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Performance tackles the fear, challenge of battling cancer

Alicats Studio dancers have personal connections

POSTED: January 13, 2013 1:30 a.m.

Cassidy Elliott paused for a moment, took a deep breath and stood motionless as her muscles trembled. A tiny bead of sweat formed on her forehead. She only had one thing on her mind.

Cancer.

At 10, the Alto resident has become very familiar with the "c" word. First it struck her grandmother, then her grandfather. And just last week, her cousin was diagnosed with leukemia.

Now Cassidy is dancing through the hurt and the pain. She’s putting all her energy into a special performance devoted to everything that cancer brings: loss, fear, joy and sorrow.

"I think its a really good experience for all those who don’t know how (cancer) affects their lives," she said.

She is dancing along with a hundred or so others from Alicats Dance Studio in Flowery Branch. The owner, Alison Woodbury, came up with the idea for "Cancer: The Struggle of Loss & Victory" during a pizza party for her dance class.

"We started talking about some of the artists that we lost (this) year to cancer, one being Adam Yauch from the group Beastie Boys," Woodbury said. "As we decided to play some of the Beastie Boys’ songs, and dancing to them in the studio, it hit me that these artists should be celebrated — that all of those who have been touched by this disease should be celebrated."

The wheels began to turn for Woodbury and the other instructors at the studio. The more they talked about the idea, the more dancers came forward with their own personal stories.

Woodbury has dealt with cancer herself.

"My mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle, stepmother, sister and, at 19, even I was diagnosed with cancer. I know I am not the only one, nor do I come from the only family, who has been touched by this horrible disease," Woodbury said.

Soon, the performance had gone from an idea to an actual event. Music was selected. Dances were choreographed. Costumes were ordered. A story was told.

"The Struggle of Loss & Victory" is a story of one woman’s journey with cancer — from diagnosis to the end outcome.

Interpretive dances were paired with moving music to chronicle the struggle. Each movement of the performance is titled to correspond with an emotion. The story unfolds from "Bad News" to "The Waiting Room" and eventually to "The Surgery" and "Treatment."

The dancers, ranging in age from 3 to adult, perform various roles throughout the story. Some are other patients, some are cancer cells and others are chemo cells. Even the surgery scene relates to an actual operating room.

"Oftentimes the operating room is described as a well-choreographed dance," Woodbury said. "To many, the thoughts about ‘The Surgery’ can be like an out-of-body experience, seeing the doctors moving quickly, synchronized and precisely through the motions of surgery."

Emma Miller, 16, has been dancing for nearly 12 years. Her grandfather battled cancer, so she knows all about hospitals, treatments and the fear they bring. She’s more than excited to take part in the performance.

"I think it sends a really powerful message that it’ll be OK. You’ll never be alone," she said. "Everybody can get through something."

Emma plays a cancer cell during the hip-hop dance. She has to imagine she’s flowing through the body ready to wreak havoc when the chemo cells attack.

Chemo cells like the one played by 12-year-old Jayci McIntyre. The Flowery Branch student also plays the part of a doctor and, near the end, an angel.

The performance reminds Jayci how she felt when she found out her grandfather had cancer. She’s more motivated now to spread awareness. But the best part for her, she said, is just getting to dance.

Many of the parents feel a personal connection watching their kids move about the dance floor.

Amy Slabiak waited backstage at a recent rehearsal for daughters Kinsey and Maddy. Slabiak recently lost her mother to breast cancer. It spread from one organ to another, she said as she wrangled with the girls’ dance gear.

Slabiak herself is free and clear of kidney cancer after having a portion of her kidney removed. Her uncle has throat cancer and her grandfather died of prostate cancer.

"It’s freaking me out," she said of the performance. "My whole family wanted to come when they found out it was going to be about cancer."

The first performance was held Saturday for friends and family. The dance will be performed again at the Hall County Relay for Life in June. All of the money for tickets sold went to the Relay efforts. The studio also will take the dance — a mix of ballet, tap and hip-hop — on the road for various competitions throughout the year.

The beginning of the performance is devoted to several entertainers in various genres of music who have battled cancer. Woodbury wanted to highlight those who have influenced dance, with tributes to Donna Summer, Etta James, Irish dancer Michael Flatley, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Olivia Newton John and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees.

But the biggest tribute is to family.

"Having something as important as your daughters to live for can mean the difference between life and death. And children want nothing more than to be there for the ones they love," Woodbury said. "Some think young children are not able to do much. However, they can always ‘Stand Up’ and show their support."

"Stand Up" is one of the final dances during the recovery, and ultimate victory, for the woman’s struggle. It is at the end of the story that the message of the entire performance becomes clear.

"Hope," said Abby Bryson, 12.

The Gainesville resident was eager to tell her story. She wanted to be a part of the performance to remember her aunt, who lived next door and died of liver cancer on Abby’s last birthday. It’s still hard for her to talk about.

Performing in the various dance numbers is really cool she said, but it’s also really difficult. The hardest part: "Getting through it without crying."

 


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