Art provides an outlet for expression, interpretation and change, sometimes about the world around us, but more than not these avenues of discovery are personal. This is one of those personal stories. Long time CHAW student, Jayson Hait, shows us how the arts can lead to more than just opening up our minds to growth and creativity, it can lead to great personal change! We have all heard of the "healing power of the arts" and at CHAW we work to bring this power to all who enter through our doors; Jayson's story does just that. We are so proud to share Jayson't story and how she harnessed the healing power and let the art of dance aid in her quest to quit smoking!
Tapping into Good Health
By Jayson Hait
On my calendar, Monday nights are special. Why? That’s when Instructor Extraordinaire Heather Whyte teaches classes in Adult Tap and Ballet at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW). Since April 2007, my feet have been making a joyful noise, performing Flaps, Shuffles, Ball Changes, Pull Backs, and Buffaloes—among many other tap steps. Heather’s classes help to balance my busy work schedule. And, as a devoted Washington Capitals fan, attending hockey games also provides a diversion from project deadlines. However, a Monday night ticket doesn’t supersede tap class; I just arrive at the arena afterward.
Dancing is a fun way to stay physically active and mentally alert—learning different routines—while making new friends. For each session, Heather adapts her approach to accommodate students’ various levels of proficiency.
Still, my efforts had often lagged behind those of classmates. First, given a 40-year habit of cigarette smoking and its effects on my health, breathing was an issue during the more energetic routines. Second, after a trio of surgeries, my right knee no longer benefited from the cushion of cartilage, and a brace provided support during class. (In my repertoire, a Heel Lift replaced a Hop.) Sometimes, my role was that of an out-of-breath spectator, rather than a participant, as others executed quick combinations, their taps clicking rhythmically across the floor. (Visions of performing the complete Time Step, including the Double Triple, danced in my head like sugarplums.)
CHAW received my registration, session after session, year after year. Yet, I knew that something had to change. Because tap classes meant more to me than cigarettes, the logical next step was to quit smoking. As it turned out, Mother Nature affirmed the decision. On Friday morning, January 6, 2017, while battling congestion and a fever, I slogged into my doc’s office. During the exam, we briefly discussed the topic of smoking and my intention to quit. Back home, the rest of the day focused on taking prescribed antibiotics, as well as consuming mass quantities of tea and chicken soup.
The next evening, while wrapped in a blanket, snuggling with Kismet (my Divine Feline) on the living room sofa, I watched the Washington Capitals shut out the Ottawa Senators 1-to-0. A congratulatory cigarette was my last. On January 7, 2017, I quit cold turkey. Even the spare packs in my freezer found their way into the trash. Tap mates were eager to provide encouragement, when I shared the news in class. Other friends and family members expressed their approval, as well.
Winter segued into spring, and my stamina gradually increased—along with the resolve to perform some of the more challenging steps that I had not been able to execute. Spring also signaled the end of the regular hockey season and the start of the Capitals’ quest for the Stanley Cup.
As the team fought their way through the Round 1 Playoffs, classmates indulged my enthusiasm with every win. When the Capitals lost the critical Game 7 of Round 2, fellow tappers were concerned that cigarettes might temper my profound disappointment. However, the determination to remain smoke-free prevailed, even though the Caps did not.
During each new session, Heather refreshed the basics and taught more combinations and routines, plus trick steps. And, as my breathing improved, it became easier to keep up with my tap mates. On December 9, 2017, CHAW presented a Student Showcase, and our class performed. Heather had choreographed “My Girl,” by The Temptations, and “Jingle Bell Rock,” by Bobby Helms. That second tune featured three levels of the Time Step—Single, Double, and Double Triple—and I didn’t miss a beat.
The next tap session begins on January 8, 2018, the day after my first anniversary of being tobacco-free. I’m looking forward to learning new steps from Heather; enjoying the camaraderie among fellow tappers; and, eventually, watching the Caps win the Stanley Cup!