Hey, what’s up everybody? Welcome back to another episode of The Author Hour Podcast. As always, I’m your host, Gunnar Rogers. I am joined today by the lovely and the wonderful queen of pivots herself, Chasta Hamilton. This is actually her second episode of Author Hour because it’s her second book that she’s published in the past two years.
This one is called, Handle the Horrible: Change, Triage, Joy. It’s available today on Amazon and the Kindle version is discounted to 99 cents for this week only. So make sure you go check that out and enjoy my conversation with author, entrepreneur, and overall wonderful woman, Chasta Hamilton.
All right everybody, as mentioned, I am honored today to be joined by the queen of pivots herself, Chasta Hamilton, who actually is releasing her second book in the last couple of years as of the release of this podcast. Chasta, thank you so much for joining me today.
Chasta Hamilton: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Gunnar Rogers: We’re excited to have you. The book Is called, Handle the Horrible: Change, Triage, Joy, and there are a couple of things I want to dive into but first and foremost, I just wanted to know, as a reader, what was it like to have your aunt write the foreword for this book?
Chasta Hamilton: It was — it’s one of those things where, when you have family, right? Like, I remember like doing my college essays and not really wanting her to be involved or to look at them because I’m sure you know, we can get to it, but she raised me from the age of nine and up and there’s always that like, familial tension.
But when it came to writing this book, I was like, “Who has kind of been through all of these incredible highs and lows and moments of perseverance?” and I couldn’t think of anyone else. And kind of a funny story when I asked her to do it, she works for the dance studios now, which is kind of my big entrepreneurial piece of my life and she handles a lot of our accounts and financing. So I ask her right in the middle of tax preparation season to write this foreword.
Gunnar Rogers: Perfect timing.
Chasta Hamilton: Perfect timing, and I love hearing her tell the story now. She said, “Well, when do you need it?” and I said, “Well, I really need a draft in three weeks” and I just — she was, “I just don’t know how I’m going to make that happen” and I looked at her and I said, “Well, I’m sure you’ll find a way” and she did.
So I think it’s very special and with having a 16-month-old son, I thought it would be really special to have a foreword by her, with this text that I hope gives him some insight as to who his mother is, and it just feels like a very special piece.
Gunnar Rogers: I love that and he is a very, very lucky son to have you for sure and I was also again, wondering kind of this conversation and it’s relevance to the title of the book and the content of it. When did you first hear the nickname “the queen of pivots”? I just find that nickname so interesting but then I dive into, not just your book but just your story at large and see, this really is the queen of pivots and so, when did that nickname come about?
Queen of Pivots
Chasta Hamilton: Well, it kind of came about jokingly because I can teach a jazz dance class like no one else, like that is my specialty. So musical theater, choreography, jazz, dance like I can do a mean pivot turn. But at some point, my husband was like, “You should really be working and change management. That’s what you know best. Like all you do is do this pivot and that pivot” and he was like, “There’s huge corporations that don’t pivot like the way that you do.”
So then it became a little more than just like that pivot turn and the dance studio. It’s like, we’re pivoting every which way, especially between 2020 to now. So you know, it’s just kind of fun and it stuck and I believe in like fun and whimsical things. So, that’s how it came to be.
Gunnar Rogers: I love that and what—let’s just say the last two years because that’s most relevant to the book—but you have also from the time you were little endured, and been through quite a few heavy and hard things, so the last two years for starters, what has been the hardest pivot for you to make?
Chasta Hamilton: You know, the hardest pivot over the last few years and it was this very interesting time period as you’re kind of wondering, is your business going to make it? and then, I was also dealing with a miscarriage and then a healthy birth. So then there was life and there was loss and there was all of this heaviness and it was collective, right? Because no matter what people were experiencing, whether it was COVID straight on or all of these other byproducts, everyone was kind of having their own struggle.
I kept looking and listening and watching. The history of my life has kind of been defined by really radical change and I knew in order to make it to the other side, everyone would need community and connection, and I pride myself on creating a really strong culture, community, and connection. But the hardest piece was the fact that what we offer, you know, dance education, female empowerment, so much of that was being clouded or overlooked by different opinions on public health policy.
