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Cancer Saved My Life – A Ballroom Dance Story by Emilee Garfield



In our world of dancesport, we sometimes can get really caught up in our work and forget about how inspiring real-life stories are. In this article, I am sharing the story of Emilee Garfield, a cancer thriver, who discovered a real passion and love for ballroom dancing.

About Emilee Garfield

Emilee has recovered from cancer twice and it is her mission to help other cancer survivors live with hope and joy.

She was first diagnosed at age 4 with a rare cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. After two years of grueling radiation and chemotherapy, she survived.

In 2015, she was diagnosed with stage 3c ovarian cancer.

Recovering and exercising

At the time of her recovery from ovarian cancer, Emilee was a single mom with three children. She had no choice but to return to work as a Yoga/Pilates instructor as soon as possible, with her ileostomy. There were no exercise resources available to help her safely rebuild her core muscles, but she knew movement was medicine and that she would heal faster by gently moving her body.

Creating resources

While recovering, Emilee wrote her book Reclaim Your Strength and Hope: Exercises for Cancer Core Recovery. She researched and taught herself how to rebuild her strength and flexibility. Emilee created a volume of over 200 gentle movement exercises and stretches to help cancer survivors feel better in their bodies during a time when everything seems like it’s falling apart.

In 2016, Emilee founded The Cancer Core Recovery® Project, a non-profit foundation that provides educational exercise programs, workout videos, and instructional training manuals to help survivors of ovarian cancer enjoy a better quality of life.

Emilee has been teaching Yoga and Pilates for the past 18 years at her studio, The Loft, in Santa Barbara, California. She is a certified New Life Story® coach and her passion is teaching people of all shapes and sizes how to love and honor their bodies, no matter what.

Let’s discover more about how ballroom dancing helped Emilee Garfield recover from ovarian cancer.

Cancer Saved My Life - A Ballroom Dance Story by Emilee Garfield

Bianca: When did you start dancing and why? What do you love most about ballroom dancing?

Emilee Garfield: One day I walked by a new dance studio in my town and it was a ballroom studio. I had never danced ballroom before and I had always wanted to dance like those beautiful women on Dancing With The Stars. My body was weak and my hair was just growing back in. I was only four months post-chemotherapy. I told my daughter that I am going to start dance lessons and one day maybe compete on the show, Dancing With The Stars. She told me I would embarrass myself and that I was too old. HA! I was forty years old. It became a dare and I wanted to show my kids that it doesn’t matter if you are a dancer or not, not if you put your time and effort into anything, you will succeed. I was not a trained ballroom dancer. I had danced in high school and college, but I was just average. I was never the star of the show. I was very shy and insecure about my body. I was struggling with depression and memory loss from chemotherapy. And to be honest, I needed to feel ALIVE again.

Bianca: How did ballroom dancing help you in your recovery? What is the most valuable lesson that ballroom dancing has taught you?

Emilee Garfield: I was just beginning to rebuild my life. My motto became GO BIG or GO HOME! So, I started to train with a private instructor named Vasily Goslin. He was from Russia. The first lesson I learned was the cha-cha. It was so fun and I wanted more. I was addicted from the first class. My body had to be trained in this new style. My body was really stiff and I was recovering by having an Ileostomy, colon bag on my tummy. I had a lot of scar tissue in my core and if you do ballroom, you know it’s all about your core.

Before I knew it, I was training for my first ballroom competition at Emerald Ball. I couldn’t believe it. It was like everything I had been dreaming of was coming true. Karina Smirnoff was in my studio and I had a few private lessons with her. She taught me one thing that I took away from dance and it is what helped me win five 1st place prizes in my first competition! She told me to smile. Have fun. That is what people notice. Maybe I am not the best ballroom dancer, but I can guarantee you that when I am on the dance floor I am one of the happiest and most grateful people out there.

I remember my first time on the floor I was so nervous. I couldn’t afford a new fancy dress or wear high heels. I was in a friend’s used orange dress with my flat beginner shoes on. It didn’t matter. I danced my heart out.

It wasn’t about ever winning for me, it was challenging myself that I can do anything I put my mind too. I put myself in the most uncomfortable situation, learning how to dance with a partner. What it taught me was trust. I created a life-long friendship with my teacher. He helped me through a very difficult time in my life, cancer and a divorce. He gave me back the confidence I had been lacking. Danced helped me believe in myself again. It was my medicine. I never took any drugs for my depression. I just danced.

Learning to dance ballroom was and still is a challenge and that is why I love it. It pushes me out of my comfort zone. It teaches me how to overcome obstacles. Some days I get mad at my teacher and frustrated because I want it to be perfect. What I’ve learned is that life is not perfect and that is ok. Make the best of your life every day! Dancing helps me remember this.

