Dance as Medicine: Moments of Self

By Ann-Maree Long
Scottish born dance artist Andrea Officer has lived a notable life. Diagnosed with the genetic condition cystic fibrosis at seven-years-old, she has found solace in dance, finding it both a medical treatment and a way to free her spirit.

Despite a worsening lung condition, Officer has persevered and followed her dream to dance. In February 2017, Officer joins creative director Tiina Alinen for Moments of Self, a series of community arts celebrations, honouring self, community and special places.

Founded in 2014, this contemporary dance class is designed for people of all ages, walks of life, and those who want to capture a moment of themselves through dance.

Officer says that Moments of Self has been a phenomenal experience for her love of movement. Dancing and reconnecting after such a long time brought on many emotions, reinforcing within her a strong passion and desire for dance.

“After 13 years of not dancing, the first contemporary class I did was really emotional. I remember coming home after it, feeling so fulfilled. I went to bed thinking ‘this is it.’ This is my purpose, my sense of freedom and love. I just instantly felt connected again,” Officer says.

Officer was thrilled with her involvement in this project and the vision of creative director Alinen.

“The project needs to continue, [because] the way Alinen has structured the show is empowering, allowing you to be true to yourself. Alinen is like a portal, she has this ability to tap into people’s souls,” Officer says.

About Andrea Officer

After moving from Scotland to spend a few young years growing up in Papua New Guinea, Officer was inspired by culture and art. Attending a performance by mudmen in Goroka and witnessing the freedom and energy they possessed, instilled in Officer a desire to dance.

“Dance itself releases the body and allows a freedom of expression… With dance you can access parts of yourself you didn’t know existed,” says Officer.

Pursuing Dance

Arriving in Australia in 1979, Officer enrolled in ballet classes. Years passed and she continued to make dance her priority. She successfully auditioned for Q.D.S.E and went on to complete her B.A in Dance at QUT.

Following her time at QUT, Officer danced professionally with Expressions Dance Company from 1994 – 2001, managing their educational touring program that traveled throughout Queensland.

Officer is not personally aware of anyone with Cystic Fibrosis who has worked in a dance project. It’s quite unheard of considering the impact of the condition on your ability to endure any sort of cardiovascular activity for long periods of time.

Officer continued to perform until she was thirty, despite the disease affecting her potential to dance. It is safe to say that people were impressed that she continued to follow her passion, considering she only had breathing function of 30%.

Due to her diagnosis, Officer’s lungs had been devastatingly affected by scar tissue. Her airways continued to fill with a thick mucus, a tar-like substance, which essentially would feel like she was drowning.

It became almost impossible to remove and after many years of suffering from infections and organ breakdowns, Officer sadly retired from professional dance.

From there, Officer’s health deteriorated further. With only 25% breathing capacity, she was on oxygen and house bound, waiting for a lung transplant.

Even during this time Officer didn’t completely give up her enthusiasm for dance.

“When I was fighting to survive, waiting for my lung transplant, I would dance in my lounge room on oxygen… As soon as the endorphins kicked in, the belief would come that I could make it. I could get through this trauma. Those messages can come from dance. You find inner strength, inner courage and inner determination,” says Officer.

In 2008 Officer received a lung transplant and began to stabilise. During this recovery time Officer took a long break from dance. After 13 years, Officer decided to leap back into it, which is when she began to take part in Moments of Self.

Officer currently works as a Pilates Instructor and Massage Therapist, and has just started teaching contemporary dance classes in Pullenvale for her local community. Her goal is to create a class where people can come along and have a release, dance, and be creative on a regular basis.