Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meet Mokena Dancer Anastasia Tuskey!

My journey to the ballroom.
I like to dance. I like to feel graceful. I like to feel beautiful. Dance does that for me.
                When I walked into the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Mokena in November of 2013, I had no idea how ballroom dancing would change my life.
                Last fall, I was invited to participate as a local “star” in Guardian Angel Home’s annual Dancing with the Local Stars fundraiser. I had attended the event in prior years and secretly envisioned myself as one of the dancers. When I was asked to participate, I agreed because as I mentioned I like to dance and I am a big supporter of Guardian Angel Home and its mission.
                As soon as I learned who my professional partner would be, I called the Mokena studio to book my consultation appointment with Ephraim. (I must confess I asked to be partnered with Ephraim because I saw him dance in the previous events.) When I arrived at the studio I was welcomed and immediately put at ease. I was very nervous and afraid of making a fool of myself but as soon as I began dancing with Ephraim, I felt this was something I could do. We began our rehearsals and created an awesome dance for the competition.
                During my lessons, I became intrigued by the world of competitive ballroom dancing. I attended the Freddy Ball in March of 2014 and remember vividly Kimi Mabry asking me if I would ever think of competing. I literally (and sad to say, rudely) laughed out loud – never in a million years would I think of myself as a competitive ballroom dancer. But the seed was planted. At my next lesson, I inquired about more lessons and learning other dances.
                I was eager to learn all the graceful and sexy moves the other students were dancing. Ephraim was very patient and careful to slowly add new steps all while helping me perfect my dance for the April fundraiser.  During this process I began to notice a change in my body – I became leaner and taller and dropped 20 pounds!
                While I did not win the trophy at the fundraiser, I did win a great benefit to my life. I look and feel better than I have in 20 years. In less than one year, I have danced in two local competitions and the annual showcase. Each week, I anxiously look forward to my lessons. I have two wonderful teachers, Ephraim and Chris, who have both seen my potential and taken me out of my comfort zone. I am so excited to learn new steps and push myself further than I ever thought I could.
                I have always loved dancing – since the age of six when I began ballet lessons. I danced all through high school and also joined the pom pom squad. I was very active until a serious car accident in 1982 almost ended my life and my dance career. After a month in the hospital and a long, painful rehabilitation process, I was able to return to the dance studio but at a much reduced capacity. I became very frustrated with my limited ability and decided to leave the dance studio permanently.
                Joining the Fred Astaire family brought me back to the dance studio and rekindled my love of dance. I am so thankful to find an outlet to express this love and share it with others. My confidence has soared. I feel much happier and successful in my job and my personal relationships. And I have maintained a 70-pound weight loss.
                Dance has become a big part of my life. I have invited many of my friends to the studio, anxious to share my passion with them. A few of signed up for lessons but all of them have enjoyed themselves.  Dance has improved my health. I no longer face the threat of high blood pressure or diabetes which are part of my family history. I have developed nice friendships through dance and I look forward to seeing students from other studios at various events throughout the year.
                I feel truly blessed to be alive and able to dance.  I am so happy I took that “leap” into the studio and this amazing chapter in my life. My only regret??  I did not enter the ballroom sooner!! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Meet Breast Cancer Survivor Robin Schwarz!

It’s Pinktober!!  Breast cancer awareness month is this month, and the world around us seems to turn pink every year at this time.  Those of you who know me know that I embrace the pink as a survivor myself – coloring my hair pink and wearing every pink ribbon I can find.  

For those of you that don’t know me, I am Robin Schwarz.  In 2010 I was diagnosed with stage 2b breast cancer at the age of 36.  After 8 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy, 28 radiation treatments and reconstruction I was left feeling tired, old, and broken.  Post treatment depression is a common struggle for breast cancer patients.  My treatments/surgeries took over 2 years to be complete.  2 years of doctor’s appointments.  Living in a constant state of tearing down and recovering.  Weight gain, chemo brain, and the toll that poison, burning and cutting into the body takes is extensive.  I had 13 surgeries in 3 years.   But this isn’t a story about the mutilation that happens to breast cancer patients, rather, this is a story about HEALING.  Life that has been renewed.  This is MY pink story.  

