A few days ago, a friend forwarded me the GoFundMe Campaign of Nikki and Ethan White, a dancerly wife and husband duo who escaped the California "Woolsey Fire" with their children but whose home burned to the ground. The couple had met while dancing for Smuin Ballet, and later were one of the top three finalists on Paula Abdul's TV show "Live to Dance." Today, they live in the Los Angeles area, where Ethan is researching how dance partnerships develop interpersonal trust at USC.
I spoke to Nikki about the fire, what comes next and how readers can help.
What warning did you have about the fire?
I woke at 6 am on Friday, November 9, turned on my phone and saw a flood of texts messages. I packed a suitcase and got the kids in the car. I didn't take nearly enough. I was in complete denial. Part of me kept thinking, "Of course I should take that!" while the other part thought, "Don't tell me I'm not coming back to my house, of course I'm coming back to my house."
Ethan stayed for a few more hours to pack the Nutcracker costumes—we had a show to put on in a week. We ended up getting separated by road closures with no power or cell reception. I took the kids (5 year old Dax and 2 year old Skye) to the Santa Barbara Zoo to keep them entertained.
What's the reality you're facing presently?
Our current reality is that we are not homeless, but we are displaced. Thankfully, we are surrounded by many families and friends that are willing to help.
The difficult part, of course, is losing our home. Every now and then I'll think of something I owned and I'll get a little pang in my heart knowing it's gone. That's where I rocked my babies to sleep, read them books, watched them play outside, watched them grow.
How are you managing the aftermath?
I initially didn't want to accept help, but with the encouragement of several friends I set up a GoFundMe campaign. I did not expect the outpouring of support that we have received, and can't look at it very often because it makes me cry. People from every facet of our lives have donated: school teachers, dance teachers, students, patrons, dancers, directors, comedians, friends and family near and far. I know that if and when someone is in need, I will be able to pay it forward because that is what so many people have done for us. We could not be more grateful.
Honestly, I have no idea. We are still in shock. It feels like we might take some time to travel, teach, choreograph and reconnect with friends and colleagues. In the long term, we are going to rebuild our home, our neighborhood, and our community. It will take time, patience and a lot of perseverance, but dancers have these traits in spades.
How can readers help those affected by the fires?
Candidly, I would say that the most immediate way to help others in need is whatever monetary donation that you can give, as well as assurances that you are willing to be there throughout the recovery. Some feel a desire to give something tangible—clothing, toiletries, toys—and while a few of these are needed, getting too much is overwhelming. We just don't have anywhere to put all the things. If you have items you want folks to have, hang on to them! Especially bigger items that they'll need once they have a home. If you have space, offer to store things for people. But most importantly? Just be there. Even if those affected can't respond for a month, just reach out and say something kind. We need more kindness in the world.
Any other information you would like to share?
I have been building ballet "camps" where I teach classes, and at the end of the session we put on a condensed show. We were just about to perform a Gone Nutcracker show with over 60 local dancers, parents, 20 guest dancers and artists, and we have not given up on doing that show. The theater we were going to perform at is no longer accessible, but we will find another location. Art has always brought us closer to people, and it certainly bonded us to so many families in our Malibu community.
Have you or other dance colleagues been affected by the Camp and Woolsey fires? Share your stories in the comments below.