Prior to my trip to Europe last February and March, one of my RakasaFit participants suggested I would surely not want to miss the opportunity to get photos in a belly dance costume on the beach while at Canary Islands! In my flurry of preparations focused on the workshops I was to deliver in Budapest, I probably wouldn't have thought about this, so I was glad she mentioned it. But here's the catch -- I'd have to find someone to take these photos, as I was traveling solo. My former sister-in-law whom I was visiting and who'd lived there for decades would be a good possibility. But it turns out she was busy with work and family and suggested it was a simple matter of going to the beach and asking someone to take a photo.
Anxiety crept in as I visualized this. How would I bypass my lifelong shyness and social inhibitions to approach a complete stranger with this request while wearing a belly dance costume? Or what if I made an unlucky choice and the stranger runs away with my phone? After delaying about as much as I could, a couple days before my flight departure I shove myself out the door in my costume and shimmy down to the beach. It's just a question of showing up, I tell myself, and not thinking ahead. The rest will find a way, one step at a time. I begin to enjoy the feeling of unthinking, listening to the distant voice, and watching my own movie.
A few steps go by and my eyes settle on the man running the outdoor jetski rental. Hmmm, prepared to meet the public and a safe choice moreover. And so I ask, "I wonder if you could take a few photos of me in front of the sea?"
"Clothes on, or clothes off?" he responds.
The self watching my own movie howls with laughter! All at once I realize I'm just one of many with this idea to approach him with such a photo request! And clearly these requests have fallen in two categories! I pause for a moment, as the self watching my own movie is tempted to choose the "clothes off" option in order to find out his response. I also pause at the notion that numerous others before me must have requested this, in order for my question to require such clarification.
"Clothes on," I smile, and explain that the special costume I'm wearing is my purpose. He agrees, hurriedly secures his shop, and we take a few steps down to the shore and take some shots. Less than a minute later, he hands me my phone and hurries back to his shop. His disinterest amuses me, further underscoring the narrative of the many requests that came before me.
And then that's it? I think. All this preparation for a few shots in less than 60 seconds ? I decide to proceed further down the beach and repeat the process. I expect it to feel easier now that I've tried it, but it becomes hard again as I consider the awkwardness of approaching an unsuspecting tourist minding his own business. It occurs to me that I'd feel much better about asking a woman, and that's what I do. The woman I approach is with her male partner. She turns out to be Italian and barely understands my request in English, which would have been in Spanish, if only I knew how.
Contrary to the previous "photographer" she is effervescent with interest in the whole idea. She suggests new angles and poses as her artistic discovery unfolds. Many photos later, we agree to finish and I express my heartfelt thanks. In her eyes I see an unmistakably bright soul, glowing with a million stars. Arriving back in Budapest for a few more days before my return to the US, I immediately learn of an emergency outbreak of coronavirus in Italy, one of the first dominoes to fall in what was to quickly become a massive global health crisis. Casualties were piling high in Italy as the rest of the world scrambled to understand how to minimize the spread of this novel virus, in a panic to avoid the same fate. I think of this Italian woman, imagining the shock of her return from Canary Islands to face this nightmare, a destiny we would soon share.
Ⓒ 2020 - All rights reserved.
Thank you for reading! With the pandemic, my usual work as a presenter, teacher, and event organizer has been nearly eliminated. I'm nonetheless making good use of my time, and community building through writing, photos, and video is one of them. If you wish to support this, please send a contribution of any amount through PayPal or CashApp and connect on the various social channels. --With gratitude, Suzanna.
On February 11th, 2019, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This writing represents my thoughts and journey in the moments, weeks, and months that followed. From this, a poem was also developed in collaboration with my mother, Josey Cooper, for a spoken-word dance solo I recorded, choreographed, and performed. View the written poem >
I guess I never imagined hearing that word applied to me, hoping the avoided thought would keep it distant from me. In the days before, a massive uncharacteristic snow storm -- perhaps the biggest in my region’s history -- quietly settled in, as an ominous backdrop. And on February 11th, 2019, isolated in the storm, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
This unbelievable news was the outcome of a routine but overdue medical checkup, one that could have been taken care of months or even a year before, or could have been delayed further, but suddenly was top of mind. Benign cysts are common. Over the years there had been many of these routine exams, always with the same benign conclusion.
But this exam was different -- a new cyst was discovered. Still, not alarming; perhaps an addition to the family. But this one was not easy to find. “It doesn’t look like the others,” said the doctor. “It needs biopsy.”
