Credit: Gia Azevedo

What I Learned From Brunch With Beyoncé's Dance Captain

Workin' Girl

As a budding entrepreneur, I rarely ever go out for brunch on the weekends, let alone remember to have breakfast most days.

I'm usually too preoccupied to think about food. Instead, I'm thinking about the neverending emails I need to respond to, reading up on emerging trends in my industry, learning new marketing strategies, hopping on calls with my business partner, or creating.

Recently, I decided to switch things up and mix business with pleasure, and attended an #UnitedWeBrunch event. Founded by Waverly Coleman of United We Function, a full-service events and wedding company, this brunch series focuses on women empowerment and creating space where women can have real conversations about everything from their careers to dating.

Credit: Gia Azevedo

Brunch had taken on a whole new meaning. It wasn't about going out only to have a hangover for next morning, but instead it was about sitting across from women like Ashley Everett, Beyoncé's dance captain, and fashionista Nichole Lynel of the coveted ShopNicholeLynel, women who dominate their industries. Women who you could learn something from. I had no doubt that gems would be dropped.

And that's exactly what occurred.

On a very busy Sunday at the Grove in LA, Whisper Lounge was surprisingly quiet, which made it easy to catch all the words of wisdom that were shared amongst this group of women. We listened to one another's stories, tears were shed, and most importantly, we all connected on what one thing: the power of purpose.

Credit: Gia Azevedo

I left my seat at the table feeling more rooted in my purpose and committed to the uncomfortability that we all experience as we make room for growth. I was inspired to continue investing the time and energy in bringing my vision to fruition. Sometimes all you need is that communion, to hear it from women who've been where you are or are where you are too, to be reminded that hard work is non-negotiable if you want greatness.

Whether taking the lead on the stage or in the office, here are a few takeaways that apply to every boss babe in the making:

1. Let your work speak for itself.

From sold-out concerts to sold out inventory, both Ashley Everett and Nichole Lynel stress the importance of trusting the process, and how hard work can easily go unnoticed from the outside looking in, but hard work is not something you can fake.

"I have an undeniable work ethic that sets me apart. I feel like their might be someone prettier, someone taller, someone who can sew faster, but I'm going to get up and give it my all everyday," Nichole said. "When I feel like it…when I don't feel like it…that is my superpower. I go hard."

It's also imperative to surround yourself with people who get it. And want to see you at your best.

"Social media shows the highlights and the outcomes, but doesn't show the process, the work. Social media morphs people's perception. We know it's there, but we don't show it," Ashley explained. "People ask, especially with me working with Beyoncé, people always ask: 'Is she nice? Does she really actually work as hard as seems?' This, this and that. And the answer is 'Yes.' And everyone on her team works equally as hard and that's why she's as great as she is. It's a team effort."

2. Have the courage to be face challenges and keep going.

Persistence and hard work will get you far. Your only competition is you. When you can conquer your own self-doubt and insecurities, then a "no" or loss just brings you one step closer to the "yes" you've been seeking and the success you've been striving toward.

"Everybody is looking for you to whisper in their ear the secret. The secret is you and the work," Nichole revealed. "Those two combined is what will take you there. The process is what builds you, having the ability to get up and do it everyday, again and again. Through the no's, the L's, all those times are going to pay off eventually but a lot of people quit."

3. Your purpose is depending on you and not the other way around.

If the opportunity presented itself, would you be ready to take it? Would you be prepared? Do you have enough faith in yourself to take the leap and give it your all even if you're not quite ready? And if the opportunity hasn't come along, would you have enough courage to create it for yourself?

These are the questions that every one who wants to accomplish something great has to ask themselves. It's not enough to know your potential; you have to act on it.

"I definitely thought at one point I was going to be a ballerina. I thought I was going to be in New York City, center stage like the movie. I'd memorized every line. I moved to New York when I was 16 and I realized there was not a lot of brown girls in ballet companies," Ashley recalled about her journey. "[Later] I randomly went to a Beyoncé audition and did a full 180, going from Alvin Ailey to music videos and concerts. And that's how I fell into it. I was supposed to go to Julliard but I stayed on tour and kept up with this commercial industry that I love, and I don't regret it. Who knows what my path would've been had I not gone to that audition."

"My mom used to always tell me that: fashion is a hobby that is something you do on the weekends. You go and you buy fashion. That's not going to be what you grow up and do. But all this time, fashion has been my thing," Nichole explained fondly. "It's what came easy to me, it's what people complimented me on, and as far as e-commerce, I was unfamiliar, I didn't know anything about it. I didn't know what I was doing. I just started."

4. Know your purpose is always bigger than you.

When you set out to do something, passion will drive you far but the act of service will take you further. Don't get caught up in how you're going to get there, just have faith that you're aligned with God's plan. Why has God given you this task and not anyone else? When you realize that your purpose will impact others and it requires the sacrifice and discipline, you operate from faith and work even harder.

It's not enough to love what you do, you have to be dedicated and aware of the impact your actions will have on others. You could be the catalyst for change in someone's life or an inspiration to a stranger, and you may not even know it. Even if it seems like no one is watching, someone is always watching.

"I'm a performer and I love to entertain but I think what makes it worth it is when you know you've touched someone's life, and they tell you, even if it's one person: you inspire me to follow my dreams. That fuels me," Ashley revealed.

Nichole added, "When you work really hard and somebody sees you, something as simple as a DM, in that moment you can imagine in your mind that it all comes from God and somebody else received it. That's the most rewarding part for me. Fashion is my platform but I feel like my purpose is so much bigger."

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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