By Sarah Guy
In 2007, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to take a Contemporary African dance class at Joy of Motion Dance Center Atlas. She had taken the class and said that the movement was unique and beautiful and simply awesome. I danced as a child and had taken a few ballet and modern classes as an adult, and in general I loved to dance and try things I have never done before, so I said, “Yes, let’s do it.” Turns out it was one the best decisions I ever made. By the middle of my first Contemporary African class with Taurus Broadhurst, I was hooked. While dancing his choreography I felt powerful and connected to my spirit. It was a release, physically and spiritually. I reveled in the authenticity of his choreography and the way in which he challenged us to dance better. I knew I had found my dance “match.”
Soon after that first class, Taurus offered a Studio to Stage class, and I enrolled. I realized during the two months of Studio to Stage that I had the drive within me to become a better dancer, and I was eager to do so. By the end of the class, Taurus had nicknamed me Soul. I am not a dancer with beautiful lines and great technical abilities, but I am always on rhythm, and that’s how I move — connected to the rhythm. That Studio to Stage performance was followed by two more, and taking four classes a week. Then in March 2011 my dancing came to an abrupt halt.
For a few months in fall/winter of 2010, I had been feeling a dull pain in my lower abdomen that was becoming more frequent. It was not severe or debilitating, and I actually felt better when I danced. It was not a pain that made me think that something was severely wrong with my health. So in March of 2011, when I was 30 years old, I received the shock of my life when I was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer.
As the first part of my treatment, I had a “debulking” surgery, which left me with 40 staples running the length of my abdomen. During one sleepless night while in the hospital recovering from my surgery, I saw an infomercial for an exercise video, and I broke down. I could not imagine how my body would ever be able to move like that again – to go from 40 staples to moving powerfully, fluidly, vivaciously. I couldn’t envision the process. In hindsight, that breakdown became my guiding light. I realized how much I loved to dance, and returning to dance became my goal.
While recovering from surgery and undergoing chemo, I would visit the Atlas studio to see friends and take in the supportive energy. It simply felt good to be there. I felt like myself. On one occasion, I told my family that since I couldn’t take class, one of them had to, and my Dad volunteered. He took class, and everyone embraced his participation. Like with all of his students, Taurus explained that the effort and the attitude are most important. As long as you are trying your best, all is good. And my Dad gave it his all. Every now and then, with a huge smile on his face, my dad will still show me the moves he learned during that class.
Then finally, my turn arrived! In December 2011, two months after I finished my chemotherapy, I took my first class since being diagnosed. I remember so vividly how everyone welcomed me back to class. Dancing with friends is such a blessing, and I soaked in all the positive energy. During one Saturday class, I felt a strange tension in my side. I knew something was wrong. By the end of the month, my recurrence was confirmed. My next course of treatment was extremely tolerable, and by June 2012, I enrolled in Taurus’ Studio to Stage class again. This time, however, I was referring to the class not as Studio to Stage, but as Staples to Stage because that performance was going to be the culmination of everything my family, friends, medical team, ovarian cancer community, and dance community had endured to make that return to the stage possible. The class had weekly dance rehearsal, and I had weekly chemo infusions, but we made it work. We performed in August 2012. I had returned to the stage.
Since then, my health has been up and down, but I continue to take Taurus’ class. While trying to restore my health from cancer, I often feel like I am living in opposition, like I am always going against something. But in dance, when I am connected to the rhythm, I feel in sync. I feel like I am going with the flow of life rather than against it. I find so much comfort in that feeling, and I try to bring that mentality to life outside the studio.
When I first signed up to take Taurus’ class, I had no idea the extent to which dance would serve me, that it would help me cope with my diagnosis or help me maintain my sense of self or maintain a great quality of life during my treatments. But it did so, I believe, because Taurus creates a space where dance is spiritual, healthy, and focused on expression and growth. Taurus calls me Soul, but I think this nickname is just as much a testimony to his choreography as it is to my rhythmic dance style – his choreography connects with my soul.
As a way to honor the power of dance, Taurus Broadhurst Dance, Hollow Dance Project, Quynn Johnson, LillyVonn Dance, and I have partnered to present a dance performance fundraiser to benefit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, taking place this Saturday, June 29th at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available here. There is so much to celebrate! Please join us! And I hope to see you in class soon! You’ll know me. They call me Soul.