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NMSU health, safety director encourages fitness through dance

Katrina Doolittle has worked in the environmental health and safety department at New Mexico State University since the mid 1990s. As its executive director, safety has been her passion for more than 20 years, but a second passion also was born at NMSU ? belly dancing.


Head and shoulders of woman wearing red jacket
Katrina Doolittle is New Mexico State University?s executive director of Environmental Health and Safety performs belly dancing at various community events with a percussion group as a way to stay fit and healthy. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

?It was international dance week and they brought in a belly dancer to the activities center. I engaged in that class and I was hooked,? said Doolittle.

As a path to staying fit and healthy, Doolittle dances on a regular basis with a group called ?10-plus-ONE? which includes both dancers and percussion artists who also provide Other Novel Entertainment (ONE). They perform at the annual Renaissance Fair in Las Cruces, at various arts events such as the Downtown Ramble and the Love of Art Month at the Branigan Cultural Center.

?We all come together, we support each other from young to old. It?s a great group of people from all walks of life,? Doolittle said. ?It?s not just belly dance, it?s anything that will allow a person to express their creative side. We each bring a different element to the performance.?

Doolittle loves to sew and designs her own dance costumes. She enjoys the creativity of the entire process from costume design and practice through each performance, which provides not only physical fitness benefits but also a sense of wellbeing.

?You know when you have a passion for something. It?s like I have a passion for my job very much or I wouldn?t be here all these hours every week,? she said.

Doolittle was born and raised in New Mexico and first attended NMSU as a student in 1976. She earned her doctorate in 1991, shortly after she began working at the university. In 1994, she was named director of the environmental health and safety department.

On a daily basis Doolittle?s duties at NMSU are serious business, encompassing management of the university?s injury prevention, hazardous materials and waste, ensuring safety and environmental compliance and addressing risk management issues.

?We serve the occupational side, everything from trips, slips and falls to indoor air quality to the exposure to chemicals or hazardous materials, preventing exposures and injury investigation,? she said.

?We do a lot of training because we?re an educational institution. I believe when we start with training, we educate people on how to be safe and they take personal responsibility for that. We do probably about 250 different training classes every year.?

She has adapted her own workspace so that the desk is raised, allowing her to stand while doing computer work to provide relief for her back. While Doolittle?s job can be demanding, she gains a sense of vitality and community from performing.

She has had to face some difficult choices along the way.

?I?ve actually had three hip replacement surgeries. I never realized so many people have hip replacement surgeries, 30-40 thousand every year across the nation. It wasn?t easy but now I can dance and it?s awesome. I can really move my hips, there?s no pain and it?s just phenomenal.?

Each belly dancing performance requires an investment of time and effort, but Doolittle believes the physical and spiritual rewards are worth it.

? I have a passion for dance and creative expression and that?s where belly dancing as part of a group plays an important role in my life,? said Doolittle.

?That?s one of the things about NMSU that makes me so happy to work here is the diversity of opportunity we have and the value the university places on wellness.?