Interview with Hazel Minnick
Health Central: Hazel, we know that you met Chris Ingram by chance and that’s how you started to dance. Alzheimer’s is progressive, and while dancing gave you back your life in many ways, it did not cure your AD. How do you begin your days at this point in the disease?
Hazel Minnick: I am living proof that there is a means to live with Alzheimer’s, but life is still a daily battle for me. Each morning, when I awake, surrounded by PR posters of my dancing, I must process who I am and who I belong to. Also, I follow a careful diet that has worked for me. I exercise in whatever way my body will allow and I work on my next book.
HC: What was the greatest reward that’s come from your dancing? Improved physical abilities, mental alertness, or the social aspects?
HM: Tough question! I am so thankful that I have experienced the rejuvenation of my mind and body and discovered a means to live a productive, meaningful life from the benefits of my ballroom dance. However, the greatest reward from my dancing is the means to create my voice for the message of hope for the disease of Alzheimer's through my story and my dance so that I might bring hope to others on this journey. Feeling totally blessed.
HC: That’s a beautiful answer, Hazel. I know my last question was tough but here is one that is even tougher. Do you think that you'd be alive today if you hadn't begun ballroom dancing?
HM: In pondering this answer, I must first define "life." There is life with a beating heart and then there is life with a beating heart and a knowing mind. When diagnosed in 1999, I was told that without intervention the progressive lifespan of my Alzheimer's disease was around eight to 10 years. With the introduction of meds in 2004, then meds and ballroom dance in 2007, my predicted expiration date instead became a year of celebration.
Indeed, ballroom dance infused new life into my mind and body. Every day is a battle to still be me, and I must make a personal effort to not to succumb to the deep sleep of this disease. Without ballroom dance I would just have become another wheelchair lining a nursing home hallway. Today I live independently knowing that I am still me. The music and methodical movement of split-second decision making in the lead-and-follow process of ballroom dance blazes new trails and creates new neural pathways in my brain, which in turn rejuvenates my brain to process new memories.
Without a shadow of doubt, I truly believe not only am I physically alive, but I am mentally alive because of the continued process and enjoyable movement of ballroom dance ― not just on the ballroom floor but the constant dancing in the ballroom floor of my brain. When I can’t dance with my body, I dance with my mind.
HC: You suffered an injury while dancing but obviously that didn’t cause you to quit. What happened?
HM: Sadly, as can happen to any athlete, I dislocated my hip on the dance floor. The injury was definitely a turning point in my daily life but it is something I do not focus upon. It is just one more thing that I chose to overcome. I danced in water through the rehabilitation and after six months of recuperation and rehabilitation I performed on the Ryman Auditorium stage one more time as the reigning Silver Star, and I've continued to dance. I dance regularly in the water to practice my choreography for "Remember Me" that I dance with my grandson, Zak.
HC: Please tell us about "Remember Me."
HM: My signature dance is "Dare to Live, with the inspiring lyrics of "in this world of nameless faces no one truth only pieces, dare to live to the end,” but I'm in the process of choreographing a final dance with my 16-year-old, 6' 5" grandson Zak, a.k.a., Big Z. We dance a theatrical interpretation of the song "Remember Me." The dance partnership has created a special bond between us, not only as dance partners but for bringing understanding of Alzheimer's disease to the next generation.
The mini-documentary, which will be entitled "The Unlikely Dancer," will enable me to leave a legacy of hope, as well as my message of hope for the disease of Alzheimer's. I am determined to create a better understanding of this very misunderstood disease.
HC: You are now wrapping up your second book, to be titled The Unlikely Dancer, which will promote ballroom dance for rehabilitation of the mind and body. Yet you still aren’t done. You mentioned that a third book is planned, titled Dancing to the Light, which will focus on you and your words “dance the final dance home to heaven.”
To say that you are extraordinary, Hazel, is far too weak. You defy labels, which may be your secret. Thank you for giving us a look into how you’ve lived your life with Alzheimer’s, and for giving so many hope as you’ve shown how ballroom dancing changed the trajectory of your disease.
Find Hazel on Facebook at Dancing to Live.
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