For the first time ever, I wasn’t being necessarily judged or selected because of what I was offering. It was because of all of these different socio-things, and that was a struggle.
Gunnar Rogers: For sure. What and how did you come through that struggle? Like, what were one or two specific things that aided your ability to get through those?
Chasta Hamilton: I said we’re just going to do everything we can within the limits of what we have, whether that was for the dance studios, flipping to a digital platform within 48 hours, we performed in parking lots, we did outdoor shows, we did corporates, curbside pickup, we offered a remote learning academy, a pre-K experience. I was like, “You know, if we go down, we’re going to do every single thing possible so that I feel like no stone has been unturned.”
Gunnar Rogers: Yeah, I love that.
Chasta Hamilton: Yeah and that’s what we did and people rallied around us and I started working with other studios and extracurriculars to kind of help them make their way through. I’ve even talked about change management to corporations like LexisNexis since this has all started. So it’s really just something very universal right now, this idea of perseverance, adaptability and resilience, despite what’s happening around you.
Gunnar Rogers: Oh definitely. That’s—I was wondering, coming to this conversation, intense circumstances of 2020 and 2021 have slowed a little bit, but as you’re running your business today, how does that tenacity and that determination and that work ethic that you all had to use when you had to do anything and everything to stay afloat, how does that play out today and when you might not necessarily have to fight to stay alive but you still need tenacity, you still need determination?
Tenacity and Determination
Chasta Hamilton: There’s almost more tenacity and determination required now because now, we’re normalizing in every abnormal times and there’s fatigue. People are overwhelmed, a lot of the challenges—like sometimes, I’ll even say, 2021 was harder than 2020 in some ways.
You know, the kind of the more loving approach, where’s the way, people get very frustrated and it’s just kind of been like, I’ve really had to plant my feet and ground myself in this period of time and writing this book, you know. I would stay up very late at night. I had a newborn when I was writing most of it and that was kind of my cathartic release.
I parallel a lot of it to the performing arts but you know, writing is an art in its own form and I just think staying grounded and focusing on what we’ve done, where we’ve been looking at that good and impact that we are having, that’s what keeps the momentum going. I mean at the beginning of it I told my staff, I said, “This is a marathon, not a sprint” but I mean, it’s a long marathon.
Gunnar Rogers: It’s sprinting a marathon at this point.
Chasta Hamilton: Exactly. We are sprinting a very long marathon.
Gunnar Rogers: I love that and so I was also curious to know, as I read through the book, it’s so clear that performing arts and art has played a pivotal role in your life, in your healing, in your work. When did you realize—whether it was a small child or later on in life—when did you realize that art was playing such a pivotal role in your life?
Chasta Hamilton: So I’ve always just loved it and I’ve always just wanted to be immersed in it to the point where someone told me, maybe 10 or 12 years ago, that I basically lived in a Broadway economy. Like, I worked to fill my passion, to see shows, be a part of shows and I’m not sure that that’s like entirely true but I’m very passionate about dance, theater, film, and I love the conversation that it provokes.
I think you know, when I realized kind of that thread, was when it was all taken away in March of 2020 and there was this realization of, how do we keep this alive as a performing arts educational institute when there’s no Broadway, there’s no ballet, there’s not symphony? How do you convince parents that the arts do provide this necessary catharsis and coaching of empathy and just this general wellness of humanity that I think the world really needs?
Gunnar Rogers: And fun.
Chasta Hamilton: And fun, yeah. It’s so fun and you know, how can we bring that at our level when kind of all of those stages above and beyond us are completely quiet? So that’s when I was like, this is serious business. Like, let’s roll up our sleeves and let’s get to it and let’s make sure we’re strong. Let’s support and encourage everyone else to get back on track too and I mean, you know, it took a while for Broadway to reopen.
Gunnar Rogers: Yeah, definitely.
Chasta Hamilton: I mean, it took a little while for all of those arts to get back and going again and it’s just been interesting.
Gunnar Rogers: Yeah, well, in the midst of that, as somebody who loves the performing arts but also somebody whose business hinges in a lot of ways on the ability to perform live in front of an audience, how hard was it to keep the belief that you would be performing live again someday? Just how hard was it to hold on to that in the early stages of the pandemic?
