When Georgia Schrubbe traded her lifelong ballet focus for salsa dancing, it was more than just a shift in styles. It was a dramatic pivot that ultimately may have saved her life.
The 25-year-old grew up in a small town outside Mobile, Ala., where she started dancing ballet at age 5. In high school, she danced with professionals and attended intensive ballet workshops across the country every summer.
She lived and breathed ballet up until she moved to the Lowcountry to attend the College of Charleston, where she decided to major in communications rather than dance. Still, even as she earned her degree with hopes of pursuing journalism, she stayed involved with ballet, often dancing in school performances or with the Charleston Ballet Theatre.
It wasn’t until a few years after graduating, when she was standing in a room of ballerinas at an audition for a ballet company, that she realized, once and for all, that she needed to retire from ballet.
“I don’t have the body type to be a professional ballet dancer. They’re looking for a very specific aesthetic, and I’m short and muscular and I had really short hair,” Schrubbe explained.
For her, that moment of clarity was a turning point. Her whole life, being a dancer meant constantly struggling with her image to try to fit the typical ballerina mold.
“Through all my ballet dancing days, I had pretty serious eating disorders and really poor self-esteem and negative body image issues,” she said.
Once, after a ballet performance her freshman year of college, she returned home for spring break thinner than she had ever been.
“I couldn’t even fill an A-cup bra,” she said. “My parents were just horrified ... After that, I was determined never to dance again because it had been such a miserable experience and I had taken it out on my body in such an unhealthy way.”
But it would take another few years, some soul-searching and a life-changing trip to Cuba before Schrubbe embraced a new style of dance that would teach her to love the art and herself again.
In college, Schrubbe edited the College of Charleston’s newspaper, formerly known as the George Street Observer, and worked as a freelance writer on the side, all with the goal of becoming a full-time travel and tourism journalist.
In 2012, her last semester of college, that path led her to an independent study abroad program in Cuba. She wrote for a blog several times a week and was paid by magazines back in the United States to pen articles about her experiences.
She loved the country so much, and a man she met while traveling, that after the program, she went home to finish up classes and then went straight back to Cuba by the end of the year.
She worked as a tour guide for a few months, because it was one of the only legal paths back into the country at the time. But soon after returning, the romance fizzled out, and she realized it was a lot more fun to be a visitor in the country instead of a resident. She moved back to Charleston in 2013.
What she learned in Cuba, however, was perhaps the most valuable lesson of her life.
“You could go to a club or a bar, and somebody would be playing amazing live music, and the entire place would be dancing. ... It didn’t matter what your experience level was; it was just about dancing and moving and having a good time,” she said. “That’s one of the things that influenced me most. There was such a lack of inhibition around dancing.”
Little did she know, in less than two years, her life would revolve around bringing that concept to Charleston.
Back in the Lowcountry, Schrubbe started getting more interested in social dancing after going to salsa night at VooDoo, a bar in West Ashley that booked live Latin music every Sunday up until about a month ago.
It had the same energy as those bars in Cuba, where locals would play music and a dance party would break out, Schrubbe said.
“When you’re just out in the club or on the dance floor somewhere, you don’t really have time to think about what happened or what’s about to happen, you just have to stay totally focused and fully present,” she said. “I think that’s a lot of the value of the dance for me. It just forces you to be in the moment.”
Soon, a friend producing a show called Strings & Salsa at the Charleston Music Hall noticed Schrubbe’s salsa skills and approached her and her partner, La Quinn Mims, about dancing in the performance.
They did, and it was so successful, the two decided to get serious about dancing as partners to make extra money. Over the next several months, Schrubbe and Mims would teach workshops at DanceFX, a local studio, and they were booking performances at special and corporate events around town.
At that point, Schrubbe finally realized where she wanted to take her career. After freelance writing, being a tour guide and even working as a communications specialist for a little while, Schrubbe decided she wanted to be an entrepreneur.
In December, she launched Baila ConmiGA, a Latin dance company that refers to the Spanish phrase “dance with me.”
Part of the business is providing professional dancers for corporate or special events, another part is teaching Latin dance classes at One Love Group Fitness on Maybank Highway, and another major role of the company is to produce community events that provide an organic atmosphere for salsa dancing.
The first event, called Spirits and Salsa, was held in May at the Striped Pig Distillery, and the second installment of the event will be held again this weekend at the same venue.
Gino Castillo Cuban Jazz Quartet, the same band that hosted salsa night at VooDoo, will perform live Latin music, and dancers of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to hit the dance floor.
There’s a 30-minute course prior to the event where beginners can learn the basic salsa steps. During the dance, Schrubbe will teach the group a line dance, and her company will also present a few choreographed performances.
Going forward, she said she wants Baila ConmiGA to be known as the producer of several signature salsa events every year because she thinks it’s important to bring the community together through dance.
“The reason I feel like I have to put these events on is that I think it’s a place where people who are really different can come together and enjoy themselves together,” she said, adding that salsa’s appeal to so many different types of people is why she loves the dance style so much.
Another reason: salsa has helped her heal from the body image issues that had ravaged her self-esteem for so long.
“I don’t think it ever goes away, but the way I see myself now is so different from the way that I saw myself five or six years ago, and I really attribute that to Latin dancing,” she said. “A lot of it is that there’s not a set aesthetic in Latin dancing. If you go to a salsa night, you’ll see people of all shapes, all sizes, all levels of everything and they’re just there to have fun. They’re not thinking about, ‘Oh I’m 5’6 and 102 pounds,’ it’s like ‘Oh, this person is really enjoying the music and she’s curvy and beautiful and she can move like no one’s business. So it doesn’t really matter that she doesn’t fit into this box of what a dancer should look like.’”
In a nutshell, she said salsa is “about being in the moment, being present and being kind to yourself.”
Reach Abigail Darlington at (843) 937-5906.