Dancing With Disabilities: Guest Post From Author Nicole Luongo!!!

Hi there friends, Stef here!  I’m super excited to share this guest blog post with you today.  I have been fortunate enough to connect with Nicole Luongo, published poet, blogger, and dancer.  She also happens to have Cerebral Palsy.  She’s a pretty awesome human being.  I discovered her because I’m always scouring the blogosphere for anything ballroom-related and I found her videos of her dancing.  Reading her blog post I was touched and inspired.  She’s overcome a lot and takes on life in a big way with gratitude, zest, and passion.  We connected and decided to do guest blog posts for each other.  I love getting the word out about inspiring ballroom dancers!  So without further ado, I’ll let Nicole take it away:  

“Disability is natural. We must stop believing that disabilities keep a person from doing something. Because that’s not true – having a disability doesn’t stop me from doing anything.”Benjamin Snow, director of the award-winning short film, Thumbs Down to Pity.

Throughout my life I can remember sitting on the sidelines watching other people dance. This happened at my prom, parties and weddings. Most of the time it was because I was alone or no one asked me to dance. Then there was the obvious: I have cerebral palsy (CP) cerebral palsy (CP), a physical disability on display 24/7.  And, while I usually never let having CP stop me from doing anything, it stopped me from dancing. I was too self-conscious, too stiff, unsure of how I would move in my shoes, afraid I couldn’t keep up (and quite possibly ruining a line dance) or that I would fall.

Nine months ago (just shy of forty years old), I had Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR), the only surgical procedure that can permanently remove tightness caused by spastic diplegia, the most common type of cerebral palsy. My four month follow-up visit in St. Louis with Dr. T.S. Park went well. He was thrilled with my results! The tightness in my legs was completely gone, I walked much straighter (no more bent knees) with heel-toe motion (instead of striking the floor with my toes first), no longer leaning heavily to one side and both legs were even (they weren’t pre-SDR) – eliminating the need for ugly shoe orthotics. I was doing so well that I didn’t have to go to physical therapy anymore. WOW!

It’s important to understand that the surgery does not cure cerebral palsy. I still have the same challenges I had before: poor balance, range of motion issues, tight hamstrings, heel cords and hip flexors. The wonderful news is that my gait is dramatically different, I can walk up and down stairs without holding on (I would never attempt this before SDR) and I balance better on my right leg. I tried rock climbing for the first time. Wow, is that hard! What’s next? I want to learn how to ride a bike. I always thought (and was told, in one form or another) it was impossible. Contrary to popular belief, people with cerebral palsy who have not had SDR, can ride a two-wheel bike. My SDR journey is teaching me to stop believing in limits – those imposed by myself or others. All of us are capable of much more than we imagine.

About five months ago, I decided to go back to ballroom dancing. I started group dancing lessons about eight years ago. I loved it! Unfortunately, my instructor was not a nice person, so I stopped after about a year and a half. I was curious about what dancing would be like with my new legs. It’s the same, yet different because I move better. I’m not so concerned about losing my balance. My legs, due to the lack of tightness, can move more freely. I still have problems with balance and turning around. Dancing is so much fun! Here I am with my instructor, William, at A Step Above Ballroom Dance Studio.

First, I chose to dance the foxtrot in honor of Dr. Park who, in addition to being a world renowned neurosurgeon, is also a competitive ballroom dancer. The foxtrot is one of his favorite dances. It’s also good for my hip flexors. Since SDR, it’s much easier to step back with my left leg, an integral part of this ballroom dance. Second, I chose to dance the salsa, my favorite of all!

William exudes charisma and kindness. He’s the reason I signed up for lessons (with him, of course) at the studio. He never lets me sit out of ANY class regardless of whether or not I think I can do it. He believes in my ability. When we dance, William leads me around the dance floor just like he would any other partner. No kid gloves. Just laughter and a great smile. All I have to do is follow his lead, try not to mess up or step on his toes! Or hit him. I feel so bad when that happens! And, in a moment that I will remember forever, when I got frustrated because he would not take no for an answer, trying to teach me to do something my body cannot do, I stopped and said, “Do you know what I really want to do? I want to learn how to ride a two-wheel bike.” William’s jaw dropped and he looked at me in amazement, the thought of me not being able to ride a bike unfathomable. I told him I don’t have a bike or a teacher, yet. Without blinking, he offered to teach me how to ride a bike. I was stunned that this young man in his early 20’s would make such a generous offer to someone he hardly knows. I put the word out on Facebook. A friend donated a bike, I bought a helmet and look forward to starting lessons very soon.

