Dancing while Deployed with the Navy

When Two Worlds Collide – Dancing while Deployed with the Navy
By Captain Jenn Jackson, Operation CARIBBE Public Affairs Officer and Ballroom Dancer.

Advertisement
AP324-150PNG

When I practice ballroom and Latin dance, I plug into my mp-3 player, tie up my practice shoes, set my interval timer, and take a deep, cleansing, breath. Then I carve out some room on a bridge, avoid radars and boatswains cleaning weapons, and claim my real estate. I then allow the Royal Canadian Navy ship where I am practicing to slip away as I immerse myself in my dance exercises.

One of the things I love about my career as a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Public Affairs Officer (PAO) are the opportunities to participate in operations and tell the stories of the great work our military does both at home and abroad. Right now, I am currently deployed to the Eastern Pacific on the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) Kingston-Class vessel Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Nanaimo for Operation CARIBBE – the Canadian contribution to the US-led Operation MARTILLO which aims to intercept and disrupt the shipment of drugs from Central America to Canada and the United States