Back in the Waltz of Things, But Not the Same Waltz

I’m officially back to regular private lessons, twice a week! I think it’s been over a year since I’ve had more than one lesson in a week. It felt strange, in a good way, to return to the studio for that second day. My sense of what day it was, shaky at best since the pandemic, was also thrown off, but for the chance to dance more, I didn’t mind.

The week was a confusing mix of tragedy and joy. While it felt amazing to work one-on-one with Teacher again, my heart broke at the news of the latest eight murder victims of hate. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind because I can’t accept that this is our reality and at the same time, it’s plain to see how we got here. As I wrote in another recently published article, I’m too tired to be angry, so I put my energy toward hope.

Hope is part of the reason I decided to take a La Blast class right before my second private lesson on Thursday. I was having trouble feeling any hope through the anguish I felt for those murdered in and around Atlanta and the fear I felt for those I loved and cared about who might be targeted next. All day Wednesday and Thursday, I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I needed to take a mental break and just move my body.

My knees weren’t happy with me after the 45-minute La Blast class followed by a 45-minute lesson, but my mind was clearer and my heart felt a little more hopeful. So it was worth it.

In my private lessons, Teacher and I focused on Waltz. We tested our memories by warming up with Silver-level Waltz first, just to reconnect after our two-month hiatus. Then it was back to our Open choreography. I remembered probably 95% of the routine and it was a joy to feel how strong I felt in it, even after so long. Like coming home to who I truly am.

While it felt like coming home, I don’t want to say it felt like coming back to some semblance of “normal” because that implies a shift backwards. As I’ve been saying this entire pandemic, we can’t go back to how things used to be. The world has changed too much. We have to move forward.

That doesn’t mean we can’t bring anything from our pre-pandemic life into the future with us. I danced before the pandemic, I’m dancing now during the pandemic, and I’ll be dancing after the pandemic is over. The reasons for dancing may shift and evolve, and the meaning I gain from dancing has certainly changed, but I think those things are bound to happen anyway on our dance journeys as we evolve as dancers. Even the joy I feel from dancing has evolved from when I was dancing Bronze to dancing Open Gold. It has a depth to it now that didn’t exist when I was just beginning to learn ballroom.

Back in the practical realm, I’m hoping this extra dancing will also help me shed some of my pandemic pounds. Dance has always been the only form of cardio exercise I really enjoy, but it’s torture on my knees to do it often at home on carpet. So I’ve stuck to other exercises that focus on strength and mobility. Sticking to them consistently is always a challenge for me because they’re not dance and I don’t get an exercise high, so I’m just tired, sweaty and/or sore. I know it’s making a difference; I don’t think I would have felt so strong in my Open Waltz this past week if I hadn’t been exercising semi-consistently at home. Still takes some self-convincing every time though. I do plan on exercising later today, so feel free to hold me accountable.

I wish returning to regular private lessons was a sign that Life is calming down, but we still have a long road ahead of us toward that goal. So much hatred and violence burning through the world right now. There is a temptation to run and hide, just pretend like it doesn’t have anything to do with me and I can’t change it anyway. I’ll just work at my kitchen table, walk the dogs, and go to the dance studio. Everything will be fine.

Pretending like everything is fine is what got us to our first-year anniversary of the pandemic and over 500,000 people dead from the virus in this country alone, so probably not the best approach! Problems don’t actually go away when we ignore them. Trying to push forward without addressing those problems usually makes things worse, as I’ve had to learn and relearn with my body. I was able to push my body past its limits for 36 years without proper care until finally, after a fitness bootcamp and Zumba marathon, my knees said enough, we’re not taking this abuse anymore. Then I met my wonderful physical therapist who has helped me move forward with my body in a more collaborative and cooperative way. I can work hard to grow as a dancer, but in ways that don’t cause injury or unnecessary pain.

As a country, I think we’ve reached that Zumba marathon where we just can’t take it anymore. Things are breaking down and revealing all of the problems we were trying to ignore. Hopefully we’re paying attention and having our “oh shit” moment as we realize just how bad they’ve gotten while we were looking the other way. I want to say that the next step is to start addressing those problems, but I think we’re still in the realization stage. As a whole, we’re still having trouble recognizing and acknowledging that there is some messed up stuff going on in our country. We’re like the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who refuses to admit his arm has been cut off. Tis but a scratch! I suspect some don’t want to admit we have a problem because they think that means they also have to take on the blame for that problem. When the problem is something incredibly triggering like racism…oh man, do us white people get squirmy and defensive when that R word comes up! It’s like some believe that if they admit that racism is a problem in our society, then they’re admitting that they’re racist themselves. Or perhaps it’s the fear that they’ll be perceived as racist. Personally, I’d rather focus on fixing the problem than worry about what others think of me. You don’t see me worried about whispers or points at my tattoo when I’m dancing! I’m too busy doing what I came to do.

Healing a society is a lot more complicated than healing a pair of knees, but it’s 100% doable. It’s going to take time though, and with that, patience. I remember times at physical therapy when I was practically throwing a tantrum because after months, my knees still hurt and it seemed like I’d never be able to dance again without pain. Two, almost three, years later, I still have bad days when I push a little too far (like Thursday’s La Blast + private lesson), but I also have good days when I feel strong and pain-free.

It’s the consistent work to take care of my body since I’ve finished physical therapy sessions that gives me more good knee days. After my physical therapist said I didn’t need to come back for any more sessions, she didn’t also say I could go back to treating my body the way I was before. She said I was ready to move forward with just doing the work at home, without her help. I still do PT exercises for my knees at home. I still have to get up and move multiple times through the work day to avoid flareups. I’ve changed how I warm up for a workout or a dance lesson. The effort hasn’t stopped; it’s just evolved.

Now that I’m dancing more often, I’ll be paying closer attention to how my knees respond to the increased activity and adjusting accordingly. A persistent challenge is giving myself enough time to rest and recover. I tend to think “oh, I rested that one day, so I can go hard core the rest of the week.” Nope, doesn’t work that way!

Rest days need to include the mind as well as the body, which I often forget. Taking a day off from exercising and spending it reading news reports or social media posts that stress me out doesn’t exactly count as rest. The mental stress diminishes the benefits of the physical rest, so it’s like I never took a day off. Is it weird that taking a real rest day feels like such an inconvenience or imposition? You want me to just relax all day without multiple devices demanding my attention or without checking ten things off my never-ending to-do list? You want me to spend the day taking nature walks with my dogs, eating healthy food and doing something creative just for me? That’s asking a lot.

Even though I’m not planning to perform or compete in-person again until after I’m fully vaccinated, I’m excited to resume dancing with Teacher. The lessons themselves provide a mental break and challenge at the same time. There is a comfort in working on something challenging that is also familiar. I know how to go about figuring out an issue with my dancing. I’m far far less knowledgeable in figuring out how to address racism in our country. So while I learn how to do my part in the latter, I can use the former as a way to renew confidence in my capabilities and my hope for a better future. On top of that, we all know how therapeutic moving to music can be! Bringing rhythm into our bodies does wonderous things for the body, mind and soul. After all the dancing I did on Thursday, I felt much more focused during work on Friday.

In conclusion, I hope wherever you are, you’re staying healthy and moving to the music! As Life continues down this chaotic path, remember to take those dance breaks and rest days. If you’re not moving to the music, here’s one of those fun dance scene mashups to get you started. Happy dancing!

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