We had the good fortune of connecting with Amanda Malek-Ahmadi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amanda, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
A career in the arts was not something I considered when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. What I did know was that I wanted to work with children and in the back of my mind I wanted to fulfill my childhood dream, since my first author visit experience, of writing a children’s book. Being an author seemed like a fantasy. My plan was to be an elementary school teacher. I received my degree in Elementary Education from the University of Arizona with a Dance minor. I don’t know that I would have ever thought to teach dance had it not been for Kevin and Meri Bender asking me to be a teacher assistant my junior year of high school. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else, besides writing of course!
In high school I wrote in diaries and almost joined the Institute of Children’s Literature, but instead signed up for a talent agency which led to being an extra in a Lifetime movie, The Truth About Jame and was Barbie during the 40th Anniversary promotion. For almost twenty years I always let something else take precedence over my writing, until February 10, 2017.
In October of 2016 I had experienced a miscarriage and then two months later my husband had a heart attack. My spark was gone and even dance wasn’t bringing it back. After seeing Michelle Nelson-Schmidt’s story times on Facebook I considered writing again. I slowly began to see my light come back thanks to continuing with dance and pursing my lifelong dream of being an author.
Since February 10, 2017 I have continued to write, teach dance, and joined WNDC, a professional Contemporary dance company, had a second miscarriage, and my debut picture book 10 Ballet Dancers released on October 13, 2020.
Just recently during a virtual school visit I discovered the significance of February 10. I was sharing all my writer’s tools with the students and asking them to guess what they could be. When I showed them my notebook I couldn’t believe that the day I started writing to regain my spark became the same date that our rainbow baby girl was born in 2020.
No matter where my life has taken me, through all its ups and downs I have turned to the arts. Having a career in the arts has me loving what I do, while doing what I love, plus I am still working with children.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Whether we are artists/creatives or not we all bring something amazing to this world. All of us are unique in our own way and our gifts and talents set us apart from others, sometimes without us realizing it.
One night after a performance I was approached by a little, old woman wearing a deep purple blazer. She said to me, “I really wanted to catch you. You were just such a pleasure to watch. When you dance your personality just comes out. It comes out through your whole body in all that you dance.” I almost cried as she spoke these words to me and was humbled to know how my passion for dance had affected someone’s experience as an audience member. That night when I got home I shared this experience on Social Media because I never wanted to forget the way she made me feel.
With my debut picture book 10 Ballet Dancers. I am very happy that I was able to combine my passion for writing with my love of dance. It was important to me to showcase a typical ballet class, while teaching terminology and also working on number sense. It was also so wonderful to get to work with the amazing illustrator, Kathrine Gutkovskiy. My friend Lalo and I took pictures and videos of all the dance movements so that she could accurately portray the steps mentioned in the book. I also love how The Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group LL ensured that 10 Ballet Dancers was inclusive.
Having 10 Ballet Dancers published was a childhood dream come true and I never thought of more than author visits and book signings happening but then on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, 10 Ballet Dancers was awarded the Independent Book Publishing Associations Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Children’s/Young Adult Interior Design. It is beyond words that my first published book will don a silver sticker, plus a Story Monsters Approved sticker. Along with the judges, kids determine whether or not a book is Story Monsters Approved.
Circling back to everyone’s uniqueness, when I was trying to think of how I wanted to sign 10 Ballet Dancers I thought it would be funny for a counting book to reference the alphabet so…I kept trying to come up with something, like Always Be Creating, but then I thought well not everyone wants to create things. I fumbled through a few more and then Always Be…You became the exact message I wanted to share with the readers of 10 Ballet Dancers. This led to me naming my author business ABYstyle LLC. I believe its so important that no matter what situation we are in or how others perceive us it is important to remember we are one of a kind and that we should be proud of the gifts we were given.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My best friend would definitely be visiting with her kids, so I would plan a mix of Kid and Adult activities.
We would spend a Saturday at the Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium and finish the day at Dillion’s which is attached to the aquarium. I would order my usual the Beef Brisket Meal with Loaded Mashed Potatoes. The kids would be enjoying the smiley face French Fries and watching the sharks swim by.
Sunday we would head to my church, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and then have lunch at Portillio’s. I can’t get enough of their Italian Beef Sandwiches with Mozzarella and Sweet Peppers. (It was the only thing that Francesca liked when I was pregnant). We’d go visit the house I grew up in that is nearby and then finish the evening at Ajo Al’s on Via Linda where my family and I ate at frequently. I would order a Prickly Pear Margarita and the Pollo Con Queso with half black beans, half refried beans, no rice.
Monday we would head to the Arizona Science Center. We’d pack a picnic and enjoy it just outside by the hills and let the kids roll down them; and I would definitely join in!
Tuesday night we’d have a girls’ night. We’d head to downtown Phoenix and eat at the Blue Hound. I would order the Fried Green Tomatoes and ask them to create one of their infamous customized drinks that pairs well. Then we would go to the Herberger and see whatever was playing in Stage West or the KAX and before the performance I would relay to her my memories of performing with Center Dance Ensemble on those stages.
Wednesday we would head to The Children’s Museum of Phoenix. For lunch we’d head to Jefferson Street and eat at Five Guys. I’d order the cheeseburger all the way with no mushrooms, no mayo and yes, I know it comes with two patties. If she is visiting in the winter we’ll strap on some ice skates and enjoy some laughs and spills on the man-made ice.
Thursday we would go to the Odysea Aquarium and try SeaTREK, something I’ve been wanting to experience. Of course, we would enjoy lunch at the Lighthouse Café located just past the otters and the stingrays. There’s just something about their fried chicken. Then we’d head back to my home Glendale and get ready to go take an Adult Drop-In Dance Class at Wight Noise Dance Company in Peoria. Next we’d spend the rest of the night at Glendale Rose Pizza and Gastropub on Grand Ave to enjoy a BBQ Chicken Pizza and some Roy Rogers. We’d groove the night away on their dance floor and play some patio games.
Friday we would take the kids to Castles n’ Coasters during the day, enjoying Desert Storm and the Patriot, bumper boats, indy cars and mini-golf. We’d cool down with some ice cream from Waffles N’ Stuff located by the kiddie rides in the park, before finishing the fun in the arcade. The kids should be tuckered out, so that night she and I would find out where J. David Sloan was playing in the valley and see his show. I’d reminisce about the good old days growing up on Friday nights at the Mr. Lucky’s Fish Fry and performing in the kids’ talent show.
If my best friend got to stay for one more Sat/Sun we’d head up to Sedona and enjoy the beauty of the Red Rock and explore the cuisine of the town. Of course, we would spend time at Oak Creek Canyon to experience Slide Rock.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
So many people have helped lead me on my path.
To my family whose support has always been there on the endeavors that I have pursued.
To Kevin and Meri Bender who helped me realize that being a dance teacher was a possibility. To all the teachers I assisted who helped shape me into the dance teacher I am today (Mark, Tara, Jennifer). Also, to all the teachers who taught me dance and helped my passion for dance grow. To all the studio owners I’ve worked for, thank you for welcoming me into your dance families. To all my students past, present, and future; it is an honor to teach you.
To Michelle-Nelson Schmidt who inspired me and inspires so many others on her weekly Facebook Story Time Live.
To my critique partners, the Story Stitchers for helping me finesse my manuscripts and who are not just there for me with my writing but life too.
Finally, to my publisher, The Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group LLC for taking a chance on 10 Ballet Dancers.
Rick Meinecke Lights View Photo –Lalo and Amanda performing “Always There”.