Toni Torquato has been a licensed massage therapist since 1975, and like most people in the field, she has an entrepreneur’s spirit.
In 2006, Torquato, a resident of San Diego, California, discovered the Celebrant USA Foundation, a nonprofit educational institute that trains civil celebrants to officiate at ceremonies marking life’s milestones, and found both a way to supplement her income and interact with people outside her session room.
Today, Torquato is one of 400 certified celebrants in North America. She specializes in weddings as well as ceremonies of loss, transition and healing.
“I’ll never give up doing massage—I can’t imagine life without it,” she said. “That’s why celebrancy has truly been the answer to my dream. It’s the perfect complement to my skills as a massage therapist.”
The celebrant profession started in Australia in the early 1970s. Charlotte Eulette, a former marketing executive, brought the celebrancy movement to America in 2001, when she founded the Celebrant USA Foundation.
“There’s a need for rituals to mark important life stages,” said Eulette. “People are tired of cookie-cutter ceremonies. People want to have their stories told.”
Eulette believes celebrancy complements what massage therapists do very well, and it helps their businesses.
“You form unique bonds with your massage clients, and ritual and ceremony are already very much a part of our profession,” explained Torquato. “So, creating personalized rituals and celebrations for our clientele tends to come naturally for us.”
She also believes massage therapists are especially good at incorporating aspects of nature and symbolism into ceremonies. “A massage therapist may use hot-stone techniques during a divorce ceremony to symbolize the relief felt when a tremendous weight is lifted,” Eulette explained. “At a recent family reunion ceremony, organizers put oil on individuals’ feet and massaged them as a way of honoring and blessing family members.”
Jonathan Bellingham is a second-generation reflexologist and the recreation manager of his family’s seasonal resort in West Virginia. Later this year, he will graduate from the six-month-long online celebrant course, which costs $1,500 to complete.
“Currently, I offer reflexology teaching sessions to newlyweds,” he said. “It helps them begin their life together with a practical way to take care of each other.”
Upon graduation, Billingham looks forward to expanding upon this tradition and creating personalized wedding ceremonies for his clients, many of whom have been life-long guests at the resort.
Torquato has also performed ceremonies for several of her massage clients, including, most recently, a wedding for a client’s daughter.
“You’ll do someone’s wedding, then they’ll want you to organize a baby-naming ceremony for their first child,” she said. “Years later, you’ll perform a blessing of their new home, and then officiate at a loved one’s funeral, and so on. This is why we’re now called Life Cycle Celebrants—similar to the family doctor, your clients never want to let you go.”
To learn more about the Celebrant USA Foundation, visit www.celebrantusa.com.
—Allison Hartigan, Editorial Assistant