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VOX

10.10.13

M A G A Z I N E

THE VOICE OF COLUMBIA

Over the TOp

More than just extreme interests — they’re lifestyles • • • Forty years of comic history | page 5 30 musicians, six bands, one epic battle | page 7 SPEAK out against bullying | page 19 • • •


FASCINATING FIXATIONS

Human beings are, by nature, prone to push boundaries. Our instinct to follow our curiosity has taken us to the peaks of mountains, across enormous seas and to outer space. Tireless men and women have split atoms, cured plagues and

y rdinar ve o a r t x e ha These might not s count ter e c g a a r p a ch s our storie , but limits ead seven aking R e does. oundary-br nd a b about iduals here at v e i lin ind ore on com. m r u o . f gazine a m x vo

built skyscrapers, all in the pursuit of greatness. This week, 11 Columbians share their stories of over-the-top interests and give us a look inside the lives of those who follow their passions to extremes.


NATURE’S PLAYGROUND Neighbors Judy Fry and Tim Wall put their best gardens forward

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BY BAILEY OTTO

PHOTO BY BAILEY OTTO

udy Fry remembers the first time she saw Tim Wall. He was surveying the yard next and lack of sleep that accompany this chronic disorder take their toll. She alternates her time door. Looking like he should be driving an old Bentley, he wore a tweed cap similar to between resting inside and working diligently in her garden. One hour in, one hour out, with the one her father sported. Fry liked him instantly. about four hours a day spent outside altogether. Fry created and maintains a garden that Wall first toured the house on Garth Avenue in March, and by April he owned it. He surrounds her house like a cocoon. She guesses there are around 50 types of plants blooming. “I just can’t keep up with it,” she says, shrugging. “Partly, I’ve kept it going because liked what Fry had done with her garden and had aspirations for his own. Wall knew the yard people love it so much.” could boast a pretty garden, but he didn’t know the treasure trove he’d landed. As summer Every day Fry works outside, kids, adults and teenagers stop by. And if they’re leery moseyed along, new plants popped up, blooming and twirling upward from the dirt. of the bees or butterflies, she offers them a guided tour. Soon they’re plucking blooms, In gardening, the two neighbors are kindred spirits. Now, three years after Wall moved enchanted by the caterpillars and butterflies and have reconciled with the bees. They leave in, the two offer yards stuffed with flowering plants and native grasses to those walking and with a bouquet. Many come back. driving past. In fact, the plants are so dense and some so tall that “That’s why I’m out here often during the day,” Fry says. “I want to show the two houses only peep over the towering plants. And yet, the two properties complement each other with their In fact, the plants are as many people and kids as I can the serenity, the calmness.” But it’s time for her to wind down a little and select the plants she wants distinct personalities. Wall enjoys wildness while Fry tames her so dense and some to preserve. Wall believes his low-maintenance policy has influenced Fry to plants a little more. Fry dedicates one-third of her yard to tall put in less labor in constant upkeep. But it’s a two-way exchange. Wall has so tall that the two prairie plants that thrive on their own. Only a strip of ground about more flowers, many of them Fry’s native prairie plants. five feet wide separates the two yards and gardening philosophies. houses only peep over added Wall, 34, is nearly 6 feet tall and wears gym clothes with flip-flops or goes A small stone path leads from one property to the next. the towering plants. barefoot when working outside. His arbors stretch across the middle of the Fry’s yard is a playground for butterflies and bees, a forest of front yard, vines twining around the poles. Emerald-green peppers hang like foliage where onlookers could get lost if they stepped off the path. ornaments from their hooked stems, the crunchy exteriors trapping the heat inside. Jalapenos Four out of her 15 butterfly bushes stand at least 15 feet high, like towers overlooking the dangle among habaneros, tomatoes, raspberries and grapes. flowers below. Wall walks through the thin patch of plants that divides his yard from Fry’s and holds Two female hummingbirds size each other up above the garden as Fry ruminates in a out a handful of red-orange Tommy Toe cherry tomatoes, offering some to Fry. The spongy chair on her porch. Her grandmother gardened, and Fry remembers carefully following in layer beneath the tomato skin splits, and the splash of juice is sweet and a little sharp. They her grandma’s footsteps as a little girl. talk of gardening. Just over 5 feet tall and about 100 pounds, Fry, 64, is slight. As she talks, her hands Wall goes above and beyond to create a garden that provides food for him and his wife. flutter like butterflies. Her quick, precise movements and hair, still light brown and held in a He makes wine from the grapes and salsa from the vegetables growing on the arbors. ponytail, belie her age. “It’s a primal thing,” Wall says. “It’s this connection to nature; you and some other living Fry has been a sentinel of this world she has created over the span of 13 years, but she’s thing are forming a team, a symbiosis that forms between the gardener and his garden.” getting tired. Fibromyalgia has plagued her since adolescence. The total body pain, fatigue 10.10.13 • VOXMAGAZINE.COM 11