One day, I did a search looking for ballroom dancers who have cerebral palsy. I sifted through page after page on Google and came across Stefanie’s blog. It became an instant favorite! Stefanie inspires me. She has dancing disabilities. Some are similar while others are very different from mine. She slays negative thoughts and weight issue demons with every choreographed dance step. She doesn’t give up! I love her engagingly honest posts baring it all – sharing the good, bad and ugly about her journey as the biggest girl in the ballroom. I admire Stefanie’s ability on the dance floor. I’d love to compete someday. I want to perform in the next showcase, however, I am letting my dancing disabilities talk me out of it! I get frustrated (inwardly for the most part) when I can’t do something, wishing I could do the moves correctly and perfectly. Sometimes, it pains me knowing that no matter how hard I try, I can’t do certain things. Balancing on one foot is impossible. Spins are challenging. I have to modify a lot. I don’t want to modify. I want to be able to do the moves justice – and do them just like everyone else. But, I’m not like everyone else. I dance with a disability which, in a strange twist of fate, levels the dancing floor – making me just like you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my dancing journey, it’s that I’m not alone. Although sometimes it feels like I am the only person on the floor with limitations, it’s just not true. So, what’s your dancing disability? We all have limitations that can prevent us from dancing, or doing anything in life. Some we can see (balance issues, for example), others we cannot (negative thoughts telling us we can’t do it). It’s time we accept our dancing disabilities. Let’s share them and dance in spite of them! The floor is yours. Embrace it. Own it. Life is too short. If you get the chance to sit it out or dance – I hope you dance!

Nicole Luongo is the author of Naked Desires, a poignant book for everyone who is searching for love, delighting in love, or hoping to understand love. Her mission is to raise awareness for Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR). Nicole believes information about the surgery should be provided to every person living with cerebral palsy. Please help spread the word by sharing this blog post.

Connect with Nicole:

Blog – Bare Your Naked Truth

Nicole on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/NicolesNewLegs

Nicole on Twitterhttp://www.twitter.com/BareNakedAuthor

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Worthy

Word for word, Chomsky….word for word.

Come on, girl….you can’t hide from me and I think you are extraordinary. Period. Thanks for sharing, even if somewhat reluctantly. You have a beautiful and invaluable perspective to share.

Stef, I’m going to kill you for this (oh really? I’m still alive, sharing your amazing story. Ha ha!)…Why do you push me just like my Pro? He keeps pushing and pushing and pushing until he gets what he wants out of me, which is the best I can do (what a pain! Just kidding. How cool is it that he sees so much potential in you and wants to push you! I can’t imagine a greater gift). He keeps helping me change my ways; a part of me that’s always ashamed, that feels guilty, unaccepted, unwanted, ugly and unloved…firstand and foremost by my own self. (Yeah, I have no idea what you are referring to….NOT! I have sadly engaged in this same type of self-deprecating activity for over 20 years of my lifetime. It is so sad, so stupid, so ineffective. But, there is hope)…

You do the same; you inspire me to take it all out, to speak out freely. I sometimes feel I’m losing it. I sometimes feel I’m not losing it, just getting stronger and stronger with more and more confidence, doing things I’d never even dared to think about.

One such thing is sharing my feelings about my own dance experience. I find dance to be something extremely personal.

I have no problem dancing at socials; that’s when I let myself go and share my dance partner’s emotions, no matter who it is, a boy or a girl. For me, it’s a time for communication with another person, a stranger or an intimate friend. It makes no difference. I am there to speak with them through my dance. So, I don’t care if someone else is looking. They are not there, only my partner is.

However, that’s not how it goes when I am taking a private lesson with my Pro or when I am doing my practice on my own. That’s an entirely different thing. I hate it if people can see me. I don’t even like my own Pro watching me practice and told him about it. It’s only me, and my feelings, and my inner world and my soul, no one else. So, if someone can see me, even if that’s my Pro, I would feel ashamed. I would feel nude and exposed.

