My Photography Bucket List

Ballerina dances in front of Sugar and Cloth paint wall

Make a list! I have been talking about my photography bucket list for several weeks now. Up until recently that list was entirely in my head which is funny because I have at least 4 brand new notebooks and a set of pretty colored pens to write down all these ideas! If you’re laughing it’s okay. So am I! Haha!

Check it off, don’t cross it out! I put a little check mark by several items on my list with this session. I’m not crossing them off because I would love to do this again! To say I had a blast on this day is an understatement. It was so hard to keep in my inner girlie screams!

Community over competition. Before I continue I’d like to thank Theresa at A Storybook Photo for putting this session together with our model Cleopatra Williams. You can check out their social media pages at the bottom of this blog. Please feel free to give them some hearts!

Downtown Houston Biscuit Wall Main Street

The story behind the dancer. Cleo was not only gracious enough to pose for us but she agreed on letting me interviewing her!

Downtown Houston Biscuit Wall Main Street

Me: Tell me a little about yourself. Are you from Houston or somewhere else? Do you plan on staying awhile?

Cleopatra: I’m a born and raised, proud Houstonian. I grew up in Houston’s 1st Ward very close to Downtown. I currently live in the Woodland Heights not too far from my family who still reside there. I did move to New York in 2007 to go to school and start a new career. I moved back to Houston in 2013. It still feels like a new city with all of the changes that took place while I was gone. I still can’t get over the gentrification of my old neighborhood. I have no plans of leaving just yet, although I do long to live in a more rural area one day.

Downtown Houston Biscuit Wall Main Street

Me: I know you are a former dancer with the Houston Ballet. Tell us about that opportunity. How long did you dance? What has life been like after the Houston Ballet?

Cleopatra: So I began dancing when I was three. My mom entered me in a program and I ended up getting scholarships to dance. I joined Houston Ballet’s company when I was eighteen after many years of training, leaving high school (The High School for the Performing Arts) two years early, getting my diploma online so I could train during the day, and sacrificing prom and graduation. It was all worth it. I got to travel and perform in London and in Moscow at the Bolshoi theater to name a few. I lived the dream up until I got my first fracture in my foot when I was twenty-one and my second fracture in the same exact place on my other foot three years later. That was the end of my career in 2006 and when I moved to New York to go back to school. I had dedicated twenty-one of my formative years to ballet. That was a very difficult time in my life. One where I realized I overly identified with my career as a ballerina and when it was gone I didn’t like who I was left with. A lot of therapy and soul searching helped me get through those years.

Downtown Houston Biscuit Wall Main Street

Me: I’ve been talking a lot about my photography bucket list. Thank you by the way for helping me cross off several items on my list!

As a dancer, do you have a dancing bucket list? And what are a couple of items on that list? Is there something you crossed off your list that’s your favorite experience so far?

Cleopatra: It’s an honor to have been a part in completing a goal on your bucket list! I’m so grateful for all of the wonderful artist the universe brings into my life to collaborate with. They are always such fun and inspiring experiences and I’m grateful to meet new and creative people.

What a great question. So, I no longer truly “dance” ballet any more. I mostly teach it. However, my hobby when I have the extra energy is House dance. I started getting into House music and dance twenty years ago and it served as a great contrast to and escape from the rigid structure of ballet. It’s all about improvisational expression of one’s self. So to answer your question, my dance bucket list includes the desire to travel the globe going to House competitions and events, both entering them and just observing. There’s a huge community around the world and in Houston of “House Heads”, as they’re called, sharing movement in circles and I want to take part. Another thing on my list is to do a photo/video series of me dancing in Nature all over the world. Specifically different types of trees. So basically my bucket list items revolve around three of my favorite things 1. Traveling, 2. Nature & 3.House Dance.

Downtown Houston Biscuit Wall Main Street

Me: Besides dancing, what other passions do you have? From our short time together during our little shoot out I got the impression that education is something you are very interested in. Is that something you are passionate about?

Cleopatra: I guess it’s part education, but I’m really passionate about bringing mindfulness, meditation, holistic thinking, self-love and self-awareness to others, especially our youth. As a ballet teacher, I see myself in many of my students and I think they’re somehow under much more pressure than I was at their age. Just take the state of violence and depression in our schools. I truly want to be a part of the movement that teaches our kids how to deal with their thoughts and emotions in a nurturing way, and the movement that solidifies meditation as a necessary daily practice to center one’s self to better deal with the stressors of life. I love that mindfulness meditation is being brought into schools.

Downtown Houston Biscuit Wall Main Street

Me: Your Instagram posts feature a ton of positive and encouraging words and I love that! Can you share a few of your favorite quotes? And what kind of advice would you give today’s young people?

Cleopatra: Yea, so I’m really am speaking to myself when I post those quotes on Instagram, but it’s great if they resonate with others. They are reminders that I always have the choice to think a negative thought or a positive thought. Many of us walk around thinking that life is happening “to us” and that we can’t control our thinking, when in actuality with practice we can control our thoughts and life can happen “for us” if we are willing to change our perspectives. It isn’t easy work by any means because we’ve been programmed since we were kids that “we are what we think” and that we are surrounded by lack. Lack of money, lack of time, lack of beauty, etc. When I learned that my mind was a tool, not the master, and that I could pick a chose which thoughts I wanted to keep or discard I felt like a curtain had been lifted. To combat the false sense of lack, I try to list the things I’m grateful for every morning. “Gratitude opens the door for more good to come in.”-Louise Hay

It’s so hard to pick one great quote, but this one came to me while I was meditating one day, I shared it on Instagram and it received a few “Amens”: “You are worthy because you exist!” So many of us struggle with feeling unworthy or not good enough. The fact that we are alive is all the proof that we are worthy. Worthy of love, happiness and to have our deepest desires fulfilled, just because we exist!

Downtown Houston Biscuit Wall Main Street

Me: And finally, is there one person, or more than one, you can say was/were the most supportive in helping you become the person you are today, in your life, love, career, etc.?

Cleopatra: My mom would have to be the person in my physical life who knows and loves me like no other. She’s been so supportive through the highs and the lows, and I everyday I realize how lucky I am to have a mother who loves me so deeply. I’d also like to list some people who I’ve never met but whose books saved my life, with the hopes that someone reading this may want to read some encouraging words. Which reminds me, one thing I love telling our youth is to read, read, read. I really feel reading (specifically self-help books) saved my life more than any therapist I’ve seen. So with that being said, I’d like to thank Dr. Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, Ernest Holmes, Brene Brown, Pema Chodron and anyone whose dedicated their lives to teaching others the many ways to love and honor themselves. Self-Love is the greatest healing power. We change the world when we live life from a place authentic self-love and acceptance. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story and thoughts. This was so much fun, exciting and inspiring.

A wonderful experience: I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did! I got out of my comfort zone a little and I’m a better person because of this! Stay tuned for more bucket list check marks!

Love,

Vanessa Figueroa

Fig Leaf Photography

Credits:

Theresa Rivera is the owner of Storybook Photography. Click below to see more of her work.

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You can find more images of Cleopatra on her Instagram page here.

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