The most valuable lesson that dance has taught me is that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. It just takes determination and literally taking that first step. It has taught me to not let fear hold me back. You will never know what you are capable of unless you just go for it. And I did.

Bianca: How did you move pass difficult moments as a dancer?

Emilee Garfield: There were many times when I would get frustrated and want to give up. I would tell myself, “I suck,” and tell my teacher that I can’t do this. My teacher always told me that I could do it because he truly believed in me. He told me that I had a natural talent, and the gift of dance, and to please not give up. I owe it to my teacher.

On the days when I would cry and feel bad that I couldn’t get a dance step, I would have to take a little break, talk to myself and use mantras like, “You can do this”, “Get back up”. I looked back at my life and reminded myself of the huge obstacles that I just overcame: battling cancer and recovering from major surgery. I knew if I could survive cancer and fight back, that I could learn the cha-cha. I would train my brain to tell myself that I was unstoppable and that I would go the distance and do what it took to make it to my first ballroom competition. Basically, it was all a mindset for me.

Bianca: What advice would you give to dancers in terms of body positivity?

Emilee Garfield: This is so important. I have had body shame all of my life. I have scars all over my body that nobody can see. I have been the worst critic of my own life and body. What I have learned from almost dying of cancer is that we are all beautiful in our own way. We are not supposed to be like others because God made us different. We all have scars. Maybe they are not physical, but we all have something inside of us that tells us that we are not good enough.

I am working on this myself and would love to see all women embrace their bodies with respect. It doesn’t matter what color we are, what shape we are, we are all beautiful. Learning to let go of my own body shame has opened me up to so much more happiness. When I catch myself, that inner negative voice, telling me, “You are not pretty,” or “You are not good enough,” I have to remind myself that these are just lies. We all do it, so let’s begin to change the story of body positivity. You are what you think. Think positively about yourself!

Cancer Saved My Life - A Ballroom Dance Story by Emilee Garfield

Bianca: What is the most important thing you learned by fighting cancer?

Emilee Garfield: The most important thing that I learned fighting cancer is that life is short. DO NOT waste your time on negativity. That means negative people too. Find people that lift you up and stick close to them. Chase your dreams and never give up because anything is possible. Trust me, if I did it so can anybody else. Create a plan and take action steps to get to where you want to go. That is my advice. Life is what you make of it, so make it a good one. That is a choice only you can make.

You can learn more about how to work with Emilee on her website:

To donate to her foundation or to learn more about her mission to help cancer survivors in recovery, visit:

Connect with Emilee on Facebook and Instagram.

The post Cancer Saved My Life – A Ballroom Dance Story by Emilee Garfield appeared first on Dancesport Life.

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Is Dancesport An Individual Sport Or A Team Sport?



Dancesport, besides being a form of art, is also very athletic and it is also considered a sport. Generally, sports have been divided into two main categories:

  • Team sports
  • Individual sports

Because they are two different categories, they also shape you in different ways and teaches you different things in relation to yourself and with others.

Individual sports

They place you face to face with the reality of the competition. Only you can affect your performance and your result in a positive or in a negative way. Then, when you compete, you cannot count on the help or support of anybody else. There’s only you on the field, with your strength and your fears. What they teach you is that you have to rely only on yourself and be confident.

The peak of individual sports is that you don’t have to split the victory with anybody else. It’s you that wins and only you that loses.

Team sports

They are all about learning how to work as a team – several people discovering how to work together. They teach you how to position yourself with the other members of the team. You have to determine how to work with the others in any circumstances.

Most importantly, you have to learn to accept others’ mistakes – how to lose even if you played good. But one of the best parts is that you can count on the help of your mates and sometimes you win even if you didn’t perform at your 100%.

Dancesport – individual & team sport

Then in which category do we put dancesport? The competition is between couples, so we have to consider them as individual players competing against each other, but a couple is made of two athletes. So would you define dancesport as an individual or a team sport? What if it is both at the same time?

Why a team sport?

Definitely, you can say that dancesport is a team sport. First of all, there are two people trying work as one and the connection between the two partners is crucial in dancing. Everything needs to be in harmony and whatever one partner does, will affect more or less the other. If you make a mistake or do not perform at your best, the other half of the “team” can’t show their best.

Nevertheless, same as in any other team sport, you learn to accept and work with your partner as they are. Along with your coach, you decide what are your strengths and weaknesses and use them strategically. Furthermore, at the base of the partnership should be faith and support. You should believe in each other.

Why an individual sport?