THE LIMIT DOES NOT EXIST Rosemary Howell calculates her way to success

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12 VOXMAGAZINE.COM • 10.10.13

BY CAROLINE MICHLER

PHOTO BY KEVIN COOK

osemary Howell has eight composition notebooks filled with notes and practice problems, four binders of study materials, four calculators, two math-themed coffee mugs, two perfectly symmetrical light-brown eyebrows and one big sense of humor. She might be an intense studier, but she’s like a balanced equation. One minute she’s laughing at herself while describing her favorite calculator, and the next she’s using a business-like tone to describe the process of becoming an actuary. It’s a long one full of tests, but Howell is ahead of the game. Howell is an MU senior majoring in math with an emphasis in actuarial science, a career that applies math and statistical methods to assess risk in insurance and finance. She is studying for the MLC, Model for Life Contingencies, which is her fourth actuarial exam. She plans to take the exam Nov. 5. Her favorite calculator is the BAII+. She jokingly holds her finger up and cocks her head to one side for just a second, so her light brown Howell estimates hair isn’t even on both sides and she has studied about says, “Make sure you get the plus; a difference.” Howell has 900 hours total for the there’s used this calculator on her past three actuarial exams two exams. Actuarial science is an she has taken. emphasis area in the math department, but MU is not involved in the exam process, so it’s hard to estimate how many students are taking the exams. Howell knows eight to 10 current students who have passed one or two exams and two people studying for their third. MU doesn’t require students to pass an exam to graduate. The Society of Actuaries and The Casualty Actuarial Society recommend candidates study 100 hours for every hour of the given exam. So far, each of the exams she has studied for has been three hours long. Howell estimates she has studied about 900 hours total. And she’s not finished. Although Howell already landed a job with an actuarial firm after graduation in May 2014, she will continue to take exams while she’s a working professional until she has passed all the exams required for her to become a retirement consultant. Each particular track for an actuary fellowship is modified every few years. As of right now, she has to pass five preliminary exams, three of which she has already completed. After she passes, she’ll take an associate professional course, which is the last step in applying for her associateship. She will then take three more exams for the retirement track. After the exams, she’ll take four online course modules, followed by an admissions course, which completes her fellowship. Howell wants to make the most of her time as a student because she thinks this is when she’ll have the most free time to study. She took her first actuarial exam her sophomore year while enrolled in a course on the same material. The first time Howell completed the exam, she didn’t do any studying so she could get a feel for what the exams would be like. She failed. She took the exam two months later after studying and passed. Howell studies as much as she can each day. She reads notes and completes practice problems for about three to four months before the exam. A month before the exam, she starts taking practice tests. Her goal is to get through a chapter daily. Sometimes she gets creative with her studying. She has reviewed flashcards and study materials on the elliptical, at her sister’s graduation, on planes and if she’s lucky, at Panera in a booth in the back with many cups of coffee. There, she’ll be wearing what she calls “smart glasses,” fake glasses she dons when she’s doing intense studying and wants to feel extra smart. Howell attributes her success so far to luck. That’s hard to believe for anyone who has watched Howell drink out of her “Never Ever Question the Actuary’s Judgment” coffee mug and work during her 900 study hours and counting.


ALL ABOARD Randy and Kenneth Hackman have big plans for a little railroad BY COLIN HOPE

