alt=a woman in several stages of dancing

Dancing Through Life with RA

Last updated: July 2022

I’ll never forget the day I put on my first pair of tap shoes and ballet slippers. I was 6 and that day changed my life forever. Throughout the years, I realized that dance was much more than physical exercise to me. It was a way for this once shy young girl to express herself through her body, and the music. It was how I first began to tell my story.

The lessons I learned from dancing

As I aged, I was able to incorporate my skills as an occupational therapist with my passion for dance. For 10 years, I taught various forms of adaptive dance to children and adults with mental, developmental, cognitive, and/or physical limitations.

Dance taught me that in order to succeed or master anything in my life, I would need to work hard and have passion, grit, and dedication. To perfect the interpretation of movement and artistry requires much time, patience, practice, and sacrifice. I learned that my body is a beautiful and ever-changing vessel. It has needs and requires self-care, love, and proper healthy nutrition. It is also important to accept that life will be full of hardships, physical and mental pain, challenges, and obstacles. Most importantly, through dance, I learned to never take my body’s ability to perform on command for granted. We are all one injury or sickness away from our lives being forever changed.

A life-changing diagnosis

In May 2004, I was diagnosed with RA. My life dance became confusing, full of fear, and one of much physical and emotional pain. This once athletic young woman full of life and promise, suddenly found herself as an outcast in her once productive and active life. No one could tell me how my dance in life would go. The disease left every joint in my body swollen, red, and painful. I could barely get out of bed. My world came crashing down and for a period of time, I could no longer hear the music.

Overcoming the RA obstacles

I managed to move forward in my life after the diagnosis. I continued working as an OT for 18 years. I also danced and taught dance on and off since my diagnosis. In December 2018, I became very ill again. I was dealing with a lot of life stressors and my RA became debilitating. My life had me dance through an unexpected divorce, loss of my 18-year career, the loss of both of my parents, and homelessness. 

During this period of time, I still engaged in the art of dance. I had to adapt how I danced, given my physical limitations. However, on the days I could physically dance, I continued to do so, even if just for 2 minutes. You see, it is the gifting of dance that has allowed me to have a pre-developed skill set from childhood. It is those dance skills that prepared me both mentally and physically for the challenges that life had in store.

Always choose to dance

In May of 2022, for the first time in a very long time. I performed a dance routine on stage with my fellow classmates at a recital. This moment was a very pivotal moment in my life. It epitomized the culmination of all my hard work to dance through all the ups and downs of my life through my journey with rheumatoid arthritis.

To everyone out there, never ever give up. I can legitimately say I have lost it all and had to start over. I am fortunate that life has given me the chance to always choose to hear the music and dance my dance. It may not be a pretty dance at times, but it’s mine. Always choose to dance your dance, whatever that may be.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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