The same goes for my private [lesson]. I cannot stand anyone being there apart from my Pro (and sometimes not even my Pro!). I feel so shy. I told him I couldn’t do a figure because I couldn’t watch myself in the mirror; the reason? I was ashamed to watch myself dance like that: gracefully, sensualy, hips and all, elegance in movement…

So, the other day, my other half [my husband], the person I grew up with, the one who knows me better than anyone else on [the] planet Earth, my hubby, was the first person I invited to come and watch the choreography for my first show. I couldn’t stand the idea of total strangers setting their eyes on me. I wanted him to be the first to see my choreo[graphy] before anyone else did. It’s as if he could break the spell and not let anyone else see me like that, nude and exposed. See me from the inside.

He came, he saw me, and then my close friend also did. I was not alone. I had their lovely eyes set on me and felt their love and warmth.

I then went on to have my first show. I had no stage fright, I never had stage fright in front of the public. But I simply didn’t want to let them see in me. Even if they did, I didn’t want to let them see how I was unable to defend myself. Dancing is giving your soul. It was the first time I gave my soul to the public. Dancing is first and foremost a spiritual experience. It’s not two bodies in rhythm; it’s two souls in rhythm. And in rhythm with what? With music, with art, with what we human beings have invented to make us eternal. We know we don’t live forever, dance for ever, are beautiful forever. ..That’s why we create things that stay forever unlike us; unlike those tiny, petty, empty, body-shells. After all, they are only heavy, keeping us close to earth while we are made for unreachable heights and are born to fly; just like the Little Prince did…

So, my darling Stef, not only did my Pro make me expose all this in front of 200 persons (OMG!), you made me expose all this in front of him and my hubby and all those stupid little idiots that will not fall asleep while reading my petty little ideas (cause, that’s what they are, I’m no writer and no artist at the end of the day, I’m just an ordinary person, that is slightly depressed and confused, but all-in-all a lucky and happy person). So, I know who to blame for my fist dance show (and I keep nudging him about it) and know who I will blame for the first time I showed to people what my show meant [to me]? Do I make sense, or do I make sense? I guess I need to geta pill…

No silly, no pills needed. You are simply a courageous and fearless Lioness. You have so much to offer. You have seen the challenge of exposing yourself and taken it on like no kidding. Please keep sharing, knowing deep down that you are meant to reach unreachable heights, born to fly, as are we all.

I am honored that you have chosen to share your story here. It is inspiring and I don’t think you know or understand this, but it gives people who are in pain some hope. If you can recover, well, then, it is possible that others can recover as well.

Thanks for sharing, my worthy friend. Thanks for sharing.

P.S. – I need some pictures! I want to post picutres! Send me beautiful pictures of you! Thanks. -Stef

The Power Of Dance – The Sequel

One of the most special things about starting this blog is that I’ve connected with amazing, powerful, beautiful people.  One such person is Chomsky, who can also be found on DanceForums.com.  She reached out to me early on and has been an amazing support during my journey. 

Chomsky agreed to write a guest post for my blog, here, and I am so grateful.  Her story is nothing short of miraculous and I am so honored she chose to share it with me and with you readers as well.   As you will see, she has innate tenacity that bewilders me.  I have to ask myself, would I have continued to show up if I had started in her condition?  I’m not sure I would.  She is an inspiration.   Her journey thus far has sincerely moved me profoundly.  I can’t wait to hear more from this strong, determined, persistent, brave, precious woman.  -Stefanie

Dancing for me is like a prayer. I used to be a devout orthodox. Before I met my hubby everyone thought I was going to be a nun; I have changed since then, but deep down, I haven’t changed much.  All this change is due to dance, at least on the surface it is.

When my wonderful friend and teacher started teaching me I was something that looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was clinically obese, and couldn’t straighten up my back from the excruciating pain. I couldn’t sleep at night, I couldn’t lie down, sit down, sneeze or cough; the pain was unbearable and non-stop.

So, someone told me to join this ballroom class ’cause the teacher is nice. During that first month, I kept attending even though I couldn’t stand up straight. And then, out of the blue, during the class, I got myself into such a state because of the pain that I left the classroom, went to the bathroom and cried my eyes out: I couldn’t believe how bad the pain was. I couldn’t believe I couldn’t move to music at the age of 37. I was handicapped and  felt my youth was gone for good, no way to get it back.

