There’s a beautiful, navy-blue row house tucked on the street of DC’s ever-growing Park View neighborhood. It’s home to Sense, a place that started as a salon but has quickly evolved into the multifaceted passion project of hairstylist and healer Erin Derosa. In addition to cut and color services, on any given day you can find local artists displaying their talents, workshops lead by various community members and breathwork sessions held by Derosa herself.
While the initial reaction to this three-part business under one roof might cause mild confusion, it’s all more connected than at first glance. And with Derosa’s holistic approaches to hair, healing and now art, she brings an understanding to the salon chair that will leave more than just your hair transformed. We talked to Derosa about her love of hair, why DC needs a space for creativity and healing, and what’s next for this innovative space and her team.
On Tap: How did you get your start as a hairstylist?
Erin Derosa: I always wanted to do hair. But my mom told me I had to go to college, which I’m super thankful for. When I moved to DC, I had a job that I hated so much and it was this pivotal moment. I ended up changing my path and going to hair school and finding my passion for hair, and the rest is history. I worked at Immortal Beloved [on 14th Street] for five years before I left to open this spot.
OT: How did that lead to you opening Sense?
ED: I’ve always had this entrepreneurial thing about me. When I was little, I had this gift-wrapping business called “You Buy, We Wrap,” so I’ve always had this spirit. But it came up naturally. I was really ready for this shift in my life and for things to change a little bit. It all aligned, and here I am.
OT: How does the wellness element of Sense come into play?
ED: The wellness piece is something that comes from my own passions and hobbies and personal work. I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate this because hair is ultimately a healing experience. Some people come in and want to do something radically different with their hair. You can feel that they are in a shift or that they’re moving away from a certain thing in their life. People evolve with their hair as they do with their life. I started to marry the two and realized there are a lot of connections, and wellness is something I want to see more of in DC.
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OT: Why do you find hair to be a healing experience?
ED: Hair is something you can change right away. You can feel that shift immediately. But I always have clients that come in who are, for example, going through a breakup and want to go blonde, which leads to this very serious conversation of, “Is this a Band-Aid for that? Do you really want to be blonde?” Sometimes we have brides who come in and want to do a totally different thing and I’m like, “Oh, seems like you’re having cold feet. I don’t think you’ll want to be blonde in your wedding photos.” To me, that’s an indication they might be feeling a little freaked out about this other big change happening.
OT: So how do you bring up your healing practices in situations like this?
ED: We’ve kept them a little bit separate because wellness in DC, I don’t think, is as big as in New York and L.A. where it’s on every street corner and everyone is talking about spirituality and wellness. DC’s a little bit different than that. Most people aren’t as comfortable talking about tarot or saging, so I gradually will bring up or answer questions instead of saying, “You should go to reiki service or you should do breathwork.” I’m not trying to push it in any way. I think it comes up organically and naturally. I have been known to ask questions. A lot of my coworkers have said I’m pretty bold with the things that I ask because I want to get to know people. If someone’s coming in and they have a lot going on, really talking about it is very healing.
OT: What does breathwork entail?
ED: Breathwork is an active breath pattern where you breathe in through your belly and heart and out through your mouth. By doing this, you over-oxygenate your body and start releasing endorphins. Literally and scientifically, you’re unspooling these fears and tightly bound emotions that are stuck in your body. Releasing and letting go and moving that energy through is almost like a body scrub for your insides.
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OT: What drew you to this practice?
ED: I was introduced to it through a coach I’d worked with for a long time who started as my hair client. I started working with her and going on retreats with her, and she brought me to the breath. It’s so crazy how just from breathing like that your body starts moving and shifting. There are physical effects, too. You can feel tingly or your temperature can change, or some people feel really hungry. It is a true shift. Right now, I offer private and one-on-one breathwork sessions. But I do see evolving to having group sessions.
OT: You recently started using the upstairs space at Sense as an art gallery. What led to that addition?
ED: The gallery is sort of this wildcard. The idea came from another client-turned-friend who is a brilliant artist. She helped get the art in the salon squared away. One day, we were talking about what to do with the rest of the space. I had to put something there! It felt like a runaway train. We were like, this is really exciting and becoming bigger and bigger and bigger. We have shows scheduled for the rest of the year that change approximately once a month. It brings a whole new flavor to the space.
OT: What artists have you featured? Have they all been local?
ED: The next show we’re doing in March is an international, worldwide show curated by a local person. We’re trying to keep things more local. The first show we opened was very DMV-centric. Rose Jaffe [a DC-based muralist whose work is featured in Blagden Alley, among other city locations] was the artist who curated it, and she picked a lot of people in DC who weren’t necessarily getting their work shown in a gallery space and making that more accessible and available. Moving forward, we’ll have more collaborations with Stable [in Eckington], which is another local gallery, to bring some of their artists and [include] shows around photography, too.
OT: What has your biggest challenge been in running such a unique space?
ED: I still really want to do hair and spend time with my clients. That’s super important to me. If I’m doing that, I can’t be working on anything else. So finding the time and energy to do both was a big learning curve at first. But we’ve grown in a way where we’ve been able to hire more people, and I feel really lucky that everything’s falling into place. I’m feeling less stressed. That’s helping me to grow this other side of the business.
March Events at Sense
3/7: Women’s Circle with Danielle Waldman
3/8: Women’s Day Event: My Body, My Power
3/16: Navigating Touch and Consent
3/21: Women Uncorked
3/28: Empowerment Circle with Kim Pendleton
OT: Why would you encourage someone unfamiliar with the wellness practices at Sense to give them a try?
ED: I believe in this so much. I have seen things truly, literally shift and [help people] feel better. I wouldn’t want to push someone in that direction, but I think if someone is curious, that’s a good place to start. Curiosity gets you to the next step of asking more questions and learning what would feel the most comfortable for someone wanting to take the next step. I believe in organically letting things evolve. I think that’s so important with mental and emotional health. Stay curious and let it evolve.