Credit: Sarah HarveyBy Benjamin Tomkins | Photo by Sarah Harvey
Cynthia Ellington woke up in a shelter the morning of this interview. She waited in line for an hour to take a shower. Then she had to wait in line for a towel, a washcloth, a curling iron, and makeup. “You have to wait in line for everything. They gave me two conditioners today, but I wasn’t going to wait in line again for another shampoo.” After the shower, she had a twenty-five-minute walk to the DenverVOICE office.
Though her life has taken her from the stage to the streets of Denver, Cynthia still has the smile of a star. She is beautiful.
Cynthia was born and raised in Colorado Springs, and after school she entered Fred Astaire Dance Studios with designs on a career. “I taught classes, danced—we did it all. We’d stay up until one in the morning and then get up and do it all again. I used to wake up doing the cha-cha,” said Cynthia. She married one of the other dance students at Fred Astaire, and her husband’s life in the army took them to Corpus Christie, Texas.
For a time, she managed a series of health clubs, but dancers are meant to explore the stage. She traveled first to Washington, D.C., and then Maine, where she raised her two daughters, Aubrey and Miranda, for a number of years as a single mother. She also taught tango and salsa in Jackson Hole for nine years, before eventually finding her way back to Colorado. “I’m a nomad, basically. I go back and forth between the mountains and the ocean.”
Family and a love of people have driven a lot of Cynthia’s decisions. In many ways, a collision between dreams and reality is inevitable for a person whose art demands fidelity and whose heart is too big for her chest. When she lived in Portland, Maine, there were nights when she had as many as four traveling artist couples staying in her apartment. Both of her daughters carry the desire to help others as well. Aubrey runs a tutoring business, and Miranda is in medicine and spent time in South America working with impoverished communities. Although Miranda has yet to choose a specialty, Cynthia thinks she will choose emergency medicine.
Her sister in Florence, Colorado, brought Cynthia back to the Centennial state recently. Family is also what brought her back to Denver seven months ago. Her brother is homeless here and has struggled with alcohol addiction for decades. A talented chef and artist, he was the executive chef at a restaurant in New York City, where he also showed his artwork. Unfortunately, “you lose everything on the streets,” Cynthia observes.
After living in Florence, Colorado, for a few years, she came back to Denver for him. He is now in a treatment program for his addiction.
“I never doubted him,” Cynthia says through tears. “Everyone doubted him. A lot of people lose hope because people lose hope in them.”
Despite her difficult circumstances, Cynthia still manages to focus on the positive. She came to the VOICE in December at the suggestion of another vendor. “The people [I’ve met on the streets] are amazing. It’s like a big family out there. You’re experiencing a totally different side of life. It gives you empathy. Strong empathy.”
While each day is a new challenge, Cynthia still has hopes for her future. She would like to begin teaching dance again, and writes poetry. “I came here for [my brother]. I feel like I’m on the path that I should be. No angst or anxiety—just a lot of emotion.” ■