I didn’t give up; I went back to class.  The teacher asked me to do the samba figure he was showing but I refused because I couldn’t stand the pain. He said it didn’t matter, I could always sit and watch him do it with the other student.

After class he chatted with me (not such a talkative person, but there you go, he must have felt how badly I was [doing]). He told me it didn’t matter I was in pain; I would get better; I would dance the figure if not in a week, in a month or in two months time.  The the main thing was that I would. No matter what the doctors had told me, I would get better. Afterall, I was learning even if I was watching and not doing. He even said I was a slow learner but it didn’t matter; he was a slow learner too.

All this made me believe in myself. I wanted to prove him right. Guess what? I did. I lost one-third of my weight. I am standing up straight. I even run after four years of not being able to walk quickly not to miss the bus to go to work.

To me it is a miracle. I am not in a wheelchair as I was told I would be. I am not in excruciating pain and can sleep at nights. Now, what I wish for is not to wake up from this dream I am living; to grow old and still dance. I can and will never forget I have a herniated disk that badly needs an operation. If I do, I might prove the doctors right and lose the quality of life I now have. I never want to forget ’cause I will harm myself if I do.

So, obviously dancing for me is like a prayer. Still, the physical miracle is not the reason behind it. It is the emotional and social aspect of it. I am now a different person. I started changing from the inside.

I used to be, and still am in a way, someone you can easily manipulate. Dance has changed that. I still have problems saying no to people just like I told my counselor. Not as much as before, however. I still feel I am guilty for the sins of the whole world. I still am unable to put myself in front of others. I still cannot love myself if it is not through other people’s eyes. I  don’t feel good with myself, I can’t just love myself if others don’t love me first.

Yes, but all this has changed; if not radically, it still has. And all this is due to dance. Dance makes me love myself, my hands, my head, my legs. I love my body and in the end I am sure I will grow to love myself too.

The River And The Desert

Sometimes life takes us in directions we didn’t think we’d go. Little did I know today when I awoke that I’d be releasing a little bit of my life and the income that went with it. It made me feel as though there was an empty hole in my middle. I had the same feeling about 20 minutes after being in my first car accident as a teenager. You know, that burst of adrenaline followed by a shaky exhaustion.

I suppose I should explain what I’m talking about. I am a woman of diverse talents. I went to school to become a pharmacist. I got completely burned out doing this and quit. I was convinced that I never wanted to be a pharmacist again! I sought other job opportunities. I began to tutor high school kids.

It was great! I loved being with them, helping them, and helping their families. I got to do math problems and science and Spanish. It was so much more fun and less stressful than my previous job. I dove right in and have been doing it part-time ever since.

But this past year, I’ve really reconnected with the part of me that has been with me since age 5 when I began dancing. I started this blog, and also getting out into my dance community. My focus has shifted. This is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but the passion that I had been pouring into my tutoring was now being applied to dancing.

I didn’t recognize it, but apparently others around me did. They were so happy at the positive changes flooding into my life, but my fire for the tutoring had waned. I was fully prepared to finish out the school year but I was called on this change in desire. I had a choice: choose in, fully commit and really show up for the kids or release it, create space in my life, and embrace this newfound passion and connection to dance, writing, and the dance community. One path was practical, and guaranteed a certain amount of income. The other was veiled and promised no obvious road to riches.

But the practical choice felt flat. I knew, if I was very honest with myself, that I couldn’t be there for the kids like I had been before. The more responsible and compassionate choice to both parties, I believe, is to get them what they need rather than to than hang on when I can feel that my passion has shifted.

It was simply time to move on. I just didn’t know it.

Honestly, it was about the least traumatic, most loving parting-of-ways I’ve ever experienced. There was mutual respect, trust, and gratitude on both sides. But I still grieve it. Sometimes we even grieve things that are gone that aren’t good for us, for heaven’s sake! This part of my life had been a Godsend.

I just know that this was the right thing to do for me now. I shed my tears and said goodbye and thank you to this portion of my life. Kinda like how I felt when graduating from high school. I knew things would never be the same. I knew the chapter was closing on one part of my life.

