Family Portraits: Danielle English

William Cowper wrote that variety is the spice of life.

If that’s the case, then Danielle English must be very spicy indeed. As a massage therapist, she covers a wide variety of modalities in the studio she shares with fellow masseuse Robin Keesey. From therapeutic deep-tissue to sports massage, range-of-motion stretching, feather touch, reflexology and fire cupping, there’s something to soothe every weary body and soul.

We caught English between sessions at her business, Awakening Touch.

PGN: Where are you originally from? DE: I’m from East Lansdowne, in Delaware County. PGN: Family? DE: Normal suburban family, one older sister. My dad works for Produce Junction so we get a lot of free vegetables and fruit! Right now I have all the pumpkins and all the caramel apples I could want. My mom works for the school district.

PGN: What was it like growing up in the ’burbs? DE: I liked to watch TV and go fishing [laughing]. Those were my two activities growing up. My father loved to fish and he would take me every Sunday out on his boat with him. We did it for years. We did a lot of camping and outdoorsy stuff like that.

PGN: What’s a favorite memory of that time? DE: He used to have a little rinky-dink canoe that we fished out of and one day when I was 10, he came home with a new fishing boat: It was 17-feet long and I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. That was a great day; when we took it out, he’d let me steer it.

PGN: Did the whole family go? DE: Nope, just me and my dad. My mother wasn’t really into fishing and my sister was more of a girlie-girl.

PGN: What was a favorite class in school? DE: I loved social studies. I loved learning about all the stuff that happened in the past that led up to why we do the things we do now. I still do; I watch historic documentaries and love going on historic tours and stuff like that. I don’t remember most of it ’cause I have the worst memory in the world, but I enjoy it!

PGN: I’m the same way — but you remember the sentiment, you know that when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, it can lead to something like the French Revolution, even if you don’t remember the dates it took place. DE: Yeah. If you know your past, you can predict your future.

PGN: What did you want to be when you grew up? DE: I wanted to be a secretary, like my mom. I thought she had the coolest job in the world, with a computer and desk. I especially liked spinning around on the floor in the swivel chair! I guess I was easily amused as a kid. And whenever I went to visit her, everyone was so nice to me, I wanted to follow in her footsteps. When I got to high school I realized that massage was really something I wanted to pursue.

PGN: How did you know about massage in high school? DE: I’ve been massaging since I was very little, 5 or 6. I used to spend summers with my aunt in Ohio. She’d take me everywhere and, at the end of the day, her feet would hurt. We’d be sitting, watching old classic movies on AMC, and I used to rub them for her. Of course I didn’t know the therapeutic value of it, I just knew it made her feel better. Turns out she had edema in her feet, which caused them to swell, and the massage helped relieve her pain. Now, 22 years later, I’m still massaging feet — but now I get paid for it!

PGN: When did you think it could be a profession? DE: When I was 16, I had a friend who had back issues. I’d rub her back, and after she’d be much better. I didn’t have any training, but I seemed to have a knack for it. I loved the fact that I could make people feel good and started thinking about it as a career. I thought that working in a spa would be really cool and then I got my certification and realized that working in a spa was the worst job ever!

PGN: And now you have your own practice … DE: Yeah; if it weren’t for Robin, I woul dn’t be here. She’s a really good friend and when I went to massage school, she grilled me about it: “What’s it like? How was the school? Did you like it? Should I try it?” I told her she should totally do it. She’s more adventurous than me and went to San Francisco to study. When she got back, she decided to get her own studio. I was working in a chiropractor’s office and she asked if I would share the studio with her. I did it part-time, not wanting to give up my day job, but it picked up and now I’ve been able to do this exclusively.

PGN: Was it scary? DE: Yeah. I’ve always had a job where you punched the clock and got a regular paycheck. I’ve never had to generate my own business. It was frightening, but I figured if Robin was making it work, so could I. So I tried quitting the doctor’s office where I was working, but they kept asking me to stay one last week, then another! I still sub for people if they need me. It was a great experience — I was 3 months out of massage school and they were like, “Here ya go, a job with clients in a cushy setting.” Sweet.

PGN: Has the economy affected you or are people more in need of a massage these days? DE: A little of both. I have clients that I used to see twice a month who have had to cut back because they got laid off, and then I have business owners who are like, “Oh my God, my business is on the fritz, but I’m coming in anyway, I need this.” Most of the time, people try to get in no matter what, and I appreciate their business.

PGN: I guess if people are cutting extravagances like big vacations, they may want to pamper themselves in smaller ways. What was the most difficult part of getting started? DE: Learning the lingo! Being in the massage business, you can imagine the things that I’m approached with, that whole “happy ending” stuff. There’s a whole other language for that type of massage that I had to learn so I could stay clear of it. For instance, if a male customer asks you if you accept tips, that’s code for will you do “extras.” The first time someone asked me if I accepted tips, I said, “Sure! It’s not required, but I certainly appreciate it … ” He was like, “Uh, do you know what I’m talking about?” People give us tips and that’s OK, but if they ask you if you accept them, it’s a different story. I had to learn fast. They teach you red flags at school, but when you get out into practice, you learn a whole bunch of stuff you didn’t know existed. For instance, an Esalen massage. Originally it was a stress-management massage started at the Esalen Institute in California. It was typically done seaside, basing the massage on the rhythmic movements of the ocean, and was clothing-optional for both the therapist and the client. It was a spiritual thing and is a wonderful massage technique, but now it has morphed into something else. If someone asks for it, I really have to question them to find out their expectations. If I hear, “Do I get a release at the end?” I tell them to hit the road.

