Very few things in my life have made me cry so much that I couldn’t see through my own tears. It’s out of your control when it happens, the tears gush down your cheeks! This weekend that happened to me, they were happy tears!
Above is Laura Morris and Jami House. Students and dear friends of mine. This weekend they placed in the top 6 of the Australian Salsa Open Amateur Division. Below is a true story that I highly recommend you take a moment to read…
THE STORY OF JAMI HOUSE written by Jami House (surname pronounced – How oosi)
Life was pretty good. I was leading a very full active life and by the end of 2004 I had completed 2 Bachelor degrees and was qualified to teach secondary high school music. Outside of my work as a school teacher I taught music to adults with disabilities, played in numerous bands, trained salsa dancing many nights per week and had a hectic social life. My biggest kick was to help people. The world was my oyster….
During 2007 I was subjected to a significant head injury. I didn’t think too much of it at the time except that I was concussed but then recall next to nothing for many weeks afterwards. I didn’t have any realization of the damage that had been done or the detrimental impact this incident would have on my life.
My world quickly fell to pieces around me. I was extremely anxious, confused, depressed and would over react to the slightest thing. I felt absolutely exhausted and had a constant throbbing headache that was sometimes unbearable. I withdrew from music and dancing and just about everything in my life aside from my day job. I struggled at work and spent most the rest of my time laying on my lounge room floor asleep with an ice pack on my head. I would get home from work and lay there and often not get back up until the last minute to rush to work the next day. Despite often sleeping up 15 to 16 hours a day I was still totally exhausted and running on empty.
When I was up and not at work it could be a beautiful sunny day, birds chirping, everything was fine, but I would be hands gripped to the lounge hiding inside with feelings rushing through my body I would expect if someone was holding a gun to my head threatening to shoot Me. Often I hoped someone just would. My job workload was reduced but I still was not coping and by the end of 2009 was officially unemployed.
I now had plenty of time but my energy levels were close to zero. I could run on will for a short time, but would then pay dearly with severe fatigue and headaches for days afterward. Everything I attempted would result in failure. This was extremely frustrating for someone who had previously been able to accomplish anything I chose to put my mind to. Due to a misdiagnosis, for over 3 years every specialist I went to would say that my mental and physical complaints made no sense. I went through every test that could be thought of but still no one could make sense of me. The only relief I could find was riding my road bike like a maniac and pushing the point like I didn’t care, or drown the feelings with alcohol.
Finally in 2011 I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and then was able to find treating specialists who did make sense of all my bazaar complaints. It was all classic of a traumatic brain injury. Due to the trauma to my brain my mind was stuck in a ‘fight or flight response’. I began to understand and become aware of what had happened to me. After a series of neuro physiological assessments and other interventions it was clear that my mental processing, along with many other things was very impaired but on the other hand, once I could do something to the point of it being automatic my ability and stamina was much greater. This sort of activity would engage the ancient instinctual part of my brain and help turn off some of the damaged processing bits. Using this automatic part of my brain coupled with something physical was my best chance of me being able to accomplish something again. This meant I would have to commit to being relentless with something and go through lots of brain pain to begin with, until it became automatic and processing was no longer required.
Now armed with this new awareness and a little hope for the first time in a long time, I was asked if there was anything I think I would be able to try? My response with tears running down my face was “I’m gonna dance again”….
Luckily my traits of being very head strong and determined were still alive and well. Overwhelmed with anxiety and fear fighting against me I forced myself to begin salsa again straight away. I approached Tim and Leyla from Sassy Salsa who I had previously known and performed with from my years of salsa dancing up until my brain injury, and started with a 1 hour lesson each week. Because I was having to relearn (processing) I would have to lay down with migraines/fatigue during the lesson, but I knew I had to hang in there and it would eventually become automatic again, and with plenty of support and understanding from Tim and Leyla it slowly but surely did. As soon as I was able to last for the 1 hour lesson I was hungry for more but would have to venture away from my local little area to get it….
Often my fear was not being able to hide when anxiety overwhelmed me or rest when acute fatigue would strike, and I was in no condition to drive home when this would occur. Realising these things, during the day whenever I felt ok I began to set my car up as a camper. My camper car became a crucial part of me being able to attempt to function again. Now I could rest, hide, eat, sleep as I needed to wherever I was. My car was my refuge.