Yet I choose to believe that all things happen for a reason. I also believe that nature will always fill a vacuum.

I now have a vacuumed space in my life. I am believing that amazing and wondrous things, people, and opportunities now have the space to flood in. Before my life was jam-packed – every moment accounted for. Now, I have more space and time.

The flip side of that is that I don’t have as much money to put toward dancing.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling okay about this. I will need to be much more disciplined about my spending. I will need to participate in more group classes and less private classes. That, or get paid to be on a reality show that follows me and Ivan around because we are so dang entertaining! lol. Hey, it could happen!

But in all practicality, I am going to be fine. I will have to save my pennies and will probably be putting a few things on Ebay, but that is okay. I already told Ivan that we have to do single lessons from now on until I win the Power Ball. He said that the most important thing is that I just keep coming, however often that needs to be.

So after releasing this particular aspect of my existence, and processing all the emotion that came up as a result, I was left with a hole in my stomach. In my old days, I probably would have poured a glass of wine and made a nice comforting meal, and curled up with the tv remote for a nice sedentary evening. But “new” Stef, the one who wears the way-too-high-to-be-practical-cherry-red-heels-that-scream-look-at-me, she chooses differently. Even though she feels like she’s been through a battle, she grabs her gear, gets in the car, and drives to Imperial studio for a good old butt-kicking from miss Inna.

As usual, I am exhausted and shaky, sweaty and beet red, gasping, cramping, etc, etc, etc. As per usual, I’m the biggest girl in the ballroom. But not as per usual, there is a larger class than before the holidays and one of the participants is a high school kid (I think). His mom is watching the class while waiting for her son.

We do Rumba, then Samba. I mostly make it through but have to bow out during one of the last Samba exercises…something was gonna blow if I didn’t. Grabbing my water and Gatorade I glance over and smile at the mother watching her son. She smiles sympathetically at me.

Finally the class is over. I’m spent. As I’m packing up, the mother comes over to me and says, “You looked great out there. I could never do that.”

I thank her, and I really appreciate the fact that she took the time to say something. It feels great to be acknowledged, for sure. But I actually disagree with her. It’s kinda the point of my blog and, by extension, my life. If I can do it, ANYONE who wants to can do it. If that guy at the dance studio that coaches with Ivan’s mother-in-law and is an amputee can do it, ANYONE can do it. If Kristie Alley can do it….just kidding. She was great.

But don’t you see? We make up excuses as to why we can’t do something. I did it for 12 years. I abandoned dancing, this thing that feeds my soul, keeps me healthy and happy, this thing that I love, and I left it because I didn’t think it was a practical life choice. I got miserable and fat and damaged my health because I made up a story about why I wasn’t a dancer, why that couldn’t be my life path, denying my very essence, denying my true identity.

Thank God I finally woke up!

And so, life gave me a beautiful opportunity just now. I could choose to settle once more. It was even a great way to do it…seemingly. I would have gotten to be with others, help them, and make a little money on the side by continuing to tutor. But I would have been making that same choice I made so long ago to do what is expected, even if it’s not what I truly, deeply, want to be doing with my life. So this time, I chose differently.

It reminds me of a parable I once heard (I’m paraphrasing here):

There was a great river. The river could go anywhere it wanted and it wanted to return to the sea. Nothing could stop it. It could even penetrate through stone. But one day the river met the desert. The desert pleaded with the river, “please don’t try to go through me. It won’t work.” “But I am a great river. I have made my way through stone. No sand can stop me.” It replied.

So the river poured into the desert. And it poured and it poured. And it poured until it was exhausted and the desert had become a swamp.

“You are right, desert, I cannot make my way through you.”

“You are partly right, river, you cannot make your way through me in your current form.”

And then something happened. The warm air of the desert caused the river to evaporate. And it arose into the air where it became a cloud that floated over the desert. It traversed the desert and rained down into the ocean, finally arriving at its destination. The only way for the river to make it there was to transform.

My decisions in life have been like the path of the river. For a while, my mechanisms of moving in this world worked. I was able to navigate many situations. But at some point, I reached my own desert. I tried my old tactics and began to pour and pour and pour myself into it. It has gotten me exhausted and yet no closer to my dreams. It is time for me to transform, indeed it is the only way I will reach my destination. Choosing differently this time is one piece of that metamorphosis. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out just yet, but I’m trusting the process, just like the river had to trust the process of evaporation. I will make it to my destination, though I will do it as a woman transformed.

