PHILADELPHIA, PA — She’s an actress. An athlete. A media personality. A writer. And she’s been known to wear a tutu at work. At 5’0″, some may call her petite (although she prefers “concentrated”), but Dahlia Kurtz has a very big voice no matter if she’s using a pen, a skit, or the airwaves to be heard. “Even my funniest stories, my fluffiest stories, there’s always some sort of secret meaning in it. And even if I’m the only person who gets it, it’s cathartic for me to put it on paper.”
When Dahlia speaks, you can’t help but listen. And these days she’s drawing quite a crowd of listeners as the host and content producer for her own talk show, “Dahlia”, which airs on 680 CJOB in Winnipeg. Tune in from 1:00 – 3:00pm (Central) every weekday and you’ll get pulled right into the Dahlia’s world.
“I want to inspire. I want to entertain. I want to inform. I want to give people who don’t have a voice for their story, the opportunity to have one on my show. And I hope listeners can get zero-calorie cake out of my broadcasts, because who doesn’t want zero-calorie cake?”
Those kinds of rewards are exactly what gives Dahlia’s on-air presence such a unique quality. “I’m trying to change the face of talk radio one conversation at a time – well, sometimes several conversations at a time.”
Oh, and did I mention she’s a hockey fan? Her best memories of the sport growing up are of her and her dad sitting together on the sofa on a Saturday night enjoying a game. “I think that’s part of what makes hockey so big in Canada, because it’s not just a sport. It’s something that’s passed down from generation to generation.”
But she’s not just any hockey fan, she’s a Montreal-born HABS fan! “If my dad liked hockey, I wanted to like hockey. My dad liked the Habs, so I liked the Habs.” That’s right, a Canadiens fan living in Winnipeg. She’s also lived in Toronto, which she called “infiltrating” the land of her “favourite non-NHL team.” Ah yes, there’s that wry sense of humour!
As a child, however, she tended to take things a bit more seriously when it came to her family, particularly her younger brother. “I was such a nurturer, and such a little mother, and very adult-like and very concerned about money. When my parents had financial problems I would hide food under my bed so I wouldn’t waste money and save it for a rainy day.”
At the tender age of four, Dahlia decided that her aspiration when she grew up was to marry a shoe salesman, a lifelong way to satisfy her love of shoes. She also made plans to become the Prime Minister of Canada and an astronaut. Upon writing a poem entitled “Me” for a class assignment, however, a teacher conveyed to Dahlia’s parents that she had a gift for writing. “When I’m good at something I own it, I admit it. I used to be shy to do that and I used to talk it down a lot. When I’m not good at something, I’m the first to point it out.”
Dahlia admits her latter statement has many times been the source of inspiration for her jokes. “Self-deprecation is just a really big part of who I am because I find that it makes people laugh, and I guess it’s a common story among a lot of people: you were bullied as a kid, you had problems as a kid so you decide to be the first person to point out your flaws and you take that power away from other people.”
For her, bullying and peer put-downs stemmed from her sport of choice: table tennis. Her father coached her and her older brother to play, with Dahlia going on to become the best in her age group in both Canada and North America. She played competitively from ages 10-17 and says despite the hardships she endured socially, the experience was totally worth it. “All the effort and discipline I put in and my father put in to help me – we bonded, number one. And number two, it helped me get my scholarship, it helped me get jobs, it’s really…being involved in sport has really shaped my life.”
After graduating high school early at the age of 16, Dahlia earned a double honors degrees in Political Science and Theatre at the University of Winnipeg. Toward the end of her university career she also added a German major to her class load, not the most traditional choice for a young woman of Jewish descent. Perhaps even more notable was a very memorable occasion while she was traveling after graduation in which she was able to use her knowledge of the German language in an impactful real-world experience.
“When I was in Israel I was at the Holocaust Museum, just touring through for the first time, and there happened to be a group of Germans there, and they were touring through, too. There was nobody who spoke German at the museum and so I was translating things for the Germans at the Holocaust Museum.”
Dahlia is actually multi-lingual, speaking English, German, French, Hebrew and Yiddish. She believes learning different languages helps people to learn about different cultures in a much more meaningful way.
Her travels next took her to New York City to study acting, before she accepted a position with Air Canada. She quickly worked her way up in the airline’s marketing department, but found that the job simply wasn’t very fulfilling. Dahlia moved back to Winnipeg and enrolled at Red River College to study Broadcast Journalism. She interned at CBC, where she was emphatically told they never hire interns. “Right before the end of my internship I broke a story about police brutality.” She was hired immediately and made the most of her time there. “I was a radio producer for a morning show, I was a news reporter, I worked as a TV producer.”
She also got her radio debut around the same time working for 99.9 FM as “Danger Girl”, a radio personality who performed stunts and daring feats. Her “audition”, and first time ever to broadcast on-air, took place inside a 10,000 gallon tank of water where she had to stay submerged with scuba gear for 48 hours, entertaining onlookers while raising money for a children’s charity. “My skin was peeling raw in places, I lost a lot of hearing for a little while because I didn’t understand the science of equalization.” Despite her injuries, the event was a success and Danger Girl took to the airwaves.