Chasta Hamilton: It was hard. It was really hard and I have all these moments like, “Will we see a concert again?” you know? Like, will we have the performing arts, like “performing” as has been like historically set up and you know, when there’s change, there’s always resistance and I’m—one thing that we did, we used to have like our year-end recital in like an indoor theater venue which was getting super expensive because of a lot of gentrification that is happening in our area, those types of things.
Then we kind of switch to just like recital palooza like outdoor festival model in 2021 like out of necessity but our clients loved it so much that they’re like, “We want to keep this.” So it’s the act of, how can we do what we do and bring people together even if it is in ways that are unique from how we’ve always done it?
Gunnar Rogers: I love that and I’m also just wondering what’s now—and share with our audience, when it comes to art and performing arts—what is the single performance or single piece of art that has had the most important impact on your life?
Chasta Hamilton: You know, I have to say this is a cliché answer but I have to say, you know, I am 36 years old and a lot of—actually, I am 37—but I know a lot
Gunnar Rogers: Years young, years young.
Chasta Hamilton: Years young, yes, and a lot of people at this age would have the same answer but I have to say, Jonathan Larson’s Rent. When I saw it in high school, I couldn’t believe that art could be so raw. I grew up in East Tennessee and my aunt took me to see Rent at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and I couldn’t believe it and I’ve seen it so many times since then and I also love to Tick, Tick…Boom! and the story surrounding Jonathan Larson, right? It’s just so powerful.
Gunnar Rogers: It’s amazing and it is one of those stories that makes you want to emulate the empathy and the love of the person the story is about. I mean, that is very rare, to me at least. I love that and so diving a little bit more into the book, you have already written one book, you have managed somehow, I mean not somehow, through your tenacity and through your determination to keep your business going throughout the pandemic.
You have been through the miscarriage and now you have a beautiful little baby boy. With all of that going on, what made you decide to put pen to paper and write a second?
Chasta Hamilton: You know, I really think it was a coping mechanism for me. Trash the Trophies came out, the first book in August of 2020 and we didn’t really start seeing the impact of it until 2021 and then I started realizing that you know, other studios were shifting and changing and it was having such an impact on them and I had already started scribbling little notes for Handle the Horrible in case I ever wanted to kind of go into a second book.
Then it was just like all of these horrible [things] w[ere] lasting for so long that I was like, “Maybe I should start formalizing these thoughts a little bit. It was a very spiritual and somewhat vulnerable process. I am still not sure that the text is entirely as perfect as I would want it but I also just I felt like it was a really perfect time for this story to go out into the world.
Gunnar Rogers: Definitely. Well, as a reader I can confidently say, it is perfect because it’s you, not because it’s perfectly written but it is a vulnerable version of you, truly and so, I want to dive a little bit more into that. How hard was it to confront a lot of that horrible, formulated, and be this vulnerable in this book?
Chasta Hamilton: Well, you know when I was writing it, I was writing it for myself. I wasn’t setting a benchmark of this is definitively going to get published, but then I decided, this should be published because if it can inspire one person or to let someone else know that, hey, maybe today is not as bad as it feels, then it would be worth it. So it was actually at the end of 2021 that I decided that I would go ahead and push it out. The world was so weird that I was just like, “Why not?”
Gunnar Rogers: Yeah, yeah. It’s so normal today.
Chasta Hamilton: Why not be vulnerable? Right, yeah, right and you know going back and reading it like there are still parts that I feel a little choked up reading but I just, I don’t know, I love the parallels, my love for the performing arts with the fact that your life is your story. It’s your show.
Gunnar Rogers: Was there a story or what was the story that you put in the book that you almost didn’t like, that you thought, maybe this is too much, but you left it in? What was the hardest story to leave there for readers to have?
Sharing Your Story
Chasta Hamilton: Well, there is several that got taken out. We can take those—we can say that’s for a third maybe, right?
Gunnar Rogers: Yeah, exactly, some things are better held back, for sure.
