Occupation Can Transform Your Life in Unexpected Ways

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Occupation Can Transform Your Life in Unexpected Ways

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Life is mysterious. I never thought my husband, John, and I would ever leave our beautiful loft with its panoramic views in downtown Los Angeles. But one should never underestimate the power of occupation – in this case, ballroom dancing. It all started earlier this year with the AOTF Fundraiser, Dancing with the Stars. I don’t know what I was thinking when I signed up John and myself to be contestants. Was it my competitive streak? Was I simply being a good sport because I was soon to become AOTA President? Was I in my right mind? John and I had no interest whatsoever in ballroom dancing, we had only danced together twice in our nearly 20-year marriage and we actually spent years deliberately avoiding the dance floor. I really can’t tell you why I did it -- and never having watched Dancing with the Stars on TV, I didn’t have a clue what I was committing us to. However, I did know that occupational therapist Dr. Katie Jordan and her husband, Jerry, had founded the Atomic Ballroom in Orange County, Calif., and are very accomplished dance instructors. I asked Katie if she and Jerry would “coach” John and me for our AOTF Dancing with the Stars debut and, fortunately, they agreed to donate their time. We were so appreciative. With their help, we danced without looking like total fools. More than 21 practice hours later, there we were in Orlando, Fla., competing on the night before my Presidential Inaugural Address. And, oh my goodness, John and I won the best technical performance trophies!

What I didn’t know at the time -- and never could have anticipated -- was that my Texas-born, fly-fishing, snow-skiing husband was now hooked on ballroom dancing!  In May and June, when I had a heavy travel schedule, John took salsa, tango, cha-cha, waltz, rumba, swing and two-step dance classes. In every spare moment, he commuted the 24 miles to and from Pasadena to his ballroom dancing lessons. And when I returned from my travels, guess what: I began joining him in these lessons! Soon the occupation of dancing had taken over all our spare time.

Dance actually became the crucial element that persuaded us to move from our loft to a simple townhouse only eight blocks from the dance studio in Pasadena. I now have six pairs of ballroom dancing shoes and countless CDs of our favorite dance music. Today when we watch movies, they are ones with titles like “Shall We Dance” and “Singin’ in the Rain” or feature such stars as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It really is terrific as an “older” couple to have discovered dancing with all its multi-faceted and health-promoting benefits.

  • Hey Dr. Clark... it's always wonderful to hear your stories (in this case will be reading).

    For me, going on Facebook is actually a meaningful occupation.  As I hinted in my personal blog on here, I have now become a "differently able" person a month and a half ago.  In getting over this transition (about a week), I went on Facebook for specifically two things.

    1. Letting my classmates know about the fact.  I know it's not required in circumstances like this.  But, not only I felt emotionally better, but I realized that I gave them a gift that they would treasure for a long time.  After all, their experiences as future OT's will be enriched by their encounters with me.  Plus, these experiences can become therapeutic use of self later on in their careers.

    2. Learning what people with my condition are dealing with and use what I learned in OT and OS to help them.  For the earlier, I know for a fact that I am on the milder case of the condition.  But, the deficits are definitely severe enough that has affected me in practice... and the fact that I didn't know about the condition until recently (let alone what accommodations to ask for) didn't help.  For the latter, individuals and caretakers who has someone that has the condition have been amazed that what I am doing is bringing them hope and educating them about what OT could do for them in the process.  

    I feel that without Facebook (or other similar social networking sites), I might not have been able to get over the transition quickly.  I not only get support from individuals with the condition, but also caretakers, too.  Also, I would have constantly feel that I am alone in this battle, even if my classmates say that they love me for who I am regardless I have the condition or not.  Lastly, I was able to translate my lived experiences into OT language, which definitely have enriched the OT community as well.

  • How intriguing that you connect social networking to occupational science!  I am glad that your interaction with social media has allowed you to navigate your environment in a new way.

    Florence Clark

    AOTA President