And the results were back. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I didn’t know these words. Anticipating they were fancy medical jargon for another variation of another benign cyst -- and not ready to hear anything else -- I asked, “but what is that?” “Cancer,” she struggled to say. In that moment, my mental interior entirely and permanently changed.
Looking outside at the endless snow, I couldn’t help thinking this might actually signal the end of the world. Everything began to spin. Reality shifted. How long had I moved through life and all its hustles and pursuits, ignorant of cancer growing inside of me? My body absorbs shock and bounces back, I’d always thought. Suddenly, I began to discover myself as a completely vulnerable being, in the process of slowly, or perhaps not slowly, being destroyed from within. What is my environment within that allowed for this mutation?
Suddenly, I felt myself drowning in a future I never imagined -- surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, long-term medication, or all of those. Night after night I allowed only thoughts of faith to carry me to sleep. But each morning I awoke to a nightmare, remembering I have cancer now. I wondered if there was an exit, back into my dreams, back into the vortex, then to a new start?
After the findings of the first surgery I was told I needed a second one, as soon as possible. I didn’t imagine this could happen! Malignant cells lingered. My mind orbited in a constant state of uncertainty. Do I have a future? How much? This uncertainty has always existed, I realized, but now I lived in a heightened state of awareness. Suddenly, I began to see all the colors and textures! Suddenly, I began to consciously and actively choose life, whether for ten more minutes or for ten more years. At least I have this chance. So many are no longer among the living.
Hearing the news or by osmosis, the survivors began to reach out and share their wisdom. “In many ways it is a gift,” said one. “You’ll never have another bad day again,” said another. When cancer falls upon you, all previous anxieties and sorrows become small pebbles. “You are about to discover how much love there is in your community,” said another. And I did! I wanted to capture this in a bottle and save the world with it. Seriously, why don’t we call or text a few people weekly to check in on how things are going, without that being weird?
On February 11th, 2019, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This poem was adapted and developed, in collaboration with my mother, Josey Cooper, from my initial writing describing my experience in the moments, weeks, and months that followed. From this poem, I also produced an audio recording, and choreographed and performed it as a spoken-word dance solo. View the original "Cancer Reflections" >
That word, I never imagined hearing that word applied to me.
Hoping the avoided thought would keep it distant from me.
Then suddenly, as I busily pursued my dreams, the skies shifted.
A massive and unusual snow storm
Quietly settled in.
It trapped our cars on icy hills;
It trapped us in our houses,
With diminishing supplies,
It trapped us with our thoughts,
Setting an ominous backdrop.
And on February 11th, 2019, that word, cancer,
I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
There was one unlucky aunt, died at 49,
Leaving behind two young children.
But, I had many of these routine exams,
Ending always in the same benign conclusion,
And reinforcing my blind confidence.
Avoidance prevailed, month after month,
Almost a year later
A ghostly urgency prodded me
Toward a long overdue checkup.
This exam was different –
A new cyst joined the family.
Didn’t look like the others.
It was hiding, reclusive.
“Invasive ductal carcinoma,”
Said the pathologist.
I was still hearing benign cyst, like always,
And not ready to hear anything else.
I asked the doctor, “What’s that?”
“Cancer,” she struggled to say.
In that moment
The darkest chaos descended upon me,
Closing in like the weather.
Unpredictable like the weather
These death cells inside of me
How fast are they multiplying?
Where would they roam?
Would they incinerate my dreams?
Looking out at the confining snow,
I began to see the apocalypse.
How long had I moved
Through life’s hustles and pursuits,
Ignorant of cancer growing inside of me?
My body absorbs shock and bounces back!
Suddenly . . .
I realized myself as a completely vulnerable being,
In the process of slowly, or perhaps not slowly,
Being destroyed from within.
What allowed this mutation?
Suddenly . . .
I was immersed in a script I was completely unprepared for –
Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, long-term medication,
Or all of those.
I struggled, but accepted the first surgery.
Then, I was told I needed a second one,
As soon as possible.
I didn’t imagine this could happen.
My mind orbited in a constant state of uncertainty,
Uncertainty that always existed;
I am shifted to a heightened state of awareness
Suddenly . . .
I find myself noticing all the colors and textures!
Suddenly . . .
I consciously and actively choose life,
Whether for ten more minutes,
Or for ten more years.