At the same time though, dancing is so much individual. It is you on the floor. As dancing is a sport, you need to have the right technique, you need to be in shape, and take care of your diet. Nobody is going to do it for you – not your partner and certainly not your trainers.

Furthermore, being also a form of art, in dancing, you need to perform for the audience and engage with them. You need to translate the emotions you get from the music and your partner into your own movement. This is what will differentiate you among the other couples. You must be unique and together with your partner, your couple will be recognizable.

Dancesport shapes you as an athlete and as a person like no other sport. It is such a particular situation where two people become one unit, still being individuals inside it.


Also, make sure you check 4 Aspects of Dancesport Which You Won’t Find In Other Sports


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What Dancesport Training Camps Should You Go To?



One of the most important parts of the life of dancers is the preparation before a competition. Usually, before a busy season of competitions, there are several camps organized by great dancers or clubs. The role of camps is to help you develop into a better dancer through mastering the technique and learn key principles of dancing from the best teachers.

We have already discussed the topic of training camps in another article here, but this time we simply want to point out some of the best camps from the WDC and WDSF worlds.

1. THE CAMP – Wuppertal, Germany

Most of us dancers search for lectures online. In your searches is impossible not to stumble upon some lectures from THE CAMP – Wuppertal. But, what makes this camp so great?

First of all, it has some of the great teachers from the industry and the location – The Historical Town Hall – is absolutely stunning. Everything is so well thought and the purpose is to leave Wuppertal inspired and focused.

Here is the teachers’ list of the 2019 edition that has just ended:

What Dancesport Training Camps Should You Go To?

To keep a close eye on the next year’s event make sure you visit their website or Facebook Page

2. Dancing Superstars Festival – Bremen

In 2019 the Dancing Superstars Festival will be at its 6th edition and it is announced better than ever. The coaches that will hold the workshops are some of the biggest legends: Slavik Kryklyvyy, Catia Vanone, Fabio Selmi, or Julie Fryer just to name a few.

Here you can see the full list of coaches and apply for the Congress that will happen between 31st of May and 2nd of June. And a small hint from us, don’t miss out on the Galaball on June 1st. You’ll witness some outstanding shows from great dancers in a glamorous ambiance with a live orchestra.

3. Summer Dancecamp – Denmark

What’s a summer without a dance camp? Well, the perfect one would be the Summer Dancecamp. Why is it perfect? They are, as they state on their website a “dance camp independent of federations, dance schools, clubs and organisations – everyone is welcome regardless of affiliation”.

World Champions Kristina and Peter Stokkebroe and Frank Høgh are on their 8th year of organizing this camp for every dancer of any level to come and learn from the best. For us, it sounds like the perfect environment where every dancer will feel welcomed.

This year the camp is going to take place between 7th – 12th July, so make sure you sign up here.

4. Edita Daniute International Training Camp – Trakai

Happening in Lithuania between 14th and 21st of July, this camp organized by Edita Daniute – one of the best names from the ballroom world – is meant to develop all the aspects of a ballroom dancer. You will have morning jogging, aerobics & stretching, lectures and stamina practice.

Coaches: Edita Daniute, Mirko Gozzoli, Fabio Selmi, Pietro Braga, Salvatore Todaro, Catia Vanone, Alexey Silde, Alessandro Firmo, Marek Chojnacki, Michele Bonsignori, Anastasia Titkova.

5. Team Vivo Latino with la Grande Orchestra Italiana – Italy

Between 19-21 July, in Italy, Team Vivo Latino is organizing the biggest International Training camp and competition in Southern Italy. The camp and the competition will be in Mariotto which is 30-40 minutes by car or transfer from the Bari-Palese airport.  

Team Vivo Latino camp has one of the best line-ups of coaches. Are these ringing a bell?

  • Hans Galke
  • Sergey & Melia
  • Paul Killick
  • Andrej & Melinda
  • Viktor Nikovskiy
  • David Yin
  • Goran Nordin
  • Jukka & Sirpa
  • Maurizio Vescovo
  • Joanna Leunis.

And this is not all! The highlight of the event is going to be the “Jungle Pool Party” on the 20th July and the wonderful Grande Orchestra Italiana.

For updates make sure you follow Team Vivo Facebook or the organizer’s Instagram.

6. S&F Camp – Moscow

S&F Camp is organized by Alexey Silde and Anna Firstova dedicated mostly to latin. It is held in the Crocus Expo usually at the beginning of January and the second time it’s at the end of August and lasts for 5-6 days. During these days, the schedule looks like this: in the morning you have stretching sessions, around 4 PM you’ll have general physical preparation and in the evening there are practice sessions.

