J.G. Chayko teaching Aralyn Morrison her step – photo credit Becky Oben

One of my earliest memories is going to dance class.

I recall each distinctive sound my tap shoes made on the hardwood floor, the soft caress of ballet ribbons criss-crossed over my ankles, the glamorous silver glow of salsa shoes and the smooth sheath of black jazz shoes embracing my feet. These shoes became my second skin, moving with me whether I pointed or flexed, rose up on pointe or twirled, chasse ́d or coupe ́d. I can still feel the smooth floor beneath my feet, the music pulsing through my muscles, and the power and strength of my own body.

I was an active child.

I played in the yard beneath our blooming cherry tree, ran with my friends in the alley behind our house, and biked with my father through the wooded paths of the Trans Canada trail. Movement was the rhythm of my life. Dance provided a new cadence, introducing me to different types of music, the magic of storytelling with my body, the excitement of performance and discovering the unique ways I could move. When RA arrived, my fluid body slowed from the rust of inflammation, making it difficult to maintain the lifestyle I built.

The pain of RA prevented me from executing the strenuous moves of ballet, and my joints couldn’t bear the pressure of the polished floor beneath my feet.

I was at the peak of my physical condition when I suddenly had to stop the vigorous lifestyle to which I was accustomed. The movement in my body was an instinct that would not be suppressed, so instead of giving in, I learned new ways to stay active, and maintain my strength and flexibility. I went to physiotherapy and learned range of motion exercises; I went for walks and counted my steps; I took hot yoga classes and swam beneath blue summer skies; I hiked easy trails beneath the canopy of trees in the lush West coast. Regular activity helped me reduce joint pain and stiffness, and kept my bones and heart strong. I enjoyed every level of movement, but I missed the way dance challenged me – and then, through the world of theatre, I was presented with a unique opportunity that brought me back to the dance world I used to know.

Kerensa Cooper practicing her dance moves – photo credit J.G. Chayko

My partner took on the task of directing a holiday pantomime, the triple threat of shows – dialogue, music and dance. “The Dr. of Oz: A Self-Help Panto” is a delightful story based on the Wizard of Oz. In this holiday version, Dorothy and her friends travel the yellow brick road to find the Dr. of Oz and seek answers to today’s pressing questions – what is the best diet, the best way to save time, how to overcome stage fright, and, of course, how to find your way back home. I was offered the position of choreographer. I was thrilled. The Wizard of Oz has always been a favorite movie of mine, and now I had the opportunity to revisit those characters on stage and shape the way they moved – but there was one other element that would reinforce my decision. Every year North Vancouver Community Players donates partial proceeds from their pantomime to a children’s charity, and this year’s chosen charity was Cassie and Friends Society, an organization for children living with Juvenile Arthritis and other Rheumatic diseases. I dove into the physical challenge, reaching back into my dance life to pluck out the just the right steps, and even revisit a few of those moves. My muscle memory was still in tact, even if my joints objected. It was the perfect occasion to click my heels together and return to the world of dance I loved.

Life changes and flows and so does our motion.

Kerensa Cooper and Aralyn Morrison in dress rehearsal – photo credit by J.G. Chayko

It was frustrating in the beginning, but I came to understand the gift I had was not really gone. It was simply waiting to transform into a new shape. The knowledge buried in my body was just waiting for the right moment to resurface, and because of the conditioning I continued to employ in my years with RA, I still had the strength to step into this role. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. The cast used their vibrant personalities and enthusiasm to bring my vision to life. It was such a joy to shape the look of this show, revive a part of the dance world I used to know, and show a child living with rheumatic disease that, measure by measure, anything is possible.