When cancer falls upon you,
All previous anxieties and sorrows
Become small pebbles.
Just as suddenly . . .
The survivors entered
And shared their wisdom.
“In many ways it is a gift”.
“You’ll never have another bad day again.”
“You are about to discover
How much love there is in your community”.
And I did!
I wanted to capture it in a bottle,
And save the world with it.
Why don’t we call
Or text a few people, weekly?
Ask them how things are going.
Would that be so weird?
Over and over I hear that I am strong.
Sometimes that feels like I don’t qualify for concern.
I have never been more vulnerable;
And I am valuing the honesty of that more every day.
People refer to cancer as something you fight.
For me, it is something I try to make peace with.
There is no light without darkness,
Even (or maybe especially) within us.
The feeling of the knife lingers,
And the fear of what may come.
But I have been given the gift of today.
Why am I in a good mood?
Because I woke up today,
And I’m standing here
Alive and whole.
In February 2019, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In March, after two surgeries, I was introduced to the Living Pink Breast Cancer Gala and Pageant, and invited to participate. Below is the bio submitted for this pageant:
Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Suzanna relocated to the Pacific Northwest at the age of six. Overcoming a difficult childhood, she has walked a path of self-actualization ever since. Earning degrees in theatre, political science, and public management, she has spent much of her life working administrative jobs and strengthening organizations while maintaining her artistic practice of dance and movement and raising her daughter.
Through dance and movement she has helped heal many inhibitions from youth. Her journey has included Middle Eastern, African, jazz, contemporary, ballet, hip hop, fitness routines, and more, ultimately leading to a career of teaching, performing, and event production. Her global travels have encompassed Africa, Europe, North America, and Brazil, for work, art, education, and family. While working in Niger, for example, she assisted villages with the use of theatre as a tool for education and community decision-making.
She has always had an innate ability to see how all things unify and intersect, yet only recently has she begun to see unification within her own multifaceted life, with the founding of her belly dance fitness startup, RakasaFit, in which she harnesses the power of belly dance as a universal movement practice to bring about health, healing, feminine strength, and community.
Last February, during the snowstorm, Suzanna was diagnosed with breast cancer. This has been a profound turning point, an opportunity to consciously and actively choose life, whether for 10 more minutes or 10 more years (or why not make it 100?). She now invests in her mental fitness as well as her physical fitness. She has never entered a pageant and has rarely enrolled in competitions of any kind, thus she’s received relatively few awards in her life. If this is the occasion, she will be profoundly honored. If not, she is equally honored to be involved in helping as many women as possible get access to early detection and treatment of breast cancer, so that they too will have the opportunity to choose a meaningful life.
Hello hello to my belly dance community! Some of you may have heard the buzz about this RakasaFit thing I’ve been up to. For me, belly dance has always been a universal movement practice that brings physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being. At the same time, in recent years I’ve also returned to practicing other forms of fitness and dance. This has yielded great results and ignited my exploration into how other core fitness elements can strengthen belly dance movement quality! RakasaFit is a deep core fitness workout that incorporates the essentials of belly dance, and I’ve spent a lot of time and care researching and developing it.
What is your weekly fitness routine? Fitness is vital for all of us. As dancers, our bodies are an artistic instrument that must be well tuned. For belly dancers, a good workout that includes belly dance is probably ideal, and probably most fun! All other dance and movement arts require routine practice of the basics, whether novice or professional. We too must drill the essential moves while fully extending through the spine to maintain our belly dance movement quality. Thus, RakasaFit serves as a foundation for our many diverse artistic applications!
But more, this integration with other core fitness elements also serves to attract fitness enthusiasts of all kinds to belly dance. It becomes a funnel for new interest and a source of new students for all of our classes! RakasaFit provides a consistent format that enables people to develop movement proficiency, and a gateway to explore the many artistic avenues of belly dance. As many of you know, I’ve taught these artistic avenues for over a decade. However, with my focus on RakasaFit, I am now offering this only on an occasional basis through special workshops and private lessons. So hey, TEACHERS, for the most part I am referring those who want to explore belly dance further to all of you!! Sound like a win-win?
Currently, classes take place at a lovely studio inside Alive Juice Bar in Shoreline at 20226 Ballinger Way, and sometimes at Mercer Island Community Center. Both locations are easy to access from Seattle and the eastside, and have free parking. Check the RakasaFit page for dates and how to register. Thank you for your continued support, let me know if you have questions, and I hope to see you in class!