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In Motion – Two Years of Dance

I like milestones. I like looking back and seeing just how far I’ve come.

Especially because this milestone. Yesterday was the one year anniversary of Mary Fran 3.0. It’s been 366 days since my shiny new cyborg parts.

But more importantly, it’s been just over two years since I took my first tentative steps into the world of dance.

This post is sure to get a little lengthy, I’m reflecting on what all my teachers have taught me in the past year. For the TL;DR version, just watch the video (after the break).

Dance would teach normal adults a lot. Things like confidence and strength.

For me, it is so much more. Every time I put on a ballet slipper or lace up my tap shoes, it’s giving this horrible disease a giant middle finger. It’s me saying, fine, I can’t stand on the damn train but look at me rock these paradiddles. I can ronde these jambes with all the other ladies in this ballet for putzes adult basic ballet class.

These past two years have shown me that anything is possible if I set my mind to it.

I’m making it up as I go

I have this dance teacher, for his protection, I’ll call him Rico Nubio. He is arguably one of the best tap dancers out there – a talent that intimidates some of the other professional dancers that I know. I go to his improv class each week (when life doesn’t get in the way – ugh to day jobs), and he always encourages us to record something we learned or to reflect on our dancing after each class.

I resisted this for almost a year. What was I going to write? At least I didn’t fall over today. Couldn’t get the muscles to fire right so an elephant would have more rhythm than I did tonight. Nearly vomited because the dude wanted us to slide today.

Those aren’t particularly positive reactions. Yet, I was there. Showing up because I wanted to be better. I wanted to understand the music. I wanted to understand the dance. I wanted to take a giant leap outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to control the intensity of the dance so I could dance on bad pain days too.

Looking back, I wish I had kept a record. I want to know what the turning point was. When it stopped being something I was forcing myself to do because someone told me I should and it turned into something I was determined to improve at. I’m still not at the loving improv stage, but I’m sure that will come.

mary fran wiley | two years later and im still dancing

I’ve found a wellspring of love and support

Tap dancers have this tight knit community where everybody knows everybody. And they’re some of the most giving people I know. Three weeks after my spinal cord stimulator replacement last year, I talked teachers into letting me come to class and improv in a chair because I missed the community so much.

I’ve made friends who range in age from 22 to 72. They are artists, musicians, teachers, nurses, consultants and lawyers. They are beginners and life long dancers. Each one of them has had a profound impact on my life.

I surprise myself

There’s nothing like accepting that your body has limits, going to demonstrate those limits and discovering that they aren’t as rigid as you thought. I’ve almost got my one-footed releves back. I can do syncopated pullbacks. Some days I can even do a pirouette.

The biggest surprise of all, and it hits me every day, is that I am actually dancing. I don’t know when that is going to stop surprising me. Every Saturday morning as Lynne reminds us that we are dancing to have fun, but that it is the gosh darn Joffrey ballet so we better do it right, I think to myself that this can’t be real life. I was trying to figure out how I was going to be ok using a cane on the regular just two years ago. I was already mourning the future spread of the disease. It still surprises me that my weekends start with a bun, tights and properly pointed toes.

I’m ok with two steps forward one step back

It’s real life, it doesn’t go in a straight line. It’s a progressive and incurable disease, sometimes the disease wins.

Some days, when Mark says if you have it perfect it means you need to go faster, I just want to deck him. It’s so nice to be in control and to be doing it right because I’m never quite sure if tomorrow I’ll be able to do what I did today. I’m still learning where the line between pushing myself to get better and pushing my body too far is.

2017 has meant some big health challenges including the start of another round of nerve blocks due to an intense flare up. I’ve cut back on classes and my dishes are piling up.

Here’s to another year

I’ve learned a lot and made great strides and there is always room for more. I did a crazy thing and booked myself a week “intensive” at Ballet West in Salt Lake City. I’ve been building my next pair of custom tap shoes in my head for months. I’m working on my schedule to see just how many more ballet classes I can fit in my life.

I want to say a special thanks to all the teachers who take the time each week to share their gifts and support including Lane Alexander and Nico Rubio at American Rhythm Center, Lynne Alberding and Trish Strong at Joffrey Academy of Dance and Mark Yonally at Chicago Tap Theatre.


  1. Caroline Burns says:

    I just want to congratulate you on this and let you know that i think what you are doing is fantastic…whilst I don’t really have any health issues, I started tap aged 46 (I am 50 now) and have not looked back. It has given me such self-confidence that I thought I never had and I am finally starting to believe that I’m an ‘OK’ dancer now lol!!! I would love to connect with you on FB to follow your journey, but didn’t want to just fire through a friend request when you don’t know me….if you’d like to connect, then you can search for me by my name ? xx

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