Again with all my emotions trying to stop me, I marched over to Byron Bay to watch what was happening on the salsa scene there where I also used to dance many years ago. I watched a lesson run by the new instructor Donna Wild, and knew from observing her floorless technique that this was where I needed to now go to continue my dancing journey.
I informed Donna about my impairments shortly after I began at her dance studio. She treated me with compassion and understanding. After a couple of months my financial situation became bad enough that I was not going to be able to afford to make it along to salsa for a while. Donna responded by giving me a 6 month free membership at Wild Studio which entitled me to attend every lesson on the timetable for free. All I had to do was get there.
Salsa gradually began to become less of an ordeal and became the one time of the week I felt I was accomplishing something worthwhile again. I was smiling while I was dancing. My negative thoughts would switch off and I would actually enjoy what I was doing. Yay! I started going along to social dancing events but it was overwhelming for me. I would quickly fatigue and have to go lay down in my car but again knew I had to keep forcing myself until I got used to it, and slowly but surely I did. By the end of 2011 I was involved in a couple of small group performances with Daniella Finkenauer and the Sassy Salsa crew again.
Being very aware that Donna Wild’s expertise and technical prowess was second to none, I decided I wanted to be taught by her only and my dancing became totally committed to be 100% Wild. Everything Donna would give me I would take it and run with it. Even though I still spent most of my time in bed with fatigue, my thoughts were no longer constantly negative and anxious but now often of analyzing dance moves, routines and imagining up new things.
2012 was where I tried to really hit the ground running on the dance front. I knew what I wanted to do, I just didn’t have the energy to back it all up but gave it everything I had. With plenty of advice and input from the magical Donna Wild I choreographed my first salsa routine from tip to tail with music I had edited down to a 2 minute track. After going through a couple of dance partners for reasons beyond my control I finally found someone who was willing to back up her words with action. All I did was dance/sleep and due to her gymnastics background within 3 weeks Laura and I had trained my dance vision into a reality. For the first time we were running my crazy salsa routine that had seemed unreachable, from start to finish.
Despite my internal battle with anxiety we performed this routine 4 times within a month and booked it in to perform at Doudoule Latin Dance Festival. I spent the afternoon before the Doudoule performance sweating, shaking and nearly throwing up. Every fiber of my being was wanting to run away but I refused and again anger from what had been taken away from me kept me focused and was what was gonna get me through. This was the ultimate test for me as there were various world champion dancers and many very important people watching. I couldn’t possibly get any more nervous or perform in front of a more confronting bunch of people. If I could pull this off I could do it anywhere. This was the most important 2 minutes of my past 4.5 years. I didn’t pass out or have a heart attack, we walked on, performed and the routine went well. This was a massive accomplishment for me.
I had told Donna Wild many times that my ultimate goal was to be good enough that she would want to perform with me some day. She never even slightly bit at that idea but little did I know that recently with my big ideas she had been testing me to see what I was made of and if I could follow through. After the Doudoule performance Donna introduced me to the director of the Sydney Salsa congress Jamie Jesus, who invited me to perform at his event. I was blown away, and then to top it off in the next breath I was informed that I would be performing with the one and only…. wait for it…. Donna Wild!!!! Someone pinch me!!!! and that was only the start of it. There was the possibility of sponsors and many other events we could be performing at too.
My world suddenly changed. Something really big shifted inside me in that moment. I felt for the first time in a long time that I could be someone again and that my life was not just a constant struggle, but had direction and a purpose again. Is what I thought I could only ever dream of gonna become a reality, and could I inspire and help other people with impairments along the way and make a difference in this world again???? The one thing I am sure of is that I am gonna give it my everything!!!!
TO BE CONTINUED…………………………………..
I have the honor of seeing Jami work on his dancing most days at my studio. He is an artist. A teacher. An inspiration. Seeing him compete at the ASO you can only begin to imagine the dedication and dicipline that that took him.
Huge thanks to Krin Bajough for running an epic event. Thanks to all the competitors for raising the bar each and every year! Thank you to my dear friends for all the dances, laughs, hugs, meals, smiles and love. You warm my heart no matter the weather. And thank you Jami for all that you are.
Here are some more photo’s that I captured of the weekend of the ASO. Enjoy.
The Blue Sydney. 5 Stars and they deserve every star. The service is pristine. The location is at the Wharf Wooloomooloo, convenient for city access and it’s water front, heaven. But most importantly… they do amazing green juices for breakfast upon request!
The beautiful people:
And of course I’m adding this category, The food: Deliciously healthy meals, drinks and treaties…