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Tapping into strength

This weekend.

Oh man. It was glorious. And a little bit hair-brained. I mean, a 3-hour dance class. That was a bit above my level. I have a nerve block scheduled for Thursday, or else taking this class and the one a few hours later might have been incredibly stupid. But, it was a class with Chloe & Maud Arnold, a pair of bad-ass lady tap dancers and I had chickened out when they were here in September. I was not about to let this chance pass my by again. (TBH, I know I am incredibly lucky to have Chicago Human Rhythm Project/American Rhythm Center in my back yard…)

I woke up Saturday morning at the usual time, but instead of pulling on ballet tights and a leotard while half asleep, I put on the outfit I had carefully selected the day before – my cutest/dance/workout outfit. It had to be – I was taking a workshop from a pair of the coolest ladies in tap. My outfit wasn’t the only thing I did to prepare – I took the day off Friday to rest and to store up some “spoons“. And stream Syncopated Ladies videos on repeat…

I was pretty sure I was pushing my limits, pain endurance and dance skill wise, but going to a workshop like that was something I had been wanting to do for ages. And something I was deeply terrified of. Would my leg hold up? Would I have to walk out early? Would every one notice that my left leg took longer to move than my right? Would I be able to pick up the choreography? Would my stimulator’s pulsing keep me from feeling the rhythm?

At least I had a few dance friends going for moral support – one pro dancer, one old high school friend and one dance class ally.

I put on my positivity mix and hopped on the “L”.

When I arrived, I found my friends and saw a few more familiar faces and got ready to dance, my water and remote control never far from where I was (as cyborgs do).

Friends getting ready to take the Syncopated Ladies New Moves workshop at American Rhythm CenterThe class was full of women (and one dude) ranging in age from 31 to 14 and experience levels from advanced beginners to professional tappers and teachers. From the first tap of the warm-up, it was clear this was no regular tap class. And not just because there were masters of the art teaching class. We stopped the warm-up for advice on cleaning up our sounds and our posture. We did four and a half minutes of cramp rolls to “Run the World (Girls)”. Thank goodness the song ended – I almost didn’t make it. I could feel the pain starting to intensify in my left leg and we had only just begun.

As we moved across the floor, I could feel my body start to free up. My arms and upper body were as engaged with the music as my feet. When we improvised, we weren’t showing off fancy footwork, we felt the music. When it came time to start learning tap choreography, I was ready to rip my pants off to reduce the pain and crawl back into bed. But I was there to dance.

dance and be free


Step, shuffle ball change fl-ap shuffle ball change fl-ap. 

Steps I know and can do. I can’t tell you what a relief that first phrase was. As the pain intensified, simplicity was going to be my friend. I needed to keep smiling – I wasn’t about to break down in a room of strangers. And then we did the step at tempo. Shit. Deep breaths. I kept going. After learning a few more phrases, we tried it with the music.

I didn’t “kill” it. I barely kept from falling over my feet. Chloe stopped the class and asked us about the song we were dancing to and what feeling we were trying to convey. The song was “I’m Not Rich“, and we were encouraged to think about what we are grateful for, what made us rich that wasn’t money. I started thinking about the CRPS and how dance gave me so much of my life back. It was just enough to get me through the rest of the combination, even though I wasn’t up to keeping up. My leg and courage gave out in the last steps – I couldn’t bring myself to attempt jumping over my leg.

me meeting chloe and maud arnold of the syncopated ladies

At the end, we all took our hair down to dance one last time and be free. I don’t know what everyone took away from that moment, but the feeling was what I get every time I step into a dance studio (even if it doesn’t always show). In that moment, I even let go of the tension I hold in fear of triggering a flare.

there is beauty in the jiggle


The workshop was about more than intricate footwork and proper placement. It was about more than dancing with your whole body. It was about digging deep, being proud, letting go and not apologizing. We were told to embrace the jiggle. To not be afraid to take ownership of our bodies. To dance freely.

Last week, my doctor joked about 3-d printing me some nerves from a horse to help me with my jumping. Saturday, I proved I could make the ones I have work. Thursday I’ll get a boost of nerve-numbing. And I’ll keep dancing. Maybe even with my hair down.

It feels so good to take my shoes off and turn my stimulator back up.

A photo posted by Mary Fran Wiley (@maryfranw) on Jan 23, 2016 at 3:55pm PST

NB: If you want to take a class from Chloe & Maud, they are producing the DC Tap Fest in March!

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