It’s even kind of exciting, huh?

Yes, I think it is.

Ode To The Dancer

Hello, my name is Stefanie, and I am a dance addict.

I’m not kidding.

This has become a full-on obsession, a love affair.

Yesterday I began my morning by practicing Latin Rumba walks, in my socks and PJ’s, on my stone floor.  It was the first thing on my mind, and I had to do it. Immediately.  Like a chain smoker arriving in Tokyo whose last cigarette was in LA.

I played my Rumba song at least 100 times.

I stared at myself in my glass door, using it as a mirror, watching my shoulders to make sure they weren’t raising as I swiveled my hips.

I then proceeded to write about dancing for a few hours, then watch videos on YouTube of professionals for a few more.

I joined fan pages for the movie, “Ballroom Dancer,” and for the professional couple Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski.

I simply don’t know what to do with myself if I am not dancing, or writing, or working (so I can pay the bills and be dancing and writing).

I dance in my brain with any spare moment I have, and fantasize about going to competitions.

I have a sickness, and the only cure is more cowbell…I mean, dancing!

So here is my Ode To The Dancer (apologies if there is an actual proper format to an ode other than praising the subject matter – I use term ode loosely):

Dance.

Give it to me in tutus and toe shoes, high heels and bedazzled bras, unitards, Nike’s, tap shoes, and skirts.  Give it to me fast or slow, jazzy or classical, modern or old-fashioned.  Show me your inner Ginger Rogers or Bob Fosse.  Leap, spin, stretch, and fly.

Dance alone or with a partner or even in a group.

Show me pictures with your body.  Make lines that extend on through forever and into my heart.

Make me smile or weep, cheer or laugh, or inflame my passion.

Amaze me as you defy gravity and the laws of physics and contort your body beyond any limitations.  Show me your strength or your vulnerability.  Dazzle me with flexibility, speed, grace.

Share your beauty or your darkside.  I don’t care.  I just want to see you embody your spirit.  Allow it to spill out of you through your very fingers and toes.

This is my quaff of choice.  No longer beer, or champagne.  No longer juice or even water.

I thirst only for dance and through dance transcendence and contact with God, The Source, The Universe.  I want to drink deeply from this well.

Dancer.  Hallowed be thy name.  You are an expression of The Almighty.

The Power Of Dance

As a dancer, I consider the body to be watercolor paint, calligraphy letters, or an ounce of liquid gold.  We dancers live, breathe, dream, stretch, and push beyond sanity to maybe, somehow, possibly, for one-moment-in-time, brush the face of perfection.

This desire lives in me for it moved me to waltz at a weight of 313 pounds.  It motivated me to put on heels and not only attempt to walk in them, but to create a rise and fall motion.  Besides the power of dance, what else could possibly fuel me as I sweat and strive and work to the point of fatigue; I am sore every day and my feet swell so that I ice them each night.  Yet still, I continue to dance for I must dance.

You see, I have discovered that my heart for dance has a breadth and profundity that surprises even me.  In calm still moments I can hear its voice ever calling.  Usually drowned out by the dizzying tornadoes and miniscule dramas of my life, it lately it strikes me that I am not fully alive or present in every moment of my life yet I always and acutely feel this vitality when I dance.

I have now embarked on a journey deep to center of self that will transform me as surely and completely as the caterpillar is metamorphosed into the butterfly.  I know that my heart is coming to life with each Samba and Quickstep.  My body is healing with each Cha-Cha and Salsa.  I feel my spirit nourished with each Rumba and Tango.  And now that I’ve had a taste of this vivacious-ness, my soul cries out, “I want to be alive in all of life!”

My message is this – don’t wait!  Dance now!  Dance how you are in this very moment!  Don’t wait until you lose the weight/have the time/feel okay and on and on and on.  Life is what happens when we making plans.  Don’t you see?  Dancing is what will get us to lose the weight/have the time/feel okay!  It is the process, the vehicle.  Don’t delay one more second.  Live your life playing the starring role.  Go out and be your true and extraordinary self regardless of how current circumstances appear.

