Earlier this year, my husband, Steve, and I walked into the Let's Dance Ballroom Dance Studio, which had just opened in our small town of Maryville, Tennessee, to explore ballroom dancing. Surprisingly enough, we found a new passion that we can enjoy together as a couple in this new chapter in our lives as “empty nesters.” Steve and I have been dancing the "dance of life" for the last thirty five years and look forward to dancing together in a whole different way. After progressing through a few weeks of lessons, I knew that I needed more than just a few sessions a week. In addition to dancing with my husband (when he was not traveling on business), I started private lessons with our dance instructor, Brandon, to explore the world of ballroom dancing on a new and different level.
Recently, during one of my private dance lessons, Brandon and his colleague, Chris, asked me, “Why do you want to dance?” I don’t remember exactly how I answered it but I do know that the question caught me off guard. I have pondered it ever since, searching for some better answers. For a few days, my thoughts flowed in my journal and I decided I would put these thoughts into writing.
Since birth, I have lived with a severe/profound hearing loss and have worn hearing aids since the age of two. Although I could not hear well, music has always been a part of my life because it filled my heart with emotion and needed no words. Victor Hugo decribed it perfectly when he said, "Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent." Music was just “pretty noise” for me when I heard it through my hearing aids. I would play my favorite songs and albums as loud as I could so that I could feel the beat and rhythm through the vibrations and sounds. Throughout the years, I expressed the music that I "heard" through many different forms, whether it was by playing the piano, ringing handbells in church, dancing liturgically, signing to music, and even swimming on a synchronized swim team. Expressing a particular song in various ways with grace and passion allowed me to show how my heart and soul felt inside.
In August of 2005, I underwent surgery for my first cochlear implant, and surgery for another cochlear implant followed soon after in January 2007. These two surgeries changed my life and my hearing dramatically. For the first time in my life, I was hearing sounds that I had never heard before, sounds that others take for granted. I spent much time in therapy relearning how to hear with my new “ears.” Now that I can hear almost perfectly with my cochlear implants, music has become “multi-dimensional” with the variations of the different instruments and voices. It is more than just “pretty noise” to me now and I am experiencing a brand new world of music!
In my daily life, I wear many “hats.” I’m a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, accountant, writer, mentor, and volunteer, just to name a few. When I dance, I can leave the stressors of “life” outside the door for a while and just be me: Laurie. The more I dance, the more I feel free and alive. I lose myself in the music and the dance. I cannot go more than a few days without music. And now I cannot go more than a few days without dance. I cannot find all the words to explain how I feel, but I do know that ballroom dancing has changed something deep inside me, and it is something that cannot be hidden or controlled. When I dance, whether it is a waltz, tango, foxtrot, rumba, cha-cha, or swing, I feel a shift in my spirit and lose myself in the rhythm of the music on the dance floor. But at the same time, my heart and soul (along with movements of my body and feet) are another instrument to be played. When I wear my dance “hat,” I only know that I am listening and responding to the music playing in my ear, and it makes me feel whole. Learning to ballroom dance has ignited a fervent passion and desire that I cannot deny.
I am changing in more ways than one. As I shared previously, ballroom dancing has allowed me to “let my hair down” and be free. It helps me to release the tension and stress I encounter in my daily “dance of life,” keeping my body and brain active, as well as helping me with my mental health. Also, I suffer from Meniere’s disease, which is a disorder of the inner ear that affects hearing and balance, characterized by episodes of vertigo and dizziness. I am learning how to balance and control my body and have not had a single “attack” since I started dancing! I am gaining more confidence and coordination in my body, which is resulting in a better posture and positive outlook on life. The extra pounds I have dropped are also a plus!
My dance instructor and the owners of the dance studio know that they have inspired me and have given me a new lease on life. Their faith, belief and trust in me that I can dance in spite of my challenges speaks volumes. Two weeks ago, I performed my first tango dance routine with my instructor & dance partner to "Santa Maria" at a Friday Night Party at the studio. I was nervous right up to the time of the performance but as soon as the music started, the butterflies in my stomach went away and I just "danced." What a wonderful feeling it was to show my joy, my emotions, and deep gratitude that I am able to do what I love as I moved across the floor. I know that I would not have done this without the miracle of sound through my cochlear implants.
Dancing has freed me to enjoy this moment, this season in my life and makes me feel happy inside. So, my friends, no matter what is going on in your life today, "Take Life By the Hand and DANCE!" You will never, ever be the same.....
My Dance Instructor and Partner, Brandon and I after our "Santa Maria" Tango Routine
June 3, 2011