Guest Post from Breast Cancer Ballroom Dancer: Getting Back to Basics

This month, I’m happy to welcome Breast Cancer Ballroom Dancer! As you might guess from the name of her blog, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but never stopped ballroom dancing. Her determination and perseverance are inspiring! Without further ado…

Hi all, it’s Breast Cancer Ballroom Dancer here and I am thrilled to have been asked by The Girl with the Tree Tattoo to do a guest post!

For those who are not familiar with me, I have been dancing for 6 years, but in fall 2014 I was diagnosed with two different types of breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries and am now doing preventative hormone therapy to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back as much as possible.  I have been ‘cancer free’ since December 2015, and just recently competed in a competition that was in many ways a triumph and ‘comeback’ for me.  I compete in pro/am with my instructor, who I call Boss, because when it comes to my dancing, he is ‘the Boss’.

It’s been a long and difficult road to keep up dancing while undergoing treatment and recovering from all sorts of things that have been wreaking havoc on my body.  In December 2016, I had to make a big decision for myself medically and decided to stop doing the hormone therapy I was on, as I had no energy, no motivation, was physically weak, and showing signs that the therapy was not working as it was supposed to.  Luckily, I was able to try a new type of hormone therapy which resulted in a complete 180 turn-around for me, just 1 month before my last competition.

With the return of energy and motivation, it quickly became clear to me how much of my technique and ‘basics’ I had lost throughout my journey as the goal gradually changed from ‘dancing well’ to just ‘dancing’.  After the personal success of the last competition, together with Boss, I have begun work on ‘getting back to basics’ and taking a step back, so I can prepare to take a step forward and move from silver to gold.

Taking that step back is frustrating and hard, but at the same time I am also finding it rewarding, and I wanted to take a moment to share some of the things I have learned about ‘getting back to basics’.

1. Even if you think something is automatic, if you don’t check in with it now and then, it will fade away. I was absolutely surprised to discover how many of the techniques I thought I had built into muscle memory had degraded during the time I was sick.  Things like making sure my legs are straight in latin, cuban motion and basic movements in standard are in need of huge review.  Since I started focusing on them again, they are thankfully coming back quickly and won’t take as long to rebuild as they did to build in the first place, but it is still frustrating to feel like I am starting over.

2. It takes time for things to feel ‘natural’. I find as I work through technique exercises, the first week always feels like a disaster.  EVERYTHING I do feels wrong and I am sure that nothing I am doing will ever get better.  But the key is just keep on doing it.  Give it two weeks of just doing it over and over again.  Try to block out your demons and do it as best you can.  Slowly, you will find that what you are doing starts to feel consistent.  After 2 weeks, if something still feels awkward and unsure–that is a good time to check in with your instructor to get some feedback.  But give it two weeks first to develop some sort of habit–even if it isn’t quite right.  Chances are you are closer to ‘right’ than ‘wrong’ and the adjustments you need to make are minor.

3. Take the time to do things slow, but also make sure you do them at speed too. I am really bad with this one.  I love breaking things down and focusing on each individual movement, making sure my hips and feet are in the right place, I ‘feel’ where I am on the floor, how my weight is distributed, etc.  I like doing slow work.  But it is necessary, especially after some concentrated slow work, to gradually increase the speed and work without pausing, and to take the time to at least try the movement at full speed.  It could be a disaster (so prepare for that initially), but more than likely you might be surprised by how much of what you are doing slowly transfers to full speed–usually without so much conscious thought.

4. Don’t give in to the bad days.  They will happen. Ever have a day when even the simplest technique just won’t seem to go right?  These days are frustrating, especially when it seems like only the day before everything seemed to go really great.  We don’t always know why we have bad days, but how we deal with them makes all the difference.  It’s a challenge, but work through the bad days.  If something just won’t go right, move to something else to reset your mind and come back to it later.  And really come back to it.  Sometimes getting some distance is all it takes to turn something around.  Even if when you come back to it things aren’t better, remember it is not the end of the world.  It is one day of many, and likely the next day will be better.  Sometimes our brain just needs the time to catch up with our bodies and vice versa.

5. Remember there are no shortcuts. Habits take time to build and maintain. When I work on a technique, I try to build it into a habit. In order to build a habit, you need time and repetition.  Be willing to give both. I try to challenge myself by picking one thing at a time to focus on and build into a habit.  At one point, it was moving with my core engaged to improve my posture.  I did this not only when in the studio, but incorporated it into everything I did.  Going to get a coffee? Consciously engage my core.  Walking to the gym, engage my core. Leaving work, engage my core.  I started asking myself whether my core was engaged frequently throughout the day.  I was surprised that in less than a week my body started engaging my core automatically and when I checked, it was already working.  I still ‘check in’ with myself now and then to make sure this habit is sticking.

6. There are always ‘basics’ to work on. No matter how much I work on something, I remind myself that it can always get better.  As we grow and develop in dancing, so too does our body change and adapt to what we are doing.  These changes means that something we did one way at one time might need adjustments to make it better in the future.  ‘Basics’ are the foundation for our dance.  With a strong foundation, we have the tools to build, grow and improve from there.  Even if you can’t always focus on ‘basics’, make time to return to them when you can. Your dance will thank you.

Taking a step back has been hard, but at the same time, it has been rewarding for me.  By going back and reviewing and rebuilding the basic skills I used to have, I am also rediscovering elements of dance which I really enjoy–understanding and knowing how my body moves through movements.  Many people may think that doing ‘open’ and ‘fun’ choreography is the ultimate goal, but for me, I have discovered that my joy in dance comes from knowing that whatever movement I am doing, I am able to do it to the best of my ability.

‘Best’ is a subjective term.  I fully believe that if you work to do your best in whatever you do, then you will improve.  And your ‘best’ will only keep getting better.

By rediscovering the ‘basics’, I am fortunate to be rediscovering dance–that in itself is a reward worth the frustration of taking a step back.

These are the ‘basics’ of the future.

I hope you guys are enjoying these monthly guest posts/interviews! Next month, I’m excited to welcome an amateur couple who just started competing together in Smooth. In the meantime, be sure to check out and follow Breast Cancer Ballroom Dancer. Happy dancing!

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