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he clouds are always out in Kenneth Hackman’s basement. Model railroad tracks set against plaster moldings of mountains encircle the room. A cloud-speckled azure sky painted on the ceiling completes the setting for a miniature rail line of the Old West. With a flip of a switch, the model railroad master makes the basement glow a soft nocturnal blue. Above the ground in his Jefferson City log cabin-style home, Kenneth, 79, and his son Randy, 40, are planning to bring their love of the rails outdoors. In July, the two broke ground in their garden for what they expect will be America’s largest private outdoor model train circuit. Kenneth and Randy will weave more than 4,000 feet of railroad tracks through a miniature version of a Colorado mountain terrain set in their half-acre backyard. The father-son team has a passion for railroads and trains that blows most people off the tracks. It’s present in everything from their basement’s sprawling 19th-century cities and rail lines to the train-themed wind chimes on their front porch that faces the Union Pacific westbound line. Kenneth’s history with trains goes back more than six decades, and he fondly remembers the magazines and models that stoked what would become a lifelong pursuit. “It’s something exciting,” Kenneth says, after remarking how his favorite pastime has grown over the years. “It’s something to keep me active and focused.” Outside, a train whistles from down the line. The retired postal service worker makes his way to the porch in time to catch the train cars clamoring on the rails past his home. Like some mighty wind, an electric enthusiasm sweeps over Kenneth as he hollers to his son

PHOTO BY MACKENZIE BRUCE inside, “Coal train!” It’s hard to believe a single locomotive passes unidentified by the trainspotting duo. To bring more life into the hobby shared with his father, Randy started discussing the idea of a garden train with two of his father’s friends. Together, they decided to re-create Colorado’s Durango and Silverton rail line — a family favorite — in 1800s detail. “It’s not a club,” Randy says about the ambitious group of four. “It’s just a group of guys who are crazy about trains.” The Hackmans plan to name their first building after Kenneth’s late wife, Belva Hackman, who passed away in 2011. Her memory is reflected in their home through the models she made by hand during her years raising the four Hackman children. That family affection is abundantly present in the Hackman’s garden where thin furrows filled with gravel snake across the landscape, bend around hundreds of newly planted perennials and momentarily disappear behind piles of dirt that will soon be made into Colorado mountains. After borrowing a hydraulic digger from a friend, Kenneth and Randy have put down their shovels and are picking up steam in laying the foundation for an outdoor track. “Hopefully, this project will bring the entire family together,” Randy says, considering his father’s 10 great-grandchildren who he knows will want to see the project once it’s completed. Although the Hackmans estimate they will not finish their garden circuit until next year, they take pride in the steady growth of their mammoth miniature railroad — their spirits visibly recharged each time they share the sight of another train pressing its way onward.

“It’s not a club. It’s just a group of guys who are crazy about trains.”

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FULL STEAM AHEAD Ben Watkins directs to impress in “Steamworks and Shadows”

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BY GRACE LYDEN

PHOTO BY KHOLOOD EID

he room begins to sweat. A crowd clothed in leather vests and lace corsets stands eagerly awaiting the premiere episode of Columbia’s first steampunk Web series. “Welcome, everybody, to the ‘Steamworks and Shadows’ premiere!” The audience cheers raucously for the film’s director, Ben Watkins. Many have come to DoDeca-Con II: The Revenge, Columbia’s second annual comic book and steampunk convention, specifically to see this. Steampunk is a science fiction subgenre in which futuristic machines exist in an alternative version of the Industrial Revolution era. Watkins and eight others play the crew of the fictional Airship Vindus in the film. The Columbia-based group formed in July 2012 after meeting at the steampunk day of a pirate convention in Kingdom City. Shortly after, members decided to create their own universe. They spent every Saturday and Sunday the rest of that summer filming, mostly in Watkins’ garage. They built their own weapons and scoured thrift stores and antique shops for authentic clothing. Their faithful costumes exceed their acting abilities. For the Airship Vindus crew, this is no mere hobby. It’s a lifestyle. As Watkins starts the film, the chatter of the costumed crowd evaporates. Small speakers emit dramatic opening music. Eight and a half minutes of action and humor follow. The good guys chase a villain through a small Western town as he steals a mysterious box, but he gets away and vanishes into thin air. Then credits roll, and the crowd erupts into applause again. “Would you guys watch more episodes of that?” Watkins asks the crowd. “Yeah!” They respond, even louder. More than 400 people have come to the Days Inn for the convention. Upstairs, vendors are eager to sell them pocket watches and replicas of World War I guns. Kevin Purvis, 42, actor and producer of the Web series, doesn’t need to shop. He’s in the antique business and made his own gun — a 6-foot rifle with a bayonet and a piece of a light saber at the end. Most people at the convention would be at home in an H.G. Wells novel, a George Lucas film or some combination of the two. Watkins, 28, has a ponytail, a full beard and the cool charisma of a politician. Sporting his homemade leather-and-brass costume, he shakes hands and spouts phrases such as “share in the vision” and “raise awareness about our culture.” His steampunk character is Judge, a monster hunter. The left shoulder of his jacket bears the Airship Vindus’ winged hourglass logo. Locks of werewolf and Yeti hair (black and white braids) swing from his vest, and he wears a cowboy hat with a pair of Victorian-era goggles perched on top. Watkins believes anyone can be anything in steampunk. “It doesn’t matter what you want to do,” he tells a group of newcomers. “If it has existed in legend, lore or literary fiction, we want it, and we want it steampunked.” Steampunk has been popular on the East and West coasts for years but has only recently gained momentum in the Midwest. Jashin Lin, 25, plays Lady Jade Summers, the Airship’s wealthy benefactress. She thinks Airship Vindus is responsible for the spike in popularity in mid-Missouri. After joining social media, dozens of pseudo-actors from neighboring states showed up for filming, up to 40 people in one day. “We started this just over a year ago, and it blew up,” Lin says, whose character wears a leather corset and looks like a biker. “You’ll find raging debate online about corsets,” Lin says. A good one can cost $20 to $500. Steampunk is an expensive hobby, especially for people who work mostly serviceindustry jobs. Watkins runs a business replicating science fiction movie props but also works a 5 to 10 a.m. shift at Michael’s several days a week. “It’s really, really hard financially,” Watkins says. “There’s no question about it that we struggle to pay bills every single month. And yet, it’s OK because we love what we do.”