In the summer of 2012 I was deeply depressed.  My body was in a constant state of pain.  Down the right side… shoulder/arm/chest, hip, back, knee and foot.  Each part having a pain all it’s own.  Probably all connected.  I had gained a lot of weight from surgery after surgery and the constant state of recovery I seemed to be in.  

In August, I decided as soon as the kids were in school I was going to do something just for me.  I had always loved dancing but could never justify it as a stay at home mom.  How could I spend the time or the money on something that didn’t seem to serve a purpose or benefit the good of the whole family.  Looking back now, I see this in a whole new light.  Since dancing makes me a better me, it DOES, in fact, benefit the whole family.  But that was the way I thought of it at that time.  Desperate for some sense of joy and purpose, I scheduled my 1st lesson at Fred Astaire the first week of school.  I had no idea just how much my life was about to change…

After just 1 lesson, I knew I was in love with ballroom dancing.  I had only learned some basic steps, but I was exhilarated by the lesson and couldn’t wait to learn more.  But not only that… I made a friend.  Joel Thomas was my instructor for that 1st lesson, and he was genuinely interested in my story.   Let me say this – every instructor I have met through Fred Astaire has been caring, genuine and absolutely full of passion for what they do.  This is something that you don’t find just anywhere.  These people are special – bright lights in a sometimes-dark world.  Something I desperately needed.  The list of benefits I have received from ballroom dance is long.  Some of them are unique to breast cancer, but many of them are universal and could be helpful to anyone who is struggling with a difficult situation in their life.  

  • All my pains disappeared.  Hip, knee, back, foot… shoulder, chest and arm as well.  
  • I lost 50 (yes FIFTY) pounds
  • The fog of chemo brain has lifted much more quickly than I was told it would.  (It has been well documented that dance is one of the best activities for preventing dementia and strengthening the mind.)
  • I regained my sense of femininity and beauty, which had been greatly damaged, and I thought completely lost.
  • My heart was set free in a way I cannot explain or fully describe.
  • The community I found in the studio – with instructors and students alike – is truly remarkable.
  • I was finally able to make peace with my body again…

Let me explain that last one.  This was BIG for me.  I struggled deeply with a loss of femininity and the sense of my body hating me.  I hated it, too.  It had tried to kill me, after all.  I fought this battle with my body for a long time.  I was in counseling for over a year and spent a lot of time trying to make peace with my body.  In just a few months of dancing, I was able to start to believe my body could still work for me.  That maybe we didn’t have to hate each other so much.  I not only feel feminine again, but dare I say that I feel beautiful?  On the dance floor especially.  I feel graceful.  And thankful beyond words… some days my heart feels as though it is going to burst and get ooey gooey slimy joy and gratitude all over anyone and anything in my path.  ☺  I have been given a second chance, and dance has healed my heart, body, mind and soul.

Dancing is like breathing to me.  It gives life.  Joy.  It is necessary.  It ignites my soul.  My body is stronger and healthier than it’s ever been.  I live more in the present.  I have found freedom.  My heart is truly bursting at the seams for this gift I’ve been given, and for the people that I have met through it.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  There is a place in the soul that words can’t reach, but dance can.  And this is where healing takes place.  Deep in the soul.  And physically in the body.  I am grateful.  

So this is October… Breast cancer awareness month.  Who do you know who needs healing?  Do you know someone who has, or has had cancer?  Or is struggling with some other challenge in their life?  Be aware that the struggle may be deeper than they let on, and offer them the opportunity to find healing that goes beyond what medicine or therapy has to offer.  Bring them to DANCE.