Leaving for Cuba in:
"Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows." Pope Paul VI
For years I've had this crazy idea to dance around the world. My vision was to visit every state and every country and find a local partner to teach me their native dance (e.g. "Argentine Tango" in Argentina; "Flamenco" in Spain, etc.). The idea seemed pretty far-fetched, even to me, and I couldn't really picture it happening . . . until tragedy struck my family.
In 2010, my brother Paul was diagnosed with very advanced colon cancer and his death seemed imminent. However, Paul went on to live four more years, and he really lived until he died! He never complained about all he had to endure. Instead he handled it with courage and his "laugh-until-you-cry" humor. He was my inspiration.
After Paul died, I was the only surviving member of my family, and that was a real crisis for me. It made me do some real soul searching and made me ask, "What do I want to do with the rest of my life? However long that is." The answer, of course, was to Dance Around the World. It's perfect. It involves everything I love and everything I want to be. I love traveling. I've always wanted to be a writer and to become a better photographer. But, most of all, I've always wanted to be a beautiful dancer! Dancing Around the World is my soul!
I hope you’ll join me as I show you the world, the videos of my humble attempts to dance, and how I do this on a part-time salary. I'll show you how to find the money, the time and the resources to dance around the world too.
Having started this project at age 58, it’s also my mission to show my fellow seniors that it's never too late to pursue their dream!
My greatest wish is that my journeys will inspire you to ask and answer the question, "What do I want to do with the rest of my life?”. Then, as you begin to pursue your dreams, you too will help keep my brother's spirit alive.
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver
I was born eleven months after my brother so for one month out of the year we were the same age. Every year he’d call to ask, “How does it feel to be so damn old?” When it was my turn, I’d call to say, “Happy Birthday you old geezer. Are you in need of any assistive devices yet?” I miss those calls.
A few weeks after our yearly ritual in 2007, Paul was diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer stage IV, at age 54. Instead of collapsing in that dire prognosis, my brother lived his life to the fullest for the next four years - in a way that was truly inspirational to me. I'd like to share a little about those years. Maybe it will trigger a memory of someone who inspired you.
Paul spent as much time as possible with the two greatest loves of his life -- his daughters, Heather and Stephanie. He continued to work full time as a parts manager at Mack Truck and also decided to tackle a few unfinished projects at home. One thing led to another and he ended up landscaping and remodeling his whole house, almost entirely on his own.
His two favorite activities were golf and watching TV. The only thing that could possibly be more fun would be to rig up his golf cart with a TV and a satellite dish . . . which he considered.
Then he bought his dream car, a Mustang convertible . . . and his dream truck, a Harley Davidson . . . and a few days before he died, he had his eye on a Mercedes Benz . . . . and a puppy. He never gave up hope, and his doctors still use him as an example of how someone can live a full life, even with cancer.
Paul was one of those people who truly never complained about his illness or the things he had to endure. One way he coped was with his never-ending humor:
He referred to chemotherapy as "The Juice" and just needed to know which "Flavor" would be used this time.
After four years of being treated at Mayo Clinic, he joked that he knew enough about medicine to treat himself. Occasionally he'd playfully turn down invitations by saying, "Let me check my schedule to see if I can squeeze you in. Nope, sorry, no can do. I'm starting my medical residency that week."
Toward the end when Paul got weaker, he got a handicapped sticker. He really didn't look disabled, so when he parked in the handicapped spot, people sometimes asked what his handicap was. Paul's reply? "It's mental."
The night before he died, Paul was admitted to the hospital. The ER doctor explained what he was doing and said, "We're going to give you some albumin, Paul," to which he replied, "Nice ta meetcha Al Bumin."
Although Paul never went to hospice, he did check out one facility. He liked the parking lot because it had room for his car . . . in case he needed to go to an all-you-can-eat buffet. He really thought the hospice should have a bar. After discussing possible names, Paul thought it should be called "The Dead End".