“If it has existed in legend, lore or literary fiction, we want it, and we want it steampunked.”

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HOT AND DANGEROUS Ethan Meyers is enamored with exotic species BY MADELINE O’LEARY

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even of the most important females in Ethan Meyers’ life are unnamed, yet he sleeps next to them each night. Instead of talking they hiss, and instead of walking they slither — they’re reptiles, after all. Meyers’ fixation with snakes is undeniable. He even had the curved body and beige, gold and milk-chocolate skin of one tattooed down his torso. The hues of her skin hypnotically blend and contrast like soft stones at the bottom of a babbling creek. Meyers’ leg pays testament to the serpentine anatomy of another. Unlike the other snake, this one is black, blue and tan. “She hates me,” he says quietly; she grows tense and stares daggers at him from her corner of the room. “I won’t give a name to anything that can kill me,” he says. Meyers, a 26-year-old jewelry salesman, keeps seven snakes in his bedroom: an atrox Western diamond-backed rattlesnake, a banded monocled cobra, the West African Gaboon viper, a sunfire albino monocled cobra, a Costa Rican eyelash pit viper, a jungle carpet python and a rhinoceros viper. The python is the only snake that isn’t venomous. He owns 10 snakes; the other three are currently in a breeding program away from his house. Their individual cages form a semi-circle around his bed, broken only by a black pool in one corner that holds a small alligator. No more than 15 square feet remain open for him to maneuver around his room and bed. Fiercely territorial, impassioned and poised to pounce at a moment’s notice, venomous snakes have surrounded Meyers in his sleep since boyhood. At 6, he got his first ball python. By 14, his room was wall-to-wall snakes. Home schooled his entire life, Meyers admits to an untraditional upbringing. “At my house, it was like, ‘Oh, well, the tarantula got out, again,’” he says. Meyers never studied reptiles within the confines of a classroom. “My dad gave me the option of having regular science classes or picking my own interests,” he says. The young Meyers chose the latter and scoured every book about snakes that he could get his hands on. He calls his snakes “hots,” which is a colloquial term for venomous snakes among reptile enthusiasts. Although there’s a small community of such enthusiasts in Columbia, he says an

