Twenty years ago, a group of women gathered in Roberta Guillory's living room for a book study.

Today, that group has metamorphosed into The Red Shoes, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to help women improve their lives through spiritual and creative development.

"The Red Shoes has become an oasis for people," said Executive Director Wendy Herschman. "There are people who say that this is a place that saved their lives. These are people who have been let go from a job that had been their lifelong career or had a relationship that ended. They start feeling like they have no value, and they come here and begin to feel like who they really are and not that job title. And they don't need that relationship. It's such a safe space, and it just gives people a new way of being."

The Red Shoes will celebrate its 20th anniversary from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3, with an open house and a full lineup of programming, including yoga, art, dream exploration — examples of the offerings, which, Herschman said, have changed people's lives.

Two decades ago, Guillory's living room gatherings became a safe space for women to speak their truth and explore their spiritual lives. The group grew, so she moved it to a small space on Perkins Road.

More and more women came, prompting Guillory to go bigger, eventually landing at 2303 Government St., a building up for sheriff's auction that had been designed by legendary Baton Rouge architect A. Hays Town.

The Red Shoes blessed the building in December 2002 and moved in the next year. Artist Juliet Lockwood painted the mural of six women on the front of the building in 2004. 

The organization will kick off its celebratory weekend with a program mapping out its history, including the story of its name.

Some people equate "The Red Shoes" with the classic 1948 film of the same title about a ballerina whose life was overtaken by ballet and the red shoes in which she danced. Others think of Dorothy's ruby slippers in "The Wizard of Oz."

Herschman said both stories could apply to the name, but the real story comes from Clarissa Pinkola Estes' 2003 book, "Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype."

In it, Estes cites a story of a little orphan girl who creates her own pair of red shoes from scraps of material. She loves her red shoes and wearing them makes her feel rich. 

"And a rich lady in a gilded carriage comes by and says, 'Oh, if you come home with me, I'll give you everything you could need,'" Herschman said. "So, the little girl climbs into the carriage, and the woman says, 'The first thing we have to do is get rid of those terrible shoes and get you some good shoes.' She buys the girl these finely made leather shoes, and the child's life gets out of control. It's as if the shoes start dancing her instead of her dancing the shoes.

"And this story is about how as women, we're so often told something different, to be something else, and our lives get out of control."

But the red shoes can also be helpful, as in the case of Dorothy, who sought the Wizard.

"She wanted to go home, back to who she was, and she had the power in her to do that the whole time in the red shoes," Herschman explained. "And the group decided that The Red Shoes would be a space to come back to who you really are. So that's really where it came from."

Herschman, who became executive director in 2007, is one of three employees — she and one other full-time employee and one part-time worker.

"When I first came here, our original program brochures were little trifolds," Herschman said. "There were some wonderful things going on, but the programming was limited. It's just grown tremendously. We work in three seasons, and we now have a 12-page brochure for each season.

"And we have things going on all the time. We have facilitators who are local. We always love local people to be able to share their gifts here, and we also invite people from all over the country to speak."

Book studies are still popular, as are yoga, meditation, drum circles and art classes.

"Another kind of interesting thing we did maybe six years ago was moving from a traditional board organization to a circle of leadership," Herschman said. "So our leader changes from month to month. It's a shared kind of equal kind of leadership. The book we model from is called 'A Leader in Every Chair,' and we feel like we all become leaders, and it's been a nice change."

Some 4,000 participants passed through The Red Shoes in 2018, and not all of them were women.

"We have some men, too," Herschman said. "Mostly, we love men to come, and what we want to do is bring out that healthy feminine energy. Everyone has that, and there's too much male aggressiveness, so we feel like that's part of our work, too."

The Red Shoes mostly operates on grant money and private donations. Fees are charged for its programming, but the cost is kept low. Cancer patients can attend for free, and yearly retreats are offered to sexual abuse survivors at no cost.

Though no admission prices will be charged for the anniversary weekend programming, donations will be accepted.

"We're hoping that will be a nice boost for us," Herschman said.


 The Red Shoes

20th birthday celebration

WHEN: Nov. 1- Nov 3. Programming includes:

  • 7 p.m. Nov. 1 — "The Red Shoes: A Fairy Tale Comes to Life," with Joan McCaskill and Anne Marks telling the nonprofit's story
  • 10 a.m. Nov. 2 — "Hopes for the Holidays," creating vision boards with Monique Moliere Piper
  • 11:30 a.m. Nov. 2 — Meditation and Yoga Nigra with DeeDee Jones
  • 1 p.m. Nov. 2 — Local artist Therese Knowles shares her style
  • 2:30 p.m. Nov. 2 — "Paint Your Passion," meditation and acrylic painting with Laura Gaddy
  • 4 p.m. Nov. 2 — "Dream Discovery," exploring dreams with Joan McCaskill
  • 5:30 p.m. Nov. 2 — "Yoga for Every-Body" with Tina Ufford
  • 2 p.m. Nov. 3 — 20th Birthday Celebration Open House Party

WHERE: The Red Shoes, 2303 Government St.

ADMISSION: Free; donations accepted

INFORMATION: (225) 338-1170 or theredshoes.org

Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com