Ms. Zuza

Valerie Vigdahl (Ms. Zuza) is an accomplished dancer and writer, a Tribal and Fusion Soloist, and a local fusion dance instructor with Bohemian Underground. Her inspiring article describes how she may have a chronic illness, but it does not have her. Thank you, Ms. Zuza, for graciously sharing your story!

Dancing Through the Pain; Dancing to Heal

Belly dancing with fibromyalgia:

My life is a delicate balance. I weigh every choice and action with their possible consequences. I am constantly aware of my stress level, and how it effects my attitude and mood. I have to be. I have fibromyalgia.

I remember the first time I heard that term: Fibromyalgia. It was August of 2005 and I was sitting in the exam room with a rheumatologist.

I had been struggling for eight years to find a cause for my on-again, off-again bouts of joint pain, muscle tenderness and fatigue. Past trips to doctors, with numerous blood tests for everything from hypothyroidism to rheumatoid arthritis to lupus, yielded the same results. Essentially nothing was found. It was the equivalent of them saying, “Yeah, we don’t know what’s wrong with you. Maybe you should see a psychologist.” In other words, it’s all in my head. The only thing worse than constantly feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck is someone telling you that pain is imaginary.

So I was relieved at first when my rheumatologist actually gave me a name for what was happening to me. I found out fibromyalgia was a chronic condition that included widespread musculoskeletal aches, pain, and stiffness, soft tissue tenderness, general fatigue, and sleep disturbances. Yep. That was it exactly.

Given the description above, you’d think being any kind of dancer or athlete would be out of the question for someone like me. At the time of my diagnosis I already deeply rooted myself in belly dance. The hobby I started five years before had become a full blown obsession. Given that, it’s no surprise that the first thing I asked my doctor was, “Can I still belly dance?”

Surprisingly, his answer was “Yes.” Turns out it was the best thing I could do for my chronic pain.

Treatment for fibromyalgia includes lifestyle changes and viewing your personal world in a whole new way. I can’t afford to let the little things get to me anymore. But when they do, dance is a wonderful tool. Dancing solo and feeling the connection when I dance with my troupe revive my body, mind and spirit in ways medication never could.

On days when it is a struggle to even walk, I put on some dance music and close my eyes. Before long, my hips want to sway and my arms seem to yearn to do snake-like movements all on their own. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get me going again. Other times, I must be content to dance in my head.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t have to make any adjustments. It took me a while to find the right balance and to read my body’s red flags – warning me to slow down.

Shortly after my diagnosis I went to an out-of-town dance workshop. This basically consisted of six hours of dance instruction Saturday and Sunday, plus a performance on Saturday evening. I was determined not to let my health condition slow me down. I wanted to glean all I could from the workshop, which at the time I thought meant plowing through hours of physical activity.

My body had other plans.

It hit me late Sunday morning. First it was a twinge of fatigue – then a slight dizziness. Then BAM!!! I found myself curled up in a corner of the workshop gymnasium, wrapped up in my hooded sweatshirt in an effort to comfort more than ward off cold.

Eventually I got myself off that floor, but didn’t fully recover for several days. I learned a valuable lesson through this experience. I had to read my body’s early signals if I wanted to get better. It’s taken a few other slip ups, but I’m finally starting to keep symptoms at bay.

Whenever I can, I encourage chronic pain sufferers to find their passion. Dancing, painting, gardening, tai chi – there are so many things out there that can feed you and keep life balanced.

Belly dance has helped me reclaim my mind, body and spirit. I may have fibromyalgia, but it doesn’t have me.