PHOTO BY KHOLOOD EID even smaller number share Meyers’ passion for vipers and cobras. Missouri has no means of keeping track of the foreign beauties of Meyers’ obsession. Because they hail from far-flung corners of the world such as Thailand and Africa, they’re outside of the state’s jurisdiction, according to Stephanie Liebi at the Missouri Department of Conservation. If they’re native venomous snakes, though, the state requires the holder to have a Class II permit, which is a permit to hold certain species of wildlife. Permit holders are subject to cage-condition inspections from state officials. If the environment in which they’re kept doesn’t meet state standards, permit holders could face fines. Between July 1, 2012 and June 13, 2013, just 11 Missourians registered as permit holders. Not one was from Boone County. As far as Meyers knows, Holts Summit native Bill Becker is the only other person who shares his elevated passion for reptiles. Becker gave Meyers several of the snakes he has now, Meyers says. They came from Becker’s snake collection of about 400. Even the deadliest snakes get hungry. From a dingy cardboard box, Meyers lifts a squirming gray mouse by its tail and dangles it over the West African Gaboon viper’s cage. Like a seasoned butcher gutting a lamb, Meyers is detached from the act. “I don’t enjoy feeding them little fuzzy mice that some people might think are cute, but it’s all a part of dealing with animals, reptiles and anything that’s alive,” he says. The mouse thrashes and squeals before being dropped softly on top of the viper’s bedding. Just a fraction of a second lapses before the viper stealthily sinks its two-inch fangs into the soft flesh. “Tell me that’s not intense,” Meyers says, his 6-foot frame bent at the knees, shooting a green-eyed gaze of admiration into the cage. A few paces away, Meyers’ roommate flips on the television in the living room. “When he first moved in, he slept with a bath towel rolled up under the door,” Meyers says. “But I haven’t had a snake escape since I was 15.” “I don’t come home and tenderly love my snakes,” Meyers adds. “But I’m fascinated by them. I want to learn more about them, study them and understand them.”

“I won’t give a name to anything that can kill me.”

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GOLDEN GUY Tiger superfan Adam Crutchfield gives Truman a run for his spirit BY STEPHANIE GRAFLAGE

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dam Crutchfield stands as the Missouri football team approaches the red zone. Sitting eight rows up from the 10-yard line, Crutchfield anxiously awaits the Tigers next play. Seconds later, he roars and high-fives his buddies as the team marches into the end zone. Most MU fans know Crutchfield by his online persona, Mr. Shizz. His YouTube channel has more than 20,000 views. He has created more than 15,000 posts on blogging websites, and his tweets about the Tigers have gained him more than 1,500 followers on Twitter, including NBA player and former MU basketball player Kim English, who has tweeted at him for his dedication to Mizzou athletics. Crutchfield is a full-time loan officer at Veterans United, but his over-the-top fandom of the Tigers takes up about 20 hours per week. Crutchfield is the creator of Cropdusters, a series of video sketches that poke fun at the Tigers upcoming opponents. He is also known for his Shizzlers, blogs that recap every aspect of basketball games and often feature 10 funny facts about the competition. In addition to Crutchfield’s endless posts about Mizzou, his use of slang terms such as “shizz” and “pwn” have set a trend on sites such as Power Mizzou. “He’s one of Power Mizzou’s most recognized posters,” says Kurt Krieger, a friend of Crutchfield’s and a co-worker. “It seems like every day at the office or anytime I see him he’s wearing Mizzou gear. He bleeds black and gold.” His wife, Katie, known as Mrs. Shizz, stayed home this game with his legacies: his 2-yearold son nicknamed Mini Shizz, and his 6-month-old daughter, Minnie Shizz. Katie married Crutchfield and Mizzou. Not only did the Crutchfields have a Tiger groom’s cake at their wedding reception, but the couple also made their grand entrance to the Tiger fight song. Later in the half, as the Tigers take a timeout, Crutchfield looks over his left shoulder to greet a woman who recognizes him from previous games. Another fan a few rows behind pulls out his phone to snap a picture of Mr. Shizz and tag him in a tweet that reads, “Your (sic) a baller when you have Mr. Shizz sitting in front of you at the game!” This isn’t the first time Crutchfield has had his photo taken by fans.

PHOTO BY JACOB HAMILTON At least three times a week fans stop him, some asking for a photo with him. It’s also common for fans to offer to buy his drinks when out at a bar. Although just 31 years old, Crutchfield has had season tickets for 27 seasons and attended more than 525 Mizzou athletic events in his lifetime. In his brand new Dorial Green-Beckham jersey and cargo shorts, Crutchfield adjusts his yellow snap-back hat that sports his nickname “Mr. Shizz” in black. The hat, which has been weathered over its five-year lifetime, is bound together by fraying, yellow duct tape. He has worn the hat to every Missouri Tiger football game he has attended since the beginning of the 2007 season. “It always makes its way back home,” he jokes when describing a time he lost the hat at a bar. A fan returned it. Crutchfield’s closet is a sea of black and gold. With more than 250 articles of clothing to represent the Tigers, there isn’t room for much else. He had his man cave painted Mizzou gold to better accentuate the posters and other memorabilia on display. A red, white and blue metal emblem decorates the wristband Crutchfield began wearing during the 2007 football season. That was the Tigers best year as the team finished the regular season 11-1. With the Tigers off to a 5-0 start, Crutchfield and his buddies are convinced the bracelet was the team’s good luck charm. At the end of every game, the band rests in the top drawer beside his bed until the Tigers play again. At the football game, Crutchfield sits near buddies. With his deep voice, he lets out a roar as the Tigers come up with a big gain. Sweat runs down his dark, scruffy facial hair as quickly as the time on the clock runs down. Anxious because the Tigers are about to give up another first down, he tugs at his jersey. “Get him,” he yells as the Tigers miss a tackle. “Come on,” he mutters under his breath as the University of Toledo sets up another play. As the time on the clock runs out, Crutchfield relaxes and lets out a cheer as the Tigers pull away with a win.