Dahlia eventually explored other career options, working for a short time out of Miami as a television travel shopping host in the Caribbean, and then joined the cast of a touring children’s show.
One recurring theme which bothered her during time spent in the public eye was the constant criticism from producers and supervisors of her appearance. She decided to become a certified personal trainer and developed an interactive educational program for girls called “Bye-Bye, Barbie!” which encouraged adolescents to have fun participating in skits focusing on body image.
“Girls would use fun, theatrical games to redefine beauty.” Dahlia knew her message was getting through when after one program’s performances had finished, a young man in the audience made a powerful statement. “The show was over and a little boy got up to leave and he said ‘Wow, I’m never going to make fun a girl’s weight again!'”
One look at Dahlia and you’ll see how much she embodies the positive self-image she encouraged those young girls to embrace. She has a signature style and portrays confidence and assurance at every turn. Her golden, bouncy curls are impossible to miss and even the first time I met her in person at an All Habs Hockey Party in Toronto, I was taken with her infectious personality. “I don’t look at my style as taking risks and putting myself ‘out there’. If I were to dress and be like everybody else, to me THAT’S what’s risky.”
While living in Toronto, Dahlia once again made her mark in a couple of significant ways. She resurrected her skills as a top national table tennis player when she discovered a new venue called SPIN Toronto, a ping pong night club. Her days of being known as the “tutu girl” were born. “When I was younger and was playing competitively, I had to wear the ugliest clothes. And I always felt like such an ugly duckling, and I looked at girls in gymnastics and figure skating and they got to wear the cutest things and I always wanted to wear something cute!” A tutu and platform shoes fit the bill perfectly! She quickly became a well-known ping pong pro for SPIN Toronto, and customers would come in to specifically interact with her and try their hand at a game of table tennis against the former champ.
But Dahlia’s experience in Toronto wasn’t all fun and games. After being involved in a very serious car accident during which she remembers telling herself “I’m too young to die,” she came to the realization that she needed to start living life for herself. While recovering from the accident, she began a blog as a creative outlet and a new place for her to get back to writing.
It was there that she wrote a poignant story about Team Canada sledge hockey player Matt Cook, who was diagnosed with bone cancer in his ankle at the age of 18 and who had to have the bottom half of his left leg amputated because of the disease. Her article detailed the continuous battles he faced: enduring chemo treatments, heart surgery, and the news of cancer reappearing in different areas of his body.
At the time of Dahlia’s interview, Matt had recently been diagnosed as terminal at the age of 22. She was amazed at his positive attitude and grateful that, despite being only given a few months to live, he still took the time to answer her questions and tell his story.
She considers the article one of the proudest moments of her life, especially when the Toronto Star picked it up and published it. For her, it was immeasurably rewarding to know that she had helped Matt’s story be told, and that he was able to see it. It was a bittersweet achievement, though. Matt passed away one month later in April 2010, leaving a profound impact on Dahlia’s outlook. “It really gave me that extra jolt and that extra boost to work as a writer because I saw how powerful it really is.”
Her writing career really began to take off from that point and, with the help of social media opening up connections to people in the industry, she landed a syndicated column with Sun Media called “#eSaidSheSaid” in 2012. The popular feature focused on social media and pop culture, giving Dahlia a national platform to speak from. As she says on her website, she “writes very loud.”
But she’s learned to keep striving for more and now finds herself back in Winnipeg taking over the airwaves five days a week. “Since my car accident, I’ve created goals, worked hard towards each one, and I’ve met each one on target. Maybe I should’ve created a goal to win the lottery too!”
All jokes aside, it’s been quite a winding road full of adventure that’s brought Dahlia to where she is today. She’s experienced a lot, accomplished a lot, and still has a hunger to do more while steadily encouraging change where it’s needed. “I don’t like giving direct messages, I don’t like telling people how things should be, what things should be like. I like presenting fun scenarios, I like presenting fun ideas, entertaining things that have a very serious underlying message that people actually come to the conclusions on their own.”
And as this story comes to a conclusion, it’s plain to see that Dahlia Kurtz hasn’t finished conquering the world just yet. She’s got more to say, and you’d better stop and listen. Who knows, she might just end up becoming Prime Minister someday.
You can tune in to Dahlia’s radio show weekdays from 1:00-3:00 pm Central on 680 CJOB AM in Winnipeg, or listen online at CJOB.com. Listen on Tuesday, October 15th when Dahlia interviews All Habs Editor-in-Chief Rick Stephens!
-Follow Dahlia on Twitter: @DahliaKurtz
-Read Dahlia’s full article on Team Canada Sledge Hockey player Matt Cook: “Fight Like Matt“
Photo credits: Dahlia Kurtz and Amy Johnson (All Rights Reserved)