Swing Dancing saves lives (or at least mine, anyway)

You may or may not know that I have an MD degree.  You may or may not know that I also suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  I am not gonna lie to you, going through med school was painful – literally and figuratively. And it took me 8 years instead of the usual 6 because some semesters I’d have to take less courses.  I also fought a few good fights against the system but that’s material for another post.  All I am saying for now is that I’ve been called a shit disturber.  I am proud of it :)

In the end, against all odds, I graduated.  Then I came to Canada only to discover my degree was not valid here.  Since I wasn’t that interested in practicing medicine I didn’t care that much.

Let me give you some background here. Even before I applied to med school, I knew that what I really wanted to do was research so since my first year I started volunteering at the immunology lab.  Some “summers” (There are no seasons in Colombia, so I am talking about the vacations between school years) I would go and do some sort of internship at some of the best institutes in the country. I did my internship in Molecular Biology, Genetics and Biotechnology.

So, naturally, when I came here I figured the best way to get into the system was to do a PhD.  I applied and was accepted into the Cellular and Molecular Medicine program at the University of Ottawa.  I got a super awesome project and a really cool lab.  I won’t go into details here but it was on Cancer research and it was pretty cool.  My life was perfect!  I was truly happy.  My dreams were finally coming through.

And then I got sick

I started having these weird neurological symptoms like breaking things and stuff.  I’ve always been rather clumsy but this was more serious.  And lab equipment, in case you didn’t know is fracking expensive.  Screwing up micropipettes that cost a grand to re-calibrate is generally frown upon.  Or breaking electrophoresis chambers, for that matter.  You get the drill.

At some point, MS was even being considered.  Thank god the MRI came back normal. In the mean time I had a nervous breakdown and became very depressed.  Eventually, I had to take a medical leave.  Since I was an A+ student, my academic advisor told me I could come back whenever I wanted, even if it took me 5 years. But my world was shattered.  My dream of becoming a professor, having my own lab and grad students became just that again, nothing more than a dream.  And I LOVE teaching.

But! Fortunately for me, I had already had that magical adventure that was my Trip to the Bookstore. Swing Dancing gave me a reason to keep going.  I was given another chance to grow, to learn, to meet wonderful people and to teach.  Sure it’s not the high thrill of the academia (I pretty much said good-bye to my aspirations to win a Nobel prize *wink* ) but it is very rewarding nonetheless.

Yeah, it’s been quite the trip. In 2007 I went on to win Silver medal with the Dynamite Girls at the Canadian Swing Championships.  And I have a few other titles under my belt.

I can’t imagine my life without dancing.  And I am sure the best is yet to come! :)

Trips to the bookstore are dangerous!

Fall 2004. On my way to the University of Ottawa bookstore to buy my Molecular Biology textbook.

I get to the University Centre and the centrecourt is packed with booths, tables, stands and people. As it turns out it is Club’s weeks which happens at the beginning of every semester. Cool, I think. But! I am on a mission. I’ve been told by my Molecular Biology professor that there was a screw up on the requisition and very few textbooks were ordered so I need to hurry up and get mine before they are sold out…. then I see some people dressed in Vintage (around the WW2 period) seemingly dancing in one of the corners. Naturally, my scientific mind wants to know what is that all about. I get closer and then I hear the music (hearing impaired here). And what do I hear? Wonderful Swing music!

I’ve been fascinated all my life with classic movies and particularly with Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly movies. If I didn’t like my iPhone so much I would say that I was definitely born in the wrong decade. But I disgress. My heart is racing, who are those people dressed exactly like in my beloved movies, doing what I had seen so many times in those old Turner and MGM films from the first half of the 20th century?

Now of course I absolutely HAVE to talk to those people and find out how I can get involved. It is the U of O Social Dance Club, they say (now known as SwingUO) and would you like to sign in for the term? how much is it? I ask – you know, broke graduate student and all. $15 they say. Per class? I ask. No, no, for the whole semester, they say. Sweet! where do I sign up?

That’s how I met Michelle, Bruce, Magali and Olivier, the founders of the club. I was hooked from day one. As a side note, I found out years later that I was the very first student to sign up and that they didn’t want to let me see the sign up sheet cause they were afraid I wouldn’t join if I saw there wasn’t anyone else there.

Magali and Olivier were my first Swing teachers. They thought me my first swing steps (step, step, rock step). It was Olivier who encouraged me to go to the Ottawa Swing Dance Society weekly dances.

And the rest is history, as they say. Within three months I was an executive member of the OSDS, six months later I was the house DJ. In 2005 I hired Byron Alley – then co-owner of the Swinging Air Force in Montreal, to come and teach a workshop in Ottawa. In 2006 I finally managed to convinced him (with the help of Bryn Morin and Natalia Rueda) to move to Ottawa and start a swing dance school here… but that’s another story.

The moral of this story? beware of trips to the bookstore. You never know where they are gonna take you!

UPDATE (06-06-12): You might end up in a book and/or on the walls of a very well know Blues Bar in Ottawa

100 Strangers Project Opening night