At least three times a week fans stop him, some asking for a photo with him.

16 VOXMAGAZINE.COM • 10.10.13


ON HER TOES Missouri Contemporary Ballet dancer Emily Baker eats, sleeps and breathes ballet

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BY CLAIRE LANDSBAUM

PHOTO BY FAREEHA AMIR

he air is tropical-rain forest thick — so hot that the wall-to-wall mirrors are smeared with a thin fog. A sheen of sweat covers everyone in the room. As they move across the floor, the dancers glisten. Emily Baker rests against the long wooden barre that runs along the wall at waist height. She leans on it, and her arm forms a right angle with her elbow jutting out over her hip. Her earrings jingle as she tilts her head back and laughs at a fellow dancer’s joke. Sweaty brown curls have escaped her bun and are plastered to her forehead and the back of her neck. A quick adjustment of her olive-green leotard, and she’s off across the floor again, arms held aloft and right leg extended above her ear. Her face reveals no hint of the effort. Baker, 23, is the newest member of Columbia’s Missouri Contemporary Ballet; she joined in August. Roughly 30 hours of class and rehearsal per week is the norm. Members rehearse 32 weeks out of the year for a total of nine performances. Monday through Friday, the day begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. with only a quick lunch break. Afterward, Baker hits the gym. She uses the elliptical or bike machine because the treadmill hurts her shins. She’ll work out for 30 minutes and increase the resistance as she goes. She does a pilates core workout, and sometimes she’ll squeeze in a yoga class before heading to her second job as a waitress and bartender at the Shot Bar downtown. She also teaches a ballet class at MCB on Tuesdays for 6-year-olds and up. She regulates her diet to maximize the performance of her 5-foot-6inch, 125-pound frame. In the morning she eats oatmeal with a banana and almond milk to stock up on nutrients. Between classes she eats half a PowerBar. Lunch is the other half, plus yogurt and a piece of fruit. When she gets home, she snacks on a bagel sandwich. She likes to change up dinner, but keeps it healthful. Baker’s lifestyle serves her job completely. To pursue the craft they love, professional dancers devote their entire lives to ballet. They pick up side jobs and push their bodies beyond their physical limits. She has been injured multiple times throughout her career. Yet even sprawled on the black floor of the studio, legs flung out in a straddle wide enough to make any normal person wince, she feels comfortable and natural. “I dislocated my shoulder once in rehearsal,” she says nonchalantly, brushing it with a forefinger. “I’ve sprained my lower back a bunch. I’ve had tendonitis in both my hips and strained both my hips. I’ve sprained my knee. I’ve had Achilles tendonitis. I’ve had flexor hallucis tendonitis.” But watching her dance, you’d never know. She and the rest of the class have moved on to jumps. The ballet mistress, Julie Artemova-Schauwecker, sets a combination of jumps. She says it once and expects it to be memorized. Baker stares Artemova-Schauwecker down, moving her hands as though they were feet to memorize the steps. The music starts, and she’s off. Baker has belonged to studios across the country: California, Colorado, Arizona and Georgia. She’s open to auditioning for other companies — Ballet Nouveau in Colorado or Smuin Ballet in San Francisco — but plans to spend at least a few years in Columbia. She likes to go where her dancing will be most valued and needed. Class draws to a close. The final exercise, fouetté turns in the center, is optional. Baker opts in, spinning in tight, centered circles. Her head whips around in time to the music. One leg rotates and comes into passé; the toe connects above the left knee joint while the right knee points to the side. The other leaps from pointe to flat pointe as the knee straightens and bends and straightens again. She is perfectly balanced.

To pursue the craft they love, professional dancers devote their entire lives to ballet.

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