Chasta Hamilton: You know, some names and stuff were extracted. Like it is ultimately like I was editing and kind of getting everything in order, it was very important to me that everything in the book related to my storytelling. I don’t want to tell anyone else’s stories or it is not a burn book, you know? It’s just, this is where I have been and who I am but there’s a way to the end of chapter four just kind of about loss and recognizing how like when we’re younger we don’t process maybe loss and grief.
We just try to keep moving forward and there was a moment when I lost one of my dogs in 2018 that kind of just made all of these emotions resurface, and that’s kind of a point in the book that it was really hard to include because I had a friend in college that wrote this beautiful eulogy for the dog and it just sounds so ridiculous but that was kind of just like this gateway of being open and honest with my emotions, which was very transformative for me personally.
I think sometimes, we were just constantly focused on like getting through the day that we ignore these deeper feelings.
Gunnar Rogers: Definitely. Well, thank you for leaving a lot of these stories in and for sharing all of these wonderful pieces of you with us, and now that the book is out, what kind of impact are you working forward to have?
Chasta Hamilton: You know, I think like I was saying, first off it’s just a huge accomplishment for me personally to get it out there. It was a huge exercise in self-confidence and vulnerability and I talked a lot about this in the process like I feel like in this motivational sphere, there is so many people that are like, “Life is so easy, you can be a millionaire, you don’t have to work that many hours” and that’s not necessarily always the truth.
So I felt like it was important for there to just be this very honest real perspective put out there, so that people could kind of sit on it and I think it will hit people differently depending on the place that they are in, in their life. If I have read this book, you know, six, seven years ago, I probably would have ugly cried the whole night but you know, where I am at today like I can look at it and see it as kind of this journey and beauty in it, and that’s where I hope people will get to is to make them just think and reflect and hopefully share what they have handled what they’ve survived.
Gunnar Rogers: Yeah, exactly and I do really believe this book is for everybody and can help everybody but if you could personally choose one person or one type of person to hand-deliver a copy of your book to, who would it be and why?
Chasta Hamilton: I would say anyone that has ever experienced the power of any type of art, a show, a song, a book. Obviously, we’re all living life so like you said, there are so many universal concepts. We all experience death and loss and highs and lows, but I think anybody that has ever been moved by the power of a piece of art will really feel a strong connection to the truth and the storytelling.
Gunnar Rogers: I totally agree, and so now that the book is out Chasta, what is the next best step readers can take once they pick up a copy? It’s available on Amazon today everybody, it’s 99 cents the Kindle version, take advantage of that, but once people pick up a copy and read it, what is the next best steps you believe readers should take?
Chasta Hamilton: I encourage them just to read it and to reflect. I would love to hear from them and connect with them and kind of share their experience. My website is chastahamilton.com and there’s a contact there. I would love to hear from them, we have some book club questions that are coming out, just ways to kind of keep the conversation going because the best pieces of art, like I was saying earlier is the conversation and that’s what we hope this book does.
Gunnar Rogers: It’s definitely going to and so you have the website, where else can people follow you, where can people go and engage with you?
Gunnar Rogers: Totally fair. Awesome and then, Chasta, last question before I let you go. You have your baby boy who is growing up, at what age do you believe you’ll hand him a copy of this book and let him read it?
Chasta Hamilton: Well, when I received the author copy, he actually helped me open it and I have to tell you, when we opened the book and this really choked me up, he—it was a hardcover. So he opens the jacket and he gets to like the back, where my author photo is and he goes, “Mama” and I just think it’s a great lesson. Sometimes we get so busy with parenting and career and life that we forget this legacy that we’re creating and that we’re living, and as soon as he can read, he’s welcome to read it or listen to it on Audible.
Gunnar Rogers: Awesome, awesome. Well, I’m sure he’ll have access to a couple of different copies.
Chasta Hamilton: I think he will.
Gunnar Rogers: Everybody else, make sure you go check out Chasta’s brand new book, Handle the Horrible: Change. Triage. Joy. It is available on Amazon today, the Kindle version is discounted to 99 cents. Go follow Chasta, please engage with her. Selfishly, I am benefiting from it right now and I am going to carry a lot of this conversation throughout the rest of the week. Chasta, thank you so much for your time today, we really appreciate you.
Chasta Hamilton: Thank you, Gunnar, I appreciate it as well.