06/11/2014 12:42 EDT | Updated 08/11/2014 05:59 EDT

How Joining a Dance Class Helped Me Fight My Isolating Illness

Dance is an intimidating word, let alone act. It conjures images of graceful young bodies moving in a magnificent feat of strength and display of agility. Then, there's the rest of us who walk around feeling like stiff bricks. Sure, we've all danced in front of a mirror and thought ourselves somewhat decent, but we dare not attempt these moves in public in the fear of becoming, "that person" on the dance floor.

The act is also inherently social. You dance with people, or for people. Whether it's the sensual moves of belly dancing, the lively steps of Salsa or the seductive art of pole dancing. And yet, dance is a highly personal and intimate interaction with yourself; it is an expression of life, and at its root, a celebration. Dance demands courage.

After enough self-coaxing, I convinced myself to join the Arriba dance class at my gym. I was a reclusive exerciser who stuck to the lonely treadmill and elliptical. I lacked both the grace and confidence to consider jumping in the front line of a dance class with forty other women, all shimmying to our sweaty reflections in the mirror.

When a friend told me about dance classes, I claimed with proud conviction that I'm a dedicated and isolated worker-outer. Then, sheer boredom led me to the doorway of the studio that I passed day in and day out.

A catchy beat started the class as me and women from all backgrounds danced, some with grace, some not, it didn't matter. Some got it. The rest, like myself, just wanted to move our bodies while having fun and breaking a sweat.

I never thought I'd say I love dance classes. I never wanted to admit that I needed help and support, a weakness I thought affected mostly women. I know it sounds awful, this is a lesson I'm learning about my skewed thoughts. Raised an Arab-Canadian, I saw the veneration men received for their strength and the general dismissal of women. I heard my grandma thank God for never giving her girls. I was going to be stoic and fight the battle of health alone. Now, here I was shaking my butt before a window with eyes bearing witness to it, but I was doing it, with a classroom of women, and feeling strong.

These past couple of years, my journey as a woman has been isolating and painful due to an illness that's pretty exclusive to us. I continue on the journey of bleak medical hallways that offer little solace for what seems like a lonely affliction. But being in this dance class, facing the mirror speckled with the reflection of warriors in aerobics suits, and seeing my instructor with a hospital patch on her chest and buzzed hair; I realize that in our weaknesses we are strong. Our light shines through the crumbling walls.

That hour of dancing is a fusion of strength from each woman, dancing with missteps from solitude to solidarity. No thoughts in that moment. In that class I'm courageous, I'm happy, and I'm not alone.


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