Broadway Dancer, Choreographer and Ninja Extraordinaire Ali Solomon has an inspiring story of what it means stay the course. No matter what the road holds, Ali is in for the ride full out!
Every so often a person or an experience comes into your life, and you know that he/she/it will remain a part of you for a very long time. Beyond that, there is a feeling you get that cannot be explained and a sense of limitless gratitude for which no words seem adequate to express. For me, this is MFF and the incredible team of trainers who have been by my side for the last 4 years.
I am a dancer and former gymnast, and though I’ve probably never been “overweight,” I’ve struggled with body image issues for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been active and athletic, but when I quit gymnastics and eventually went through puberty (at 17!), my body went through changes that affected me for many years to come. One of the many things I love about MFF is that they’ve helped me learn to appreciate my strength and my body, rather than trying to hide it. It is an ever evolving journey and a constant cycle of growth, but I’m leaps and bounds ahead of my eating disorder days!
I’ve known Mark for many years – we first met doing a show at the Fulton Theatre – and I remember many a social gathering where a group of us would sit talking health and fitness. I drifted in and out of the conversation circles, but was always listening. Shortly thereafter, Mark started the very first Snatched program with workouts in the park and at Roy Arias. I watched from the sidelines as many friends joined and saw amazing results. While I loved the idea of the program and everything Mark was doing, I couldn’t quite see myself fitting in with the ridiculousness or committing to investing in MYSELF financially. First off, I’m an introvert. Though I love and support the craziness that is MFF, I typically watch quietly from the sidelines. Second, I would have spent the money willingly on showering loved ones with gifts, but never on myself. Eventually though, my BFF and I joined hands as accountability partners and walked through the Clubhouse doors to sign up for a trial month. I dove in and never looked back.
My journey over the last 4 years has been quite the roller coaster, but the positive constant throughout it all has been MFF. In my first year of training at MFF I got cast in the tour of Billy Elliot. It was a dream come true but it was also really hard to leave the Clubhouse! I left in the best shape of my adult life and was really worried about falling off the wagon. However, I took some programs with me on the road, checked in with my trainers periodically, and returned to the Clubhouse on every single layoff. Things were good. Then after about 6 months on the road I got injured. We thought it was a minor ankle sprain so I continued to perform, but the pain kept getting worse. After another 6 months and many efforts to treat and diagnose the pain, I decided to take a medical leave and came home to NYC for treatment and a minor procedure. The next 2-3 years consisted of multiple procedures, injections, many diagnoses (including torn FHL, torn posterior tib, plantar fasciitis, stress fracture, etc.), and lots of pain. I was getting numbness, tingling, burning, shooting pain… all the things… in my foot. Walking was hard, let alone dancing. Serendipitously, the week I left tour my associate choreographer career blossomed. I wasn’t healthy enough to dance in 8 shows per week, but I could get through the pain being on the creative side, and I made my Broadway debut as the Associate Choreographer of Beautiful – the Carole King Musical. It was amazing and strange and weird! I was in and out of a boot and still seeing doctors and physical therapists weekly. I even put a new cast member into the show while I was in a walking boot. Throughout it all, I was still going to MFF. My trainers were amazing at adapting my programs to wherever I was on that particular day. I did pull-ups in a boot and most of my workouts were spent figuring out ways to build and maintain my strength without standing on two feet. I often felt broken, but the team at MFF never let me go down that rabbit hole.
I could probably fill an entire book on just this injury and my journey to healing, so I’ll try to keep it concise. Basically, the pain continued to worsen, I lost my worker’s comp benefits, and my doctors still struggled to find out what was wrong. I wasn’t dancing at all, but my career as an associate choreographer was flourishing. I was mostly happy, but my heart missed dancing and I was scared that I might never return to the stage. There were nights where I’d finish tech and couldn’t walk from the theater to the subway station. I was plastering a smile on my face and pretending the pain wasn’t that bad. I was spending tons of money on doctors and physical therapists, but committed to keeping up with my semi-privates at MFF. No matter how much I struggled financially and emotionally, the Clubhouse was my safe place. It was my one hour a week where I could escape and let someone else take care of me. Beyond the physical things I was dealing with, the Clubhouse gave me a place where I let go of responsibility, while someone was guiding and coaching ME.
In July of 2015 I finally had exploratory foot surgery. My surgeon found a major nerve impingement and a ligament that was completely shattered. None of this ever showed up on MRIs and ultrasounds. It was a relief to finally figure out what was wrong, but I still feared not being able to dance again. I continued to train and maintain my strength and I am thrilled to say that after 3 YEARS of “not dancing” I recently went to an audition on a whim. It was more about asking myself, “Am I still a dancer?” than getting a job. In a crazy turn of events, I got the job and am now making my Broadway debut as a performer! I am far from pain free, but I’m better than I was pre-surgery, and I’m doing it. That’s become one of my new mantras: I’m doing it! It works when I have to adapt my program because I’m having a rough foot day, when I’m tired from doing double duty and working 14 hours straight, or when I’m pinching myself because this all feels like a dream. I’m doing it. And I’m doing it because of the amazing team that has been with me on this roller coaster ride as my trainers, cheerleaders, and support system.
I’m honestly not sure what the future holds for my foot and if I will ever reach a day where I can dance and workout 100% pain free. Almost every day I wonder if this is the new normal. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but luckily my commitment to health and strength will forever be my constant, thanks to MFF. I was lucky enough to be invited to film a video for My Broadway Body with Mark last summer. It was literally the very last workout I did before surgery. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but I wanted to go out with a bang. It was empowering. I’ve now come full circle a bit and added MBB to my arsenal of tools for getting better. My goal with that final workout was to get back to that place once I was back on my feet. My schedule can be crazy and unpredictable and currently I’m only at MFF one day a week for semi-privates. With MBB, I can squeeze in extra workouts at home as a pre-rehearsal or pre-show warmup. It’s just one more piece of the puzzle on my road to healing. I’m forever searching for the words to describe the significance of MFF in my life. I think it’s just one of those things you have to experience for yourself. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance, encouragement, and love of this magical place.