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joffery ballet + joel hall tap

“Why are you dancing?” The answer? “Because I can walk.”

I know to many this might seem silly. To be celebrating sticking with something for six months. What you don’t know is that I wasn’t sure I would last 6 minutes.

it gets better

This life of mine seemed like it had devolved into an endless rotation of treatments, cyborg life and just making it through to the next thing. It was one foot in front of the other, regularly with the help of a cane.

Walking. One step. One step. One step. Infusion. Medication swapping. Walking. Sitting. Zombie.

And despite the positive spin I tried to put on things, I was getting more and more desperate with each treatment I tried. I just wanted to move. I just wanted to be free.

cousins at the ballet

I wanted every step to stop hurting every part of my body. Because that’s what happens when wearing pants makes you cry – your muscles atrophy. They tighten and lock down. Your joints are rusty old hinges on unopened doors. Suddenly, your body is a prison. Standing hurts. Sitting hurts. Turning your head hurts. All because some nerves can’t behave themselves.

Six months ago, I talked my doctor into letting me dance. Four months ago, I talked my cousin into joining me. Two months ago another cousin started ballet (far, far away in the Lone Star State). One has degenerative disks, the other Spina bifida. We’re quite a tribe. But ballet has turned into a haven for all of us. Especially me.

Six months? Yep. That's a big deal.

I was so close to giving up. In January when we did one more infusion, I was praying it would last just long enough to get me through the winter. When we did it again in May, I was focused on just how soon I could get my feet dancing again.

Ballet. Tap. Ballet. Tap. Ballet. Zumba. Every week, I point a little better. I turn out just a little bit more. I get my left side doing a bit more of what the right side does. It’s a process. I’m never going to be a ballerina or an amazing hoofer. That’s not what matters. That’s not what’s important.

I’ve successfully completed a pirouette without getting dizzy exactly twice. I might never figure out how to jump high enough to do an assemble. Five count wings are probably not a step I will ever conquer. But you see, my body isn’t just a prison anymore. It stands straighter. Those steps are smoother. That cane makes rarer appearances. My feet are making music again.

At the end of my very first ballet class, when no one was connecting with the port de bras, our teacher asked us a question. “Why are you dancing?” My answer? “Because I can walk.” That was true then and even more true today.

 

 

 

happy feet are dancing feet

Positivity in motion : 5 reasons everyone should dance

Some days I wonder why I didn’t find deep connection in yoga. Or why barre fitness or ballet burn classes just seemed like a chore. And yet, I can spend an hour at the barre plié-ing, tendu-ing and battement-ing my heart out. I can follow it up with a half hour of adagio and grande allegro. When it is time for a reverence, I find myself wishing there were just a few more minutes of dancing.

Of flying.

Of discovery.

Of strength.

Of joy.

It’s science. Really. And we all know it. But despite the science, people treat dancing as an activity they left behind in their youth. Maybe they were too tall or didn’t have the feet. Maybe they couldn’t afford to start when they were young and were told they were too old when they wanted to begin at 18. Sure, professional dancers have a bit of a mystique and us amateurs may never get there, but fame and fortune and a spot in a dance company are not the only reason to shake your groove thang.

happy feet are dancing feet

Why you should dance

1. Fitness
Fitness is the reason most of the adult dancers I know got started. All forms of dance help to increase flexibility, endurance and strength. It takes an incredible amount of strength to complete a pirouette or a leap. Your core is what stabilizes your body as you move – that constant engagement builds your muscles.

2. Improved grace and spatial awareness
When you spend an hour thinking about how to control, engage and release muscles to create a particular step, you are increasing your spatial awareness. Your body moves through space with fluidity and you are much less likely to bump into the counter, again.

3. There are memory and cognitive benefits
Unlike most other fitness activities, ballet (and other dance forms) require your mind to be engaged and in the moment. In spin, yoga and barre classes, your instructor gives an instruction and you do it. You don’t have to remember a sequence and every change is announced. In a dance class, you have to remember the patterns and combinations. If you wait for an instructor to tell you the next step, you are already behind. Research shows this engagement is helpful in protecting against Alzheimer’s. Yay neuroplacisity! (Some studios even offer programs because of these benefits, like the adaptive dance program at Hubbard Street Dance)

4. It makes you happy
Sure, some of it is the endorphin boost that any exercise gives you, but dancing brings even more to the table. Dance has been shown to improve body image and coping ability while reducing self-consciousness. These benefits have been shown to stick around, even if you take a break from dance.

5. You want to dance
Whether you’ve always wanted to dance or you’ve watched one too many seasons of Dancing with the Stars and are hooked, if you want to do it you should go for it. Sure, you may never dance the lead in Giselle or tap your heart out on a Broadway stage, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance. You should dance your heart out. Frequent classes and daily practice if you want to be good. Weekly dance fitness classes if you just want to dance but aren’t worried about obtaining the mastery needed to dance en pointe or hoof it in an improvisational tap class. It doesn’t matter.

So honey, put on your dancing shoes and come out and dance with me.

 

despite the pain, ballet sets me free

Cyborg Ballet

5 (Breathe in.)

6 (Breathe the arms.)

7 (Arms to first.)