The power of dance is that it reminds me the only place of power is in the now.  We are all one quality decision away from changing our lives.  And who knows…it could be the result of saying yes to a dance class.

This Dancer’s Heart: How This Blog Is Saving My Life

Well today folks, I don’t have a dance lesson.  I won’t have one for the next two days at least.  But I thought it was an opportunity to write about some dance related topics that are on my heart.

First off, I wanted to say that there are some amazing people out there in the blogosphere.  I’ve just begun the search for kindred spirits and have already found a few.  Please click on the sites in my Blogroll and check them out.  From side-splitting hilarity, to beautiful artwork, to inspiring stories and some deep insights, these sites are all “the bomb.”

Has anyone else had trouble finding dancer blogs?  I have found a lot of “how-to” type blogs but I’m more interested in the personal stories behind dancers.  Also, I have yet to find more than a handful of personal blogs about ballroom dancing.  Most of the ones I’ve found are about ballet, which I also love, and I want to connect with others who share my current passion too.  If you have a personal ballroom blog, or know about any, please let me know!

Next, since it is New Year’s Eve Day, and all, I thought I’d reflect on the last year.

I found a list of goals from 2011 and discovered that I had made progress in most areas, but not in the exponential manner I would have liked.  For instance, last year I was at 298 pounds.  One of my goals was weight loss.  I’m starting this year at 265.5.  So, I’m down 30 pounds, which is better than going up, but really, this is not the type of transformational change I’d like to see in myself.

It was also right around this time last year that I began dancing again.  So it has been almost one solid year of ballroom.  During this time I danced in two competitions with two different instructors and earned Top Student bronze level at one of them.

Things have really exploded starting 5 months ago.  That was when I transitioned from one teacher to the next and also began exploring the larger dance community in my area.  I now have friends at 3 different studios and take classes across the valley.  I love being connected.

Also, I started this blog.  I believe it is going to save my life.  You see, I was driving home from my lessons and had 30 minutes or more to process all that transpired. I noticed many things about myself and my dancing.  In order to not drive my husband batty by talking his ear off and also to fuel my passion for writing, I took the suggestion of my friend Jess and began writing the blog.  I had no idea that anyone but my very closest 10 friends in the world would ever care to read about my dancing life.

Within a week, an instructor I had met at a competition shared one of my posts https://dancingwithstefanie.com/2011/12/20/you-have-a-mental-problem/ and it went a little bit viral.  Over 1600 people have now viewed my blog at its old Blogger address.  So I began to believe that I had something valuable to say that resonated with others and made the move to WordPress.

I can’t express how honored, humbled, and grateful I feel to see that people across the world have read some of my words.  It is awe-inspiring to think that one person really can affect many others.  I don’t think I ever truly understood that, and certainly not in regards to someone like little ole me, but there it was for me to see.  I’d touched people I’ll never even meet doing something that I love.  There’s nothing better in life…unless it is having an authentic exchange with even just one person via this blog or via their personal dancing blogs.

So back to how this is saving my life.  I now have something to pour myself into.  I no longer have to numb with food, or television, or any other distraction in order to tune out.  I no longer hate my life which used to look like working at a very stressful job with no creative outlets.  I was dying inside, and it was showing up on the outside with my significant weight gain.

I tried working out at the gym.  I tried diets.  I tried ignoring it completely, giving up, and saying, the hell with this, this is all there is in life and it is drab, and dull, and miserable.  I’m destined to be fat (No, no victim language here, hah!)  I’m slaving away for what?  Waiting to die?  I self-destructed a little every day.

But there was a reason none of this worked.  The problem wasn’t me overeating and not exercising, the problem was I wasn’t engaged in my purpose or my passion.  I am hardwired to connect and wasn’t plugged in.  The problem was compounded by lack of self-worth, and extreme shame about my body, with which I identified so strongly.

But the dancer’s heart that beats inside me, though buried deeply, and locked away in a box, could not be entirely quelled.

When I first took up ballroom dancing, I wrote this:

 I am a dancer.  I am one who uses my body to tell her story.  The emotions I feel flow through me as I seductively sway my hips or gracefully lift my arms. 