PGN: What do you do when you’re not working? DE: I’m either at home with my girlfriend, Ashley, trying to do as little as possible, or I’m at my karate school.

PGN: Karate? DE: I teach and train Tang Soo Do at, insert shameless plug, World Class Martial Arts in Holmes, Pa.

PGN: What’s the farthest you’ve traveled? DE: Well, I recently discovered cruising, which is a pretty fantastic way of getting away. We were supposed to go on a family trip to Bermuda but Hurricane Igor decided he wanted to vaycay there at the same time, so we went to the Bahamas, which was a nice little switch. My girlfriend and I are about to go on a trip to Thailand to study the amazing discipline of Thai massage.

PGN: Does she do massage as well? DE: Nope, she doesn’t have the wrists for it! I try to get her to massage my neck or shoulders and she’s always, “My hands hurt!” Figures …

PGN: Is Robin, your business partner, lesbian too? DE: Yes, she is.

PGN: When did you know you were gay? DE: It was because of Melissa Etheridge! One day we were driving home from my aunt and uncle’s house in Roxborough and we were listening to my mom’s Melissa Etheridge cassette in her big gold van. I said, “Mom, I really like this music, she’s great.” And my mom said, “Did you know that she’s gay?” I was about 11 and had no idea what that was, so my mom explained it, not in any kind of homophobic way; just told me that it meant a girl who liked girls. For the next year, I just kept going “huh” to myself, because it just resonated with me. I finally had a name for what I was feeling. It explained why I didn’t get the fascination with Gavin Rossdale (from the group “Bush”) and why I was more interested in my female friends than the boys they fawned over. I tried to break the ice by telling my parents that I was bi, even though I knew it wasn’t the direction I wanted to take, and when I got my first girlfriend, I sat my mom down and said, “Look, sorry, I’ve been kind of lying about the whole bi thing. I’m really gay.” It took her a little while to get comfortable with it, but now she might as well be a P-FLAG mom. She goes crazy buying me every rainbow sticker and piece of jewelry she can find. All my Pride stuff is from her. Thanks, Mom!

PGN: What about the rest of the family? DE: Once they had a moment to digest it, they were fine. My sister might have been a little weirded-out at first, which I think is natural, and then she was like, “Okay, who’s your girlfriend?” My dad was fine too.

PGN: Yeah, sometimes we forget that we’ve been coming to terms with it for years and then we expect the family to take five minutes to adjust to it. DE: True. After I sat my mom down, I asked my sister to go talk to her. I told her that I’d just told our mom that I was gay and she might need some consoling. She was like, “Uh, wow, I think I’m going to go upstairs now … ” And at first, my mom didn’t want me to tell our relatives. I told her that was fine, and I respected her wishes; then, next thing you know, she told everybody! I only knew because family members kept coming up to me and saying, “Your mother told us and we want you to know we love you no matter what.” At first I had no idea what they were talking about, since we’d agreed not to tell, then I was like, “Oh, ooooh! OK, I got it. Well, thanks for your support.” It was really funny.

PGN: Switching gears, what were you for Halloween? DE: For a party at the karate school, my girlfriend and I went as Super Mario Brothers Mario and Luigi. I was Luigi and, for a friend’s party, we recreated the Lady Gaga video “Telephone,” where she goes to jail and she’s wearing chains and sunglasses made from cigarette butts. [My girlfriend] was Gaga and I was one of the prison guards. It was so much fun, coming up with the concept and making the costumes. Much more fun than buying them, and I had half the stuff already!

PGN: What are you most afraid of? DE: Cockroaches. Big, ugly cockroaches. That and seeing a ghost. I’m not afraid of ghosts — I don’t mind if I feel them and know that they’re there — but I just don’t want to see the apparition. This’ll make me sound like a crazy person, but the house I lived in with my previous girlfriend was haunted, a woman was murdered in it and there were a few spirits who resided there and a couple of them made themselves known. My ex was very sensitive to paranormal energy and she’d see and communicate with one of the spirits; I forget his name. I don’t really get that but I respect it and get it that it scares the shit out of me! I see ghost cats sometime, kind of shadowy figures, which sounds crazy but it’s true.

PGN: Worst hairstyle? DE: I had a mullet until I was about 10!

PGN: And you still talk to your mother? DE: [Laughing.] I don’t understand how it could be, but it was the best mullet! I have a picture of me at 5 wearing a shirt with rainbow hearts on it. I’m sitting on my dad’s motorcycle and rocking this fabulous mullet. Mullet, rainbows, motorcycle — I tell my mom she set me up for this life!

PGN: In addition to people, do you massage animals? DE: Yes, they get aches and pains just like we do, especially when they’re older and the legs and hips start to go. They’re uncensored; either they want to be massaged or they don’t and they let you know it. They’re like, “Here I am, I’m yours, do what you want!” And they communicate: They’ll move their bodies so you keep working on a certain spot if they like it, and when they’re ready for you to move on, they’ll be like, “OK, time for you to do this spot” and turn. It’s amazing. Their facial expressions just tug at your heart: I can be massaging a Great Dane and he’ll have a huge puppy smile on his face. My sister has an older Chow. Her hips are starting to go and the poor little thing struggles to get up. I started rubbing her hips and she started licking me and laid down to let me work on her. Afterwards, she was able to move around much better. I also did massage at the National Pet Expo and I’ll never forget there was a blind pit bull pup. She was only 6 months old and had been hit by a car. I massaged her and it was so cute, she didn’t know what was happening, but she liked it. She head-butted me a few times and licked me and just really enjoyed the experience. I love doing animal massage almost more than I love doing people! Hey, can I mention my cats? I know this is so lesbian, but they’re my kids. Hi Sly, hi Xena!

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