“Little did they know just how much dance helped me. It enabled me to stay strong and heal quicker.”
Michelle Wincze -Abbruzzese
Activities: Dance, pole fitness, belly dancing
Q: What is the first sport you played?
I’ve always been a dancer. My mom put me into my first dance class at the age of 2 1/2. Ballet, jazz, hip-hop, tap…I loved it all. I studied martial arts, and horseback riding throughout high school and college, and competed for a number of years in local tournaments and equestrian shows. I later became a collegiate then pro cheerleader, and I currently am a pole athlete.
Q: What made you stick with it?
When it came to dance, it was creativity mixed with athleticism. It was a way to keep healthy and express myself at the same time.
Q: You were a professional cheerleader, what is the extent of your dance background and how has it transformed over the years?
(See above) Over the years I have studied and tried to learn from as many instructors as possible to enhance my skills. I was asked by a male friend of mine to try out for the Uconn Varsity Cheerleading Team as a freshman and fell in love with it instantly. During auditions I learned guy-girl partner stunts which required strength, timing, and athleticism. Two years later, I became Captain. A former Uconn Cheerleader contacted me while I was still at Uconn and asked me to audition for a dance team in the semi-pro basketball league (The SkyHawks, the USBL league). I danced as a SkyHawks’ “Cheerleader” for a few years before being asked to audition for another semi-pro team. All together, I danced for a total of 10 semi-pro and pro sports teams ranging from basketball (United States Basketball League, Continental Basketball Association), football (National Football League, Arena Football League, Women’s National Football League), baseball (Minor League Baseball League) and soccer (United Soccer League). Each team gave me the opportunity to perform with fabulous dancers and continue to enhance my skills as a performer.
Q: I know from our brief talk your schedule is very busy, when do you find time to exercise?
That’s the hard part because, on top of running Work It Dance and Fitness in Norwalk, CT, and currently teaching 10 classes a week, I work full time as an executive sales representative in the healthcare field. Although I get a decent workout when I teach, I am more focused on my clients’ workout. I demo what they will be learning and then walk around and make sure everyone is learning correctly and safely. I have to make time for myself and my own workout. I do this by taking other classes at Work It (Belly dance, which I now perform, Flexibility, Fusion Dance Fitness Cardio Dance) and practicing with my instructors in between classes (1-4 on a Saturday or Sunday). I will also travel to different cities (NYC, LA, FL, NV) to take higher skill level classes so that I can keep up with the latest techniques in my field of dance styles. I am traveling this September to Las Vegas to spend a week learning from dance/pole athletes from around the world.
Q: Talk about an event that changed your life? Do you believe being active contributed to the outcome of the situation in any way?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2005 and was sent into surgery for a lumpectomy then again for a sentinel node biopsy. The surgery took place right after I’d bought and moved into my first new home (which was already stressful) and I was scheduled to dance for the AFL’s NY Dragons the following week. I was told by doctors that I probably wouldn’t be able to dance for a while due to the surgery and that there was a chance I wouldn’t regain full range of motion of my shoulder. Little did they know just how much dance helped me. It enabled me to stay strong and heal quicker. Two weeks later, I was on the football field, in uniform dancing as if nothing had ever happened.
That year, I was voted by my teammates to represent our team in Las Vegas for the “Arena Bowl” as part of the AFL Dream Team Dancers.
I opted not to do chemo or radiation, instead I chose nutritional supplements and fitness as my remedy. I worked with a team of physicians including an oncologist, a naturopath, a homeopathic physician, and a biochemist. I kept my body healthy and I kept on dancing. A few years later my life became more stressful. In 2010, I decided to open Work It Dance and Fitness while continuing to work full time, which took away most of my personal “down time”. Shortly thereafter, I was put under a manager in my sales position who caused me incredible amounts of angst, to the point where I wasn’t taking care of myself as well as I had been. I wasn’t eating the foods that were keeping me in optimal health, and unsurprisingly, the cancer tumor returned. This time it returned to the sternum of my chest, a place that makes it very hard to remove. Again, I opted for a more natural way of healing my body with supplements and exercise, and used my studio as my “safe haven”; my place away from the stresses of everyday life where I can just dance, be happy, and share my passion with others. Of course owning a business comes with its own set of stressful issues, but at the end of the day, if I am able to positively affect one client’s life, then it is all worth it. One of my regular clients came to Work It after reading about my battle with cancer in the “About Us’ ‘ section of our website. She too was a survivor and shared with me her battle. She has told me on numerous occasions that she doesn’t know what she would do without Work It. Often saying, “This place means so much to me.”
Q: What is your hope for your future?
My hope is that I will be here for a long time to come, with a very successful dance/fitness studio and a comfortable fulfilling life. The tumor is still there, but seems to be stable with little growth. My studio is still open, but it’s a struggle every day bringing new people in the door to try the style of fitness we offer. I hear all of the time that they are “dying to try it” but I also hear every excuse why they haven’t come. “I have to lose weight first.” “When I become stronger I’ll try it.” “I don’t want to fall on my head.” My biggest hope is that I can find a magical way to convey to everyone with these concerns that they are completely wrong and our studio is for everyone, no matter size or fitness level.