Dancing in the rain
I am a dancer. In my heart, my body, my mind. Professionally and recreationally. Dance is how I have expressed life ever since I was a child. It is how I grieve, how I love, how I share, how I heal and how I communicate.
My name is Samantha and I had a double mastectomy without reconstruction in December 2018 following a breast cancer diagnosis.
Within a month after surgery I was back dancing, albeit tentatively. I had taken up salsa as a hobby in recent years and the first time I returned, I wore a prosthesis. The night went well and I remember thinking that to the outer world I looked ‘normal’ apart from the moment my ‘active’ prosthesis nearly flew out of my bra and hit my lead on the shoulder.
Salsa environments are famously hot and sweaty. Near to the end of the night I popped to the bathroom to change out of my sweat drenched dress and into my jeans and a vest to drive home in. Except what was the point in changing clothes but still keeping my soggy bra and heavy prosthesis in? So I took everything off, dried and put clean clothes on. On my way out, a song came on that I didn’t want to waste, so I grabbed a friend and we danced. Gone was my sexy blue figure hugging dress with C cups and heeled shoes, hello white skinny vest, jeans and flat winter boots to match my flat chest. Flat. And I have never worn breast forms to salsa since.
I haven’t always felt as brave. Early on was all consuming. Engulfing almost. I was so convinced that everyone was looking at my hollow chest. I hadn’t considered about how it would change the way I interacted with my dance lead or more interestingly how they would interact with me.
With breasts there is a physical boundary that we all are aware and respectful of especially when dancing in close proximity to another person. Without breasts that invisible barrier is harder to locate. I can sometimes feel a stranger’s heart against my chest. A level of vulnerability that is hard to put in to words, as well as the joy and mutual respect of feeling accepted in my own skin; from myself and the other person.
There are two sides of everything.
I went on a short salsa retreat three months soon after my mastectomies but before my second diagnosis. In public I was dancing all day and night, smiling, carefree, making new friends, flat and proud. In my hotel room on my own when the music had finished and the shoes came off, it was a different picture. Both versions of me are valid and both are my truth. I experience ups and downs of emotions when it comes to my new body shape, although to varying degrees nearly two years on. The highs I experience when I feel empowered, free and full of gratitude, also can come with infrequent but powerful lows of disgust of the reality of my body. The anxiety that I may never find a partner because of my scars.
But this is my story. And one that I am proud of. Scars that I am proud of. Chemo curls I am proud of. I wouldn’t have chosen it for myself but when life gives you lemons….
So I dance. I keep dancing. I will always dance.
It is how I remind myself that what defines me is not dictated by societal norms of what a woman ‘should’ look like but by my spirit. How I live. How I love. And how I dance even through the storms of life. I choose the freedom to backbend and cartwheel like I am 10 years old. The freedom to be different. The freedom to be unashamedly me from the inside out and outside in. And when I am dancing and I have a pang of anxiety (it still happens sometimes) I stand an inch taller, reset my shoulders and take a breath. It isn’t what’s under a woman’s shirt that defines her, it is what is in her heart.