For as long as I can remember, throwing myself into a new and challenging activity has helped me cope with anxiety and grief. It has been a lifelong desire of mine to really learn how to dance. My husband gave me six ballroom dance classes as a gift more than four years ago and last March I finally signed up.
So, for the past 10 months I have had to focus on being in my body and moving it in very different ways. I have had to overcome my physical space bubble, touch and be touched by strangers in a way that didn’t involve IVs, blood sticks, surgery or other physical assaults. I have had to learn to be SEXY (still working on it!) in public when I’ve been used to being a Warrior, even a Kick-Ass! Most importantly, I have had to learn to surrender control and to follow another person’s lead – dancing backwards and in 2 ½ inch heels!
Before and in between my latest surgery and my daughter’s upcoming scans, I have been busy ‘training’ for my first ballroom dance competition. Not only has it elevated my mood, it has done much to improve my stamina and strengthen my body. This is all in addition to learning many new styles of dance! Many times I felt like I was cramming for my Nursing Boards or the CPA exam. The difference was not only did I have to think, learn and remember but also my body had to do the same.
Before I felt ready, off I was to the Arthur Murray ‘Hularama’ in Kauai, Hawaii. How tough could it be to spend time there in the middle of January, I thought when I mentioned I was interested in going many months ago! What I didn’t consider was all that would entail, in addition to learning and hopefully excelling at each of the dances I signed up to compete in. There was the breaking in of shoes with an arsenal of band aides for blisters, calluses and peeling feet. There were the many outfits to sew, purchase, organize, sort and pack for solos, group formations, Smooth and Latin dances, for luaus and formal nights (each requiring different pairs of shoes). There was the logistics of bringing two huge suitcases and multiple carry-ons requiring a negotiation with my Ballroom Dance teacher and agreement that he would have to carry my ‘crown’ and ‘wand’ through security and on the plane!
Five students and three teachers from my studio flew to Kauai and landed not only in paradise but entered an entirely new micro-Universe. It always amazes me in my life that whenever I do something: singing, guitar, art lessons, work in Nursing, Finance, Accounting/Audit, writing, etc., each area is a world or universe unto itself with its own language, politics, social order, base of knowledge and degrees of skill.
For so many years I have been immersed in the Universe of Cancer: as a patient, a caregiver, advocate, writer, and involvement in support communities. I must say I was now completely out of my element! Rather than talking about treatments, the latest research, here we were discussing consulting with the hair and make-up professionals on site, finding dressing rooms and preparing for costume changes, comparing nails, questioning bronzer or no bronzer, false eyelashes. I had already decided that my hair was my hair, curly and unable to visibly benefit from any attached rhinestones or other bling. My make-up was trusted to not give me hives and I wasn’t risking applying bronzer.
I was there to have fun, first and foremost. All the rest was secondary. I registered for 95 heats (heat = one style of dance, duration 1 ½ minutes) in two skill categories and in two age groups. My teacher and I were scheduled to do our previously performed ‘Glinda’ routine as a solo, hence the crown and wand. (Glinda is the good witch of the north in “The Wizard of Oz”). I was part of a Disney Prince and Princess waltz formation that included the eight of us from our local studio.
Inside the GRAND BALLROOM were hundreds of students accompanied by their dance instructors. There were scores of judges, photographers, videographers, tabulators, organizers, and banquet staff. In the lobby there were vendors, tables of pictures for selection, dance shoes, bling, and dancing clothes for sale. It was like the Superbowl, but this was for dancers. It was truly a logistical feat of another order.
It was overwhelming. At first, I looked around and thought ‘what on earth am I doing here? I am too old for this!’ Then I thought ‘Wow, I’m getting old…I’m getting old! How amazing is that!’ I soon realized that there were many people my age or older than me, most of whom were competing at higher levels like silver or gold, obviously doing this for many years. I was a newcomer and I wasn’t in my twenties! I thought ‘what have I been doing? Oh, cancer, that’s right.’ ‘Where did the last twenty plus years go?’ ‘Well, I’m here now’, I thought with a tinge of sadness.
My comrades were very supportive, especially my teacher, the Maestro, ‘My Prince’, and bag carrier, and water fetcher, and snack supplier – more than a coach in a “Rocky” movie. And then the ‘heats’ began and they went on and on for two solid days. I held up! I didn’t poop out even when I had to do up to a dozen different dances in a row! I wasn’t nervous at all! The more I liked the song, the more fun it was. While we danced all those heats the Maestro whispered things like: “Lean in” “Soften your knees” “Compasso” “Look left” “Look right” “One, TWO, three, FOUR” “Shake those hips…more” “Arms” “Head Up” “Butt Out” ”Peekaboo” “Swivels”.
Late each night I sat alone in a cabana at the beach under a full moon looking at the stars and listening to the surf while I reflected on the day. I felt so grateful for my body, even though it has been through so much it was still able to be such an expressive vehicle for experiencing joy. It felt connected to my mind, heart and head. I felt so grateful for my husband who wholly supports my efforts to take on new adventures and healthy challenges. I felt so grateful for my teacher, the Maestro and all the teachers that I have danced with on this journey for their enthusiasm and positivity. I felt so grateful to see a world where an art such as dance instruction could be a sustainable career path. In the end it was all a different sweet, humbling kind of overwhelming.
It happens that I won a couple of awards during the Hularama. But more importantly, I felt great joy. I forgot about my worries. I felt strong in mind, body and spirit. I met wonderful people, forged new friendships and bonded with other people from other places on an amazing dance journey. The focus of all in attendance was the micro-universe of Ballroom Dancing.
As a person who lives the colors of the rainbow, or as I like to say ‘Full Spectrum Living’, I experienced it all in a few magical days, in the story of each dance, in each moment, in each breath, while connected with another human being, as a member of a unique group of people.
I bought a one-of-a-kind Latin Dance dress. My subconscious, then conscious mind said ‘this dance story will continue’. I love my life of living the rainbow – even the dark colors. But I loved focusing on the yellows, oranges, hot, hot reds, the green of Oz and sometimes even the blues.
What brings you joy?
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