someone else.

Since we are in the season that is bursting forth with flowers, this simple word picture might give you some direction for your future. We are all like a flower planted and rooted into the ground where we live. Our goal is to bloom where we are planted, and live a long and beautiful life, becoming strong through our struggles. Like a flower being blown by the wind, instead of moaning that the breeze is causing difficulty and struggle, the flower can turn it around and sense the joy of movement. It’s not struggling, it’s dancing in the wind.

Although one well-cared-for tree or one flower alone is beautiful, a forest or bouquet is so much more interesting. We need both to experience a lovely, light life: a desire to move and grow and to share our lives with others.

When we socialize, it’s very important not to get together and co-ruminate. Find friends that will help you stay in the beautiful, playful, present moment.

In closing, I encourage you to find your favorite and introduce others to it. Your FUTURE will be bright and lovely as you find joy in movement and strength in the struggles, giving you an intrinsic motivation to pay-it-forward, so others can also enjoy life. Just giving someone something to smile about brightens everyone’s day.

For more information about me, refer to my website:

I participate in SpreeWV, a program that’s a part of Charleston Main Streets. My receipts can be used toward earning a free $50 Visa debit card. I have some of my receipts on the table with the SpreeWV instructions written out. Feel free to pick one up.

In addition, I would appreciate your vote for the couple we are training for the United Way’s Dancing with the Stars. The event is Friday, April 29. The event is sold out, but you can donate to United Way as your way to help us raise money for this worthy cause. It’s one way in the near future that I am paying-it-forward. Vote for Couple Number Two, Doug Harlow and Samantha Carney. Each vote is $5, and there’s a handout with all the information on it.

I thank FestivAll and Jeff Shirley, the producer of Three Things for inviting me to speak. I also thank the small businesses of the Charleston area that have provided me with these beautiful clothes I am wearing:

Pink Birch- dress

Shop 218- earrings

Ivor’s Trunk- bracelets and purse

Backstage Bodywear- shoes & fishnet

Tony the Tailor- new jeans for my dance partner, Jim Wallace.

It’s been fun and a real pleasure to share my stories with you. May they motivate you to socialize more and move your body more, staying in the beautiful present moment and enjoying life fully to the very end.


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