If only Paul's little piston could talk . . . It's ridden the stunningly beautiful Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to San Francisco. It's been to San Jose, California and Silicon Valley. It's been to all the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico, the Mexican Riviera, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. It's been to Seattle, Portland, New York City, Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, MD. It's been "over the pond" to Portugal.
So far I've danced Bachata, Salsa, Bomba, West Coast Swing, Kizomba, and Swing Criollo. I even had the honor of dancing Merengue with a 100-year-old man in Costa Rica. There are 195 countries to see and hundreds of dances to do, so . . .
Since I was 57 years old when I started this project, I really struggled with the nagging thoughts that I'm too old and it's too late. To help dispel these beliefs, I searched for role models to show me what's possible no matter my age. I found these two amazing women!
"There is nothing we cannot do if we harness the power within us." - Tao Porchon-Lynch
Tao Porchon-Lynch was 84 years old when she had her hip replaced. Her surgeon said her flexibility would never be the same. Her response to him was to send this photo.
Tao had an advantage in her healing. She's been practicing yoga for 70 years and teaching it for 45 years. At 101 years "young", Tao is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living active yoga teacher. By practicing yoga's principles Tao has been able to control her body and mind to overcome the effects of aging.
Three years after her hip replacement Tao began Ballroom dancing competitively. Since then she's won over 600 1st-place awards!
Tao has had a fascinating life. Born in India, she marched with Mahatma Gandhi and later with Charles de Gaulle and Martin Luther King. In her early career she was a model and gained the title "Best Legs in Europe". During World War II, she moved to London and became a cabaret performer under the mentorship of Noël Coward.
After the war, she moved to the United States and became an actress under Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in movies like The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) in which she co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor. (You can learn more about her in the links below.)
I sent an email to Tao asking if she had any advice about my dream. She said, "Focus on breathing, have fun, and if you go to Bombay there’s a professional ballroom dancer I'd like you to meet!" - Visit Tao's website.
Umpha is particularly inspiring to me because our stories are similar. Both of us have had a passion for dance since early adulthood, grief was the trigger that brought both of us back to dance where we found healing, and even though neither of us seriously pursued dance for 40-50 years, our dream of dancing beautifully never died.
It was years before Umpha could pursue her passion. She had married a man from a royal family in Bangkok who frowned upon dancing. Eventually she divorced and moved to Chicago where she raised her children as a single parent, which left no time for dance.
Tragically, Umpha's granddaughter died suddenly of an aneurysm and Umpha was inconsolable. Even grief counseling didn't help. A niece encouraged her to attend an open house at a dance studio where she discovered that "when I'm on the dance floor my unhappiness disappears."
After six months of dance lessons, Umpha won a national Latin dance championship! To me, that's living proof that it’s possible to achieve your dream no matter how late you start. It’s my hope that since Umpha did it - I can too! —Read more about Umpha.
First I created a few rules.
Everywhere I go I need to do either a dance that originated there or one that’s popular there.
Occasionally, I'll do a trip that combines dance and volunteering.
I will take three to five trips per year.
Whenever possible I'll plan my trips to coincide with a dance event. Festivalsero is a great site that helps with this.
My focus in the beginning will be the U.S. states I've yet to visit and Latin countries in order to practice Spanish.
Of course all this is subject to change at any time . . . they're my rules!
There are approximately 195 countries in the world. At my current rate of travel I'll need to live to be 125 years old. (Note to self: Time to start eating right.)
Here's a fascinating TED Talk about a 75-year study on adult development. The study answers the questions, "What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life?" "How do we build a fulfilling, long life?" The study revealed the one thing that matters!
I study my shower curtain while I soak in the tub . . .
A note of caution! If you map faces inward like mine does, don't use an automatic shower/bathtub cleaner (the ones that spray the area when you push a button). I nearly lost Alaska before I realized the cleaner fades the map.
I check out the map on my garage wall . . .
OR . . . whenever someone says:
"Hey Karen, I've always wanted to go to ____________! Wanna join me?"