Category Archives: Bad Ass Babes

Bad Ass Babes: Jillian Conley Dishes on Sex, Love & Timing

c177f2_450bf14e27824953995ec731a4e3cc27.jpg_srz_234_352_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz“My career is where it is because of the lessons I’ve learned. I failed English and that inspired me to become a writer. I failed a relationship and that inspired me to write about love, dating, timing and sex,” said author Jillian Conley as we sat at Rise Sushi, sipping on pinot grigio, shaking off the fall chill.

And write about those things she did. In her latest book, Loving Mr. Wright, Conley wraps up the novella series of Audrey Buchanan, a spunky woman who’s on the search for love.

Failing high school freshman English was a true turning point in Conley’s life. When she returned sophomore year, Conley had determination that turned into passion. “We had to read The Great Gatsby, and I decided I was going to actually read it–not just use the Cliffs Notes,” Conley said. She wore her signature black beanie cap over her long, chestnut hair. Her eyes smiled as she talked. “I absolutely fell in love with the book. There’s something about Fitzgerald’s writing and that twisted love story. And that’s when I thought, ‘I want to write something like that.'”

Conley’s Love, Sex, & Timing series could be described as twisted, but it’s more the journey of Audrey Buchanan–and her racey details–that have created such a loyal fan base.

“Audrey represents a lot of me. And so I didn’t want the series to end, which made me a hot mess finishing the book,” she says, laughing. “But I’m very confident in the ending I chose. Some fans weren’t thrilled with it. But I wanted to really let go. And give a happy ending…with a twist.”

Such a literary decision makes sense, as it reflects Conley’s own journey–one of twists and turns but ultimately leading to a life she’s carved out on her own. After working at a nine-to-five job right from college, Conley chose to make a go as a writer and published her first book, Maid of Honor. Shortly thereafter, she got into a serious relationship, which took away from her focus on writing, as she put all of her energy into building her boyfriend’s company.

“I realized I was getting depressed because all I was doing was living his dream,” she said. “Our relationship ended, and I wrote Dating Chase Walker in just over a month.”

She paused, clearly deep in memories from a lifetime ago. “I allowed myself to get lost in his world. And I think women do that a lot and they don’t realize it’s going to be the demise of the relationship.”

It’s lessons like these that Conley credits to her success. In addition to her success as an author, Conley is also the co-host of Social Chicago, a show that features the restaurants, fashion and culture of Chicago. After a solid run this past year, the show was picked up by the FAD Channel, with a scheduled December debut and national launch in early 2015.

“Our goal is to show those true Midwestern values and really bring that sweet home Chicago feel to the show,” Conley said. Between Conley and co-host Jeff Conway, the show is certain to capture that. The two have a reputation for being some of the nicest people in Chicago media.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t working with Jeff. He’s so incredible. Such a professional and the most patient man you’ll ever meet,” Conley said.

But Conley’s endeavors don’t stop there. In November, she and fellow writer Ana Fernatt launched HerMonthly, a radio show dedicated to talking about “all things women.” Conley makes it very clear that the atmosphere is casual and the topics are random. “We want it to be a girl sitting at home in her bathtub, having a glass of wine and laughing with us.”

So what’s next for the multi-talented Jillian Conley?

“Everything I do is because of writing. It all comes back to that,” Conley said. She took a deep breath, “So that’s what will lead me.”


For a chance to win an autographed Jillian Conley series, click on the following link: Autographed Set of Sex, Love & Timing by Jillian Conely

Loving Mr. Wright can be purchased at

Be sure to check out HerMonthly radio show, which airs every third Monday of the month from 8:00-10:00 P.M.

Bad Ass Babes: Iona Calhoun-Battiste

Students of the Iona Calhoun School of Ballet preparing for their recital.

“We want to include everyone and make everyone feel important and special,” said Iona Calhoun-Battiste, founder of the Iona Calhoun School of Ballet at the South Shore Cultural Center. Wearing a fitted black tee, her carmel highlights caught the sun in her dark, wavy hair as we sat at Starbucks in Hyde Park. “But we recognize that not everyone is at the same level, so how do you support the girls who are really good and want to dance as a career, and how do you support those that dance recreationally, but it’s still important to them?”

It’s this type of supportive mentality that has built the foundation for her school and sets it apart from others in the field. “Other schools will say, ‘If you can’t do it, then you can’t stay,'” Calhoun-Battiste said. Having gone through that myself, we want to be the opposite of that.”

And they certainly are. Since founding the school in 2000, Calhoun-Battiste has worked with dancers of ranging talents and challenges. “We had one student who was deaf, so she would put her hand on the radio to feel the beat. She did incredibly well,” Calhoun-Battiste said. “And I had one student who started with me when she was four and continued until she graduated college.” She began going through the pictures on her phone, showing me photo after photo of her students–recent grads to her very first class.

