I've discovered, since getting Stage II A breast cancer in 2010, that the body is a wondrous instrument. Even when I've been crippled with incredible pain, once I started to dance most of my discomfort is momentarily forgotten. It doesn't matter if it's a simple time step or a swishy salsa across the floor, the very act of moving releases me from my physical prison.
"Yeah, but who wants to move when you're exhausted from chemo or a doctor's visit?" you might ask.
I often asked myself the same thing before I discovered the relief of dance and exercise. They not only help alleviate my physical obstacles, but my mental and emotional ones as well. In June, I decided to become more committed to movement by joining the "Cancer Support Community-Bejamin Center's" new dance classes twice a week and T'ai Chi: Eva Wieland's "Move To Heal", 6-7 p.m. on Mondays; Marianne Lu's "Tai Chi", 5-6 p.m. on Tuesdays; and Alejandra Ortiz's "Zumba" class from 6:15-7 p.m. on Tuesdays, also.
Along with anemia, exhaustion, anxiety and tension headaches, I also suffer from lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis--hardly motivation for exercise--but I went against my own doubts and asked my doctors if I could do it anyway. They were as enthusiastic as I was about pursuing it, especially when my blood pressure went down, my color returned and my weight stabilized.
There are many benefits to movement that I've become aware of while taking these classes, including how much my energy level has increased, how much more relaxed I feel afterwards and how I reconnect with my childhood again through the act of physical play. For the "Move To Heal" class, Wieland incorporates a combination of yoga exercises with stretches, improvisation and choreographed routines to give us an hour of exuberance expressed in gorgeous steps, leaps, sweeps, jumps and turns that are both relaxing and inspiring. Once she even let me teach the class the "waltz clog", a breezy, joyous, tap step that consists of a step, ball/change across the floor. Besides being a fun way to share one of my favorite dance styles with other cancer patients, it was also a good workout!
After we traveled around the room, Wieland told us, "It's really fun to incorporate other dance styles together because it allows you to experiment and come up with something new."
Her choice of music, ranging form Adele to Indian, Michael Jackson to Bossa Nova, is another highlight of her teaching style because it adds to the ambiance of the class. In contrast, Lu's "Tai Chi" class is slower, more meditative and poetic. Despite being a beginner, I still enjoy learning how to carefully place my hands and feet in position while concentrating on the luminous snow-capped mountain in my imagination. I picture the frozen utopia writer Daphne DuMaurier depicted in her short story "Ponte Vecchio" because she described it so beautifully.
Right after "Tai Chi" Ortiz pumps up the music for "Zumba", a Latin dance/fitness class, that's geared to make you sweat. Funky and raucous, it completely sweeps me away as I respond to Ortiz's swinging dance moves that work my whole body. The best part of the class is the energy reverberating throughout the room as everyone dances.
"Don't worry about getting all of the moves, it's more important to just have fun," she says at the beginning of every class.
Released from the pressure for perfection, I'm free to dance and forget about everything else in my life. When it's over I have the proof of my exertion in my sweat-soaked t-shirt. Calm and restored, I wash and change into another t-shirt in the bathroom with a sense of elation I haven't felt since my diagnosis two years ago.