8 (Left hand on the bar)

So it begins. Slowly at first. Rolling through to demi-pointe. Warming up our feet. Some tendus. Pliés. Up to relevé and bring that foot to passé.

Shit. I can’t hold it. I just did that last week. I know I can balance but something isn’t right. I can’t feel my muscles contracting through the pain.

This is going to be a long class.

Cambrés. Ok, both feet on the floor. We can do this one. Lift up and over the spine. That’s a weird….oh.

I didn’t turn the spinal cord stimulator off. The flare is bad enough I didn’t even feel it on and thought I had managed to kill the battery off. Let’s just say that stimulated limbs don’t have the same strength as they usually do.

It might have been the hardest ballet class I have taken yet. (I know, it’s been a whole 3 months…and about 20 classes…so there will be plenty more difficult classes). But I did it. It wasn’t the most beautiful ballet, but it was my ballet. It was cyborg ballet.

arriving at joffrey

My doctor agreed to another 5-day epidural because the pain is flaring (as it does every time the weather changes) and because last time, I was set free. He forbade me from taking “full-on Riverdance” (despite it being on my bucket list) and in suggesting ballet as an alternative gave me a part of my life that I never thought I was going to have back. I can move again. I can be physically strong again.

It doesn’t matter if I have a bad class. Just going was a victory. Each step was another win even if it wasn’t quite right. It just means I have goals I can work toward.

Because I am going to pirouette, darn it.

 

My dance bag

From the moment I decided that I wanted to dance again, I have been devouring as much dance related content as I can fit in. (Seriously, it has even taken over my Ravelry favorites list in the form of leg warmer knitting patterns…) I found a few blogs that I’ve been reading regularly (I’m so glad I’m not the only 30-something who picked up ballet for the first time since she was 6) and one of them (Meghan from Wellies, Pearls and Ballet Shoes) offered up a challenge: to share what is in your dance bag. I wasn’t sure I was going to stick with dancing, much less write about it here, when she posted her call for bags…but better late than never, right?
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Dance your cares away: infusing movement with positivity

This website started out of a personal challenge – turning little notes I used to make for myself into something slightly more tangible.

And then it grew into regularly designing new posters and quotes as I struggled with loss of agency and a growing despair that my life was never going to be the same again. I let myself wallow. Sure, I had accepted the disease and the pain, but I hadn’t yet found a way to let them become simply a foot note. (I might never find that, and I am growing accustomed to it.)

In January, something amazing happened. I had a treatment that not only allowed me to function but to thrive. My pain was at a level that I had previously only dreamed of. I didn’t have to try to convince myself that a day was survivable or have to hide a myriad of emotions from the world.

That five day epidural infusion with a bisphosphonate chaser made me bold. I signed up for ClassPass and took a yoga class (before I saw my doctor because I wasn’t willing to hear that I needed to take it easy).

When I saw him (after 2 yoga classes), I got bold. I had made it through yoga. I had a friend cheering me for every step I took. I was suffering from some major cabin fever. I have a bucket list that isn’t getting any shorter.

At my appointment, I eased in with asking about going to yoga and low-impact cardio (like spin classes) and got an encouraging response. So, I asked.

“Do you think I could start taking Irish dance classes?”

Long pause. Sharp breath in. “Like full-on River Dance?”

“Not quite. It would be what they teach 4 year olds – I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s on my bucket list and I’m not ready to give up on it.”

“Can’t you just do videos from YouTube for 5-10 minutes at a time? Being in a class makes it too easy to push past where you should be.”

“It wouldn’t be the same. Besides, I miss being active. I gained back 80 pounds after my diagnosis because I had to stop running.”

Another long pause.

“Well, what about starting with ballet? Every movement isn’t a jump.”

“I can live with that. But I’m not taking Irish off my bucket list.”

Klutziest 30 year old in the world begins ballet

I took ballet and tap as a wee one. In high school, I took dance instead of PE and tapped after school. But other than 3 years of little kid ballet, I was starting from scratch.

I googled and found gobs of grownups who started ballet later into adulthood. I found myself getting hooked on dance before I even started.

I found a novice ballet class on ClassPass that I could try without committing to more than just one visit, bought a pair of ballet slippers and jumped right in.

Two months later, I take ballet 2-3x per week. I take Zumba (jump-free) and Dance Fitness classes a couple times a week and squeeze in some yoga and strength training when I can. None of my other classes bring me to my happy place the way ballet is.

For 60-90 minutes, the world fades away. I can focus on how to make sure my legs are doing the same things. I can focus on engaging muscles and relaxing my face. I can focus on everything but the pain.

Ballet gives me power over my body. A power that I lost four years ago and was afraid would never return. A power that I had tried to obtain multiple times but never quite got. Ballet gives me what I thought I would get from yoga. After each class I can see an improvement in how my CRPS-affected leg mirrors my good leg. I feel stronger. Every day tasks are getting easier.

That last epidural is wearing off and pointing my toes is growing more painful, but I’m pushing through. Not because I feel like I have something to prove, but because dancing has brought me somewhere I didn’t think I’d ever get again. Because moving is a gift and a responsibility.

I know this isn’t 100% in line with the original concept of this blog, but it is an important part of my journey to be positive despite the CRPS pain and this felt like the most natural venue to share.