“We started from really humble beginnings but then just kinda took off year after year and the classes got larger and larger,” she said, as she fondly looked on her memories.

After returning from graduate school at Columbia University in New York with a degree in Developmental Psychology, Calhoun-Battiste knew she wanted to combine her love of dance and therapy but wasn’t quite sure which direction to take. “My cousin was teaching drama at South Shore Cultural Center and she said they needed someone to teach dance,” Calhoun-Battiste said, her eyes shining, “And that’s exactly what I did.”

Her volunteer experience in college created the perfect skill set. Calhoun-Battiste taught dance and mentored high school girls as a student at Howard University. “I danced on campus at Howard and started a program with a local high school where I taught young girls how to dance.” Dancing quickly turned into mentorship, as Calhoun-Battiste would spend much of the time after class talking with the girls about what was going on in their lives. “I realized that this was pretty cool because I was mixing both mental wellness and dance together,” she said.

And such is the successful combination of her school today–getting to the core, personal meaning of dance  for each, individual student. “If a student is having a problem, it’s not just that they can’t pick it up, but maybe there’s something else going on in their life that is preventing them from being able to do something like Russian turns. So let’s take a minute, let’s figure this out.”

This type of individual attention is exactly what drove one of her instructors, Chaniece Holmes to create a dance project called Searching. “They [the students] brought inspirational quotes to class that related to their feelings towards dance and what it means to them. It was just about being honest and finding their truths,” Holmes said. “Then I gathered their quotes and got a projector and had the quotes playing in a slideshow off the back wall so they could see them as they were dancing and hopefully have more of a connection to their work.” Um, that sounds way better than my dilapidated vision board.


Iona Calhoun-Battiste. Still got it.

Calhoun-Battiste knows what it’s like to have dreams of dancing professionally. At seventeen, she accepted a dance scholarship at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and was asked to stay and train with the company. But her mom had other plans. “My mom was like, ‘You’re finishing school,'” Calhoun said, laughing, “which made sense since she was paying tuition for Lab School [University of Chicago Laboratory School].”

There was a realism that Calhoun-Battiste understood at a young age, too. “I had a knee injury from fifteen on. My knee pops in and out of joint when I land. And dancers have a shelf life to dance professionally from around fifteen to twenty-two years old. With knowing all that, I thought, ‘I can run a dance school. I can create something very similar to what they have in New York and do something like that here in Chicago.'”

But that doesn’t mean Calhoun-Battiste can’t still walk the walk. Er, dance the dance. “I don’t dance as often, but I can still put on my point shoes and show them [her students] how it’s done.”

When she’s not shaping the lives of young people at her school, Calhoun-Battiste is creating positive change in Chicago in other ways. As the Anti-Violence Program Director for Quad Communities Development Corporation, Calhoun focuses on creating violence prevention programs. This summer she curated a program for young people that involved writing, research, and–of course–dance. “There’s a traditional dance called African gumboot dance, which is like stepping and it originates back to South African miners–that’s the way they communicated–and these kids translated the meaning for their presentation incorporated a really amazing dance.”

“Dance creeps into everywhere I go,” Calhoun-Battiste said. And we’re so grateful it does.

Check out the Iona Calhoun School of Ballet dance company, which performs all over the city of Chicago. Their next performance is this Sunday, September 22 at the Children’s Book Fair in Hyde Park.

Bad Ass Babes: Maris Callahan of In Good Taste

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When I walked into Maris Callahan’s apartment on a rare sunny day in late April, I was immediately welcomed by the smells of fresh bread, simmering garlic, and something else delicious that I can’t name since I don’t know how … Continue reading

Bad Ass Babes: Emily Belden of Eightysixed

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“Your twenties are an absolute shit show,” Emily Belden said. “And no one really talks about it.” The author pulled back her long, dark hair and took sip of Malbec. We sat at the bar of Beatrix, one of Belden’s favorite … Continue reading

Bad Ass Babes: Kerrie Blazek of Whiskey & Whimsy

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“Well I’ve already been homeless,” Kerrie Blazek said. “So there’s not much that scares me.” She smiled her warm, signature smile as we sat outside at Wilde on Broadway, enjoying one of the first 50-something degree days. And it’s this … Continue reading

Bad Ass Babes: Girl Crushes and Chi-Town Love

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It’s no secret that, with the release of Catching Fire, America has reignited its Jennifer Lawrence crush. Count me in on that parade. Any girl that trips at the Oscars and flicks off the camera later that night will always … Continue reading