7. ZK Camp – Moscow

The ZK Camp is organized by Dmitry Zharkov and Olga Kulikova and is dedicated only to standard dancers. Same as the S&F Camp, it is held in Moscow in the Crocus Expo. The first ZK Camp is at the beginning of January and the second time is in September and usually, it lasts 3-4 days.

The schedule of the day is divided into two parts: physical preparation and practice sessions in the evening. Also, there are separate groups for children up to Junior II and separate groups for Youth. In charge of these groups are the teachers’ assistants: Matteo del Gaone, Evgeny Nikitin and Anton Besedin.

8. International Championships Preparation Quality Camp – Warsaw

Is organized by Lukasz & Aleksandra Tomczak from 13th to the 16th September in Warsaw, Poland. As the name suggests this camp is dedicated for those who are preparing to give their best at the International Championship that will take place on the 8th of October 2019.

The full list of teachers will be announced soon, but for now here are some of the names: Lyn Marriner, Massimo Giorgianni, Greg Smith and of course Lukasz & Aleksandra Tomczak. If you want to book your place, you can write to Lukasz on his Facebook or Instagram.

9. Mabo Training Camp – Italy

During 19-22 September you can participate at the Mabo training camp and receive valuable insights from some of the biggest legends of the industry.

What Dancesport Training Camps Should You Go To?

For future details, you can check the website or simply write to

10. Transylvanian Grand Prix

Transylvanian Grand Prix is one of the most important dancesport events in Romania. Top WDSF couples from around the come and fight for a place in the finals. The best thing about this event is the Transylvanian Training Camp which brings teachers such as William Pino, Pietro Braga, Barbara Ambroz, Giordano Vanone, Colin James and many others.

For now, there are not many details about the 2019 schedule, but we are excited to see what the Transylvanian Grand Prix has installed for us. In the meantime, you can read more about the 2017 event, as we were happy to participate at it.

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Maintaining The Core Principles & The Development Of Dancesport



Development of dancesport

In dancesport, as in any other sport, there are adjustments in the procedures and regulations that have the purpose of developing and keeping this sport evolving. There might be changes in the Federations, modifications in the ways adjudicators mark the dancers, different rules for costumes and routines or innovative ideas for the future of the sport.

Furthermore, as in any other form of art, in dancesport as well there are trends and currents that make an impact on the way dancers express themselves through their routines and movements. These trends come without doubt from the social environment. For example, in the ’60s, the ballroom and latin routines were more conservative let’s say. But so was society. Nowadays people express themselves more freely; the rhythm of life is much faster. And so is the rhythm in dancing.

Nevertheless, if we wish dancesport to maintain its identity, we should always keep in mind the core principles and the roots of this beautiful sport and art form. No matter if we are active competitive dancers, teachers, officials, adjudicators or dance enthusiasts.

Core principles

In a thought-provoking interview we had with Espen Salberg at the 2018 Blackpool Dance Festival, we tackled some important aspects like what he values at a dance couple or the evolution of dancesport.

Value of partnering

Dancesport is a style of dancing that is done in a holding position, thus the partnering skills are essential in order to create a harmonious dance.

Dancing together requires certain chemistry between the two dancers. As Espen said, dancing should be a conversation, a “question and answer situation”. This is obtained through a coherent choreography, leading & following ability and technique. You should see the dance actions being attuned and the bodyweight used in the right manner.

True leading

A very big topic of discussion in our world is the “lead & follow” subject. In dancesport, the man should be the leader and the woman should follow; the man gives the action and the woman has the reaction. Espen encourages men to actually be in charge of the situation and to command the right way.

Correct footwork

Espen confessed that he loves beauty. And what else are the ladies of ballroom & latin but a true depiction of beauty?

Nonetheless, it does not matter how superb the lady is with her hair, make-up, and dress. As long as her footwork is not impeccable, everything is for nothing. For Espen, beautiful leg actions are crucial in dancesport.

Joy of dancing

Let’s not forget that the reason we all dance is because it makes us feel good. This is the way we express ourselves. We love the music, the movement, the emotions, the show, our partners, the crowd and the other competitors.

As Espen puts it, dancers come in on the floor with sheer pleasure and they fill the room. In the end, we wouldn’t want to see a dancer that looks that he or she doesn’t want to be there.

The future of dancesport

Having in mind these values, we also need to think about where dancesport is going. What trends should we follow and which ones should we ignore? What’s for sure is that there should be a balance between slow & fast, traditional & innovative, artistic & athletic.  

“I hope in the reality of maintaining the character of the different dances packaged in a contemporary way – that is basically my desire, my wish.”
Espen Salberg


If you want to watch the whole interview and find out more about Espen Salberg’s vision and career, click here.

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