Sounds poetic, but the reality is that I am usually desperately out of breath.  With each laborious step, thick sweat drips off my already sopping wet hair.  My excess mass gets in the way and weighs me down.  Each salsa step brings jiggling to all the wrong places.  Carrying over 100 pounds of extra body on my five-foot-five frame, I feel like the hippo ballerina dancing with the alligator in Fantasia. 

Last Monday, after working a nine hour day on my feet with a one-hour commute at a passionless job that pays the bills but feels unsatisfying, I went to my salsa lesson.  This was supposed to be my release from the mundane, my gateway to feeling truly, zestfully alive.  Instead, I was meek and apologetic.  First off, I couldn’t do anything but the most light or basic choreography because my lungs and heart simply couldn’t keep up.  I couldn’t yet wear the sexy high-heeled shoes because my feet hurt and went numb while balanced upon my tippy-toes.  My body just wasn’t cooperating with what my mind wanted it to do.  I couldn’t perform to the level I thought I should and I started to despair.

I finally told my instructor, “Matt, let’s face it.  I just don’t have a dancer’s body.”  In that moment, I was choosing to base my decision of whether or not I am a dancer on what my body looked like in the moment.  I was ready to use it as an excuse for why I could never be a great dancer, why I shouldn’t even try.  He replied to me, “Stefanie, everybody has a dancer’s body.” 

To me this response is deceptively simple yet profound. 

What if everyone really does have a dancer’s body? 

What if, whatever it looks like right now, it is a beautiful instrument of expression?  

If I really believe this statement, then anyone who feels she is a dancer, is a dancer.  It seems especially hard for me to believe this as I have grown up in a society where the perfect body is highly valued.  Through the years of exposure, I have come to accept the idea that my worth as a human being is based in some measure on the size of my clothing.  So really, how could I, an obese pharmacist, truly be a dancer?

I could choose to say that I used to be a dancer.  I used to weigh a lot less, had better cardiovascular capacity, and even practiced regularly, but there was one vital missing ingredient.  I wasn’t a real dancer because I had no passion.  For me, dancing was technique, criticism, and judgment, never being good enough, and being miserable.  I did it because it was what was expected and then I beat myself up inside because I wasn’t ever enough; never good enough, thin enough, strong enough, tall enough, enough, enough, enough! 

If I am honest with myself, the truth is that I used to be a machine who looked like a dancer, and now, even though I don’t look the part just yet, I am a dancer. 

 I am not here to justify being overweight.  I am not healthy at this size and I would like it to change.  What I am here to say is that I am a valuable, worthy, and beautiful person regardless.  I have contributions to make and talents and gifts to share.  I believe that the passion, emotion, and joy I now choose to bring to my dancing will get me one step closer to the physically healthy state I desire.

I may perform the functions of a pharmacist and tutor in my working life these days, but who I am, well, I’m a dancer.  I’ve finally acknowledged it and owned it.  For the longest time I couldn’t, especially when I didn’t “look like” a dancer.  I got so supremely caught up in that idea early on.  I still have trouble looking at myself directly in the mirror when practicing. But being a dancer, really, is not about how you look.  It is about who you are inside.

Yes, the health issues are grave and real.  Yes, being in better shape will hone my instrument of expression.  Yes, most dancers are not clinically obese…and soon this one won’t be either.

But regardless, underneath the “fat suit” I’m currently wearing, regardless of the outside packaging, I am a dancer.  Period.

I could talk about dancing all day and all night.  I could watch it every second of the day.  I love it at its highest level of technique, and when grandma, old and bent, shuffles clumsily on the floor but her joyous spirit shines through.  It engages me like nothing else in this world.  It makes me want to be a better person and partner.  It makes me want to take care of myself, be feminine, be beautiful, value my body.  It is saving my life.

Although the changes may not be as dramatic (yet) as I would like, there has been significant progress.  I can now wear heels pretty well.  I still struggle with breathing and cardiovascular capacity, but it is improving over time.  I am shedding the pounds and have the motivation and a plan to finally get this done.  Who knows how many years I am adding to my life because I am on a healthier trajectory both physically and mentally than I was when I wrote that post so long ago.  I’ve flipped the switch through dancing; I had been speeding up my demise and now I’m slowing it down.

So, literally, dancing and then blogging about my experiences is saving my life.  This dancer’s heart is grateful.