Changed for the Better

Changed for the Better, episode 41

Welcome to season 4!

Ornely Aubourg

Tune in to YouTube to view the whole interview!

I can’t believe we are starting season four! New season, new logo, new theme song, and a whole new crop of “kids” to follow. Thank you for tuning in. I hope you are just as inspired by their personal journeys as I am!

Ornely Aubourg was one of my tried and true students, my tiny dancer, so to speak. Upon entering the halls of Spring Valley High School, she immediately found her way to the studio, where she basically parked herself for four years. A leotard and tights was her outfit of choice, and for each performing arts activity that we offered, she was there, front and center, ready to give every ounce of her talent and effort to the projects we worked on.

A quick study in my Ballet, Modern and Multicultural Dance classes, Ornely joined the dance club as a freshman to immerse herself further in dance. She was inspired to take classes at Coupe Theater Studio, which only enriched her in-school experience. It didn’t take long for her peers to recognize her as one of the great dancers in school.

Thespians was also an integral part of her high school life. She dug into the gravitas of Aida (with my episode 8 guest and composer of our theme song Brianna Knight), the swing jazz of Gershwin in Nice Work If You Can Get It, where she earned the coveted co-dance captain spot as a junior, and took a star turn as Mayzie La Bird in Seussical. She also whetted her dramatic acting chops in two of our fall productions, exploring the gamut of comedy and tragedy.

Ornely portraying a powerfully tense moment in The Great Thespian Poe-A-Thon.

As she grew into her dance skin, she started choreographing early, creating and performing her own solos for the dance concerts. She clearly had a burning desire to express herself through movement that was exciting to see, and she danced with great abandon, incorporating all the new skills she had been accumulating in her studies. She found her superpower, at least one of them, in the studio.

In a way, she reminded me of my episode 4 guest, Denishah Desroches, who created a similar experience for herself. For both women, the dance studio and stage were a home away from home. They discovered how the studio unlocked a Pandora’s Box for dancing and kept coming back to explore more. Recognizing their drive to develop more advanced skills, I knew I had to think out of box and provide more advanced instruction in and out of class for them, a challenge that I happily accepted.

After graduation in 2018, Ornely studied performing arts Rockland Community College. As we have discussed countless times on this podcast, our plans don’t always come to fruition and our lives take very different paths than the ones we set out upon; the pandemic created an unexpected shift for Ornely as well. While she did not complete her degree, she did become a mom, and found a new passion for saving lives, working as an EMT for Nanuet EMS and NJ Mobile Health Care.

At work, she’s all business. Saving lives is her passion.

Before I talk more about where she is now, let’s take a look at where she came from.

Who was adolescent Ornely?

Ornely was one of those outgoing kids who loved being center stage, in the spotlight, showing the world what she could do. The studio and stage were safe spaces for her, where she could channel her abundant energy and creativity into different avenues of self-expression. She had so many ideas and a lot of self-confidence, but struggled with the perception of how others saw her. Ornely reflected back on her younger self:

When it came to criticism, it took her a while to know that she was being given advice and not being brought down.

When a young person feels criticized, they mount their defensive strategies quickly. Growing up, Ornely experienced significant feelings of being put down through criticism. As a result, anxiety was something that she struggled with throughout high school, especially when it was time to reflect on her performance. Being involved in the cast, particularly when she received lead roles, gave her more exposure to receiving supportive, constructive feedback on a regular basis. This helped her to understand that reflection and evaluation were necessary for her to grow, and the people offering the advice were there to help. When that became clearer to her, Ornely became hungry for that kind of positive feedback, and she responded by synthesizing the advice into her next effort.

Growing a leader

In a school organization, student leadership is key to success. They help drive the activities and keep active communication between the adults and student participants. I love to see the transition that students go through when they are offered leadership roles. There is a gradual process of awakening where they see how their strengths are recognized and validated by others. Their presence is necessary, and they become a guide for their peers. It is a great builder of self-esteem and self-determination.

For Ornely, the opportunity to lead helped her see herself in a different light. Over the years, I saw that she had developed a knack for performance and choreography, and all she needed was time, space, and guidance for her own artistic vision to emerge. In the studio, two things in particular helped to bolster her self-confidence: the freedom to play in the studio, which developed her creative spark, and being appointed Thespian dance captain enabled her to practice her teaching abilities by assisting her peers in rehearsals. Both gave her the courage and the drive to keep exploring and expanding her strengths.

Part of being a good leader is having the ability to self-regulate. Ornely learned, through the simple act of performing our regular theater warmups, that she could use them anytime to help quell her anxious feelings:

I would notice whenever we were in rehearsal, the vocal warmups would really help me calm down. Sometimes I would do them in my head; a lot of the time I’d look like I was in my own world, but in reality I’m going through those warmups in my head, just to bring myself back to earth.

She still uses some of those warmups today, especially in her EMS work. The life of a first responder is extremely stressful, and in her mentoring capacity on the job, she has shared the practice of vocalization to help calm her students and co-workers in difficult moments after a bad call. To a non-theater kid, it might seem a bit odd, but Ornely has found that sharing her practice can be very useful to her EMS mentees. Part of her performing arts experience was learning to embrace who she was and to be her authentic self through everything she did. This also carries over into her work today:

I’m also teaching my partners to relax and be themselves around their patients because it helps calm them down. If you’re so strict and textbook, your patients tend to get a little more nervous and you have to try to form a connection, so you just have to be yourself. If you’re calm, they’re going to be calm too.

How has Ornely changed?

Once she entered her 20s, Ornely’s confidence got a significant boost as she learned to better manage her anxiety. Through her important roles both as a first responder and as a mom, a calmer version of herself has emerged.

I’ve learned to not take everything super-seriously anymore. I’ve definitely learned to not let something little ruin my entire day. That’s a big one for me, because now I’m like, ‘it happened, I can’t do anything about it, just move forward.’ A lot has happened since I graduated high school and honestly, I’m very proud of myself for making it through all of that because a lot of the things I went through, a lot of other people just never make it out of that hole.

Like Brittany Gischner said in episode 22, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” It’s a great mindset. Another pearl of wisdom that Ornely lives by, one that she would offer to her teenage self, was this:

Don’t overthink it. Just let it come naturally. Cause if you overthink it, you’re just going to freak yourself out even more.

This mindset has served her well. As young as she is, Ornely has embraced her role as a leader and a healer. She now understands that self-reflection and feedback are important parts of growing and moving forward to become an even better version of yourself. Now, she brings that practice into everything she does and teaches that to her mentees.

As a teenager, Ornely was ready to tackle any challenge. She still is, but her early twenties have brought a greater sense of calm while doing it. She feels more settled in her own skin and carries that through everything she does. During a chaotic EMS call where anything can happen, Ornely trusts her training and instinct to do the right thing in the best way she can. In that respect, her patients are in good hands. She brings calm, competence, talent and heart to her work, which helps them feel more at ease during some of the worst times of their lives.

Of course, her most important role is being Mom. She credits her son for being the big reason that helped her navigate her most difficult challenges. Ornely is committed to providing him the best life experience possible.

Growing up, I always had a tough family. My son – he’s my everything. I want to give him the life that he deserves. I know what not to do to give him a good life. And I know that if Mommy gives up, that’s not the best thing for him. I want to show him that you can make it through if you work hard.

Looking forward

I asked Ornely if she had any plans to advance her career in the medical field. Her sights are set on becoming a registered nurse, going into paramedicine, perhaps private practice and/or surgery. She must strike a balance, of course, being a working single mom, but she has set herself up well so far. As it is, she grapples with the life/work balance. Her son just turned two, and whenever she’s away from him, she misses him terribly. As a first responder, there’s also a reality regarding the heightened concern that anything can happen when she goes to work.

Sometimes I get nervous that I’m not going to make it home. A lot of the time, there are crazy accidents that happen with EMT’s. We’ll get patients that aren’t the most mentally stable and they could have something on them and they can use it on the EMT’s if they get mad enough. Any time we respond to a scene, a police officer has to go in first before we do just to make sure everything is safe because we don’t have a bullet-proof vest on.

Ornely carries that sobering feeling with her every time she goes out to work. The likelihood of random accidents or catching illnesses is so much higher. The COVID pandemic only magnified that feeling because of how dangerous it had become to be a first responder. Ornely had finished her EMS training in 2020, but wasn’t cleared to ride the ambulance until the fall of 2021 because of COVID. She reflected how scary that time was:

These were regular people that were getting really sick. A lot of people think that COVID isn’t a big deal and it really is. I had a patient that went into respiratory arrest and he wasn’t even that old, he didn’t have too many medical problems, but his lung collapsed and he started coding in my hands. That freaked me out a little. Thankfully he made it.

The pandemic also got in her way of completing her performing arts degree at RCC. She was just shy of graduating when everything shut down, and she never got back to complete the program. Ornely admits how she misses dance terribly; she wants to finish the final few credits and find her way back to performing. When it is such an important part of your life growing up, it’s hard to give it up completely. Fortunately, she’s young, still has her energy and drive, and is surrounded by a support system that will help her achieve any goal on which she sets her sights.

Sage advice and self-care

Ornely offered a few pearls of wisdom for today’s teens:

Don’t rush it. Take your time. And if you’re going through something, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

When you are working full-time and raising kids, it’s hard to find time to take care of yourself. How does Ornely do it?

  • Face masks.
  • Meditation and yoga.
  • Finding ten minutes to sit in peace and quiet.

Watch the full episode here!

Here’s a little photo gallery that celebrates my tiny dancer…

One thought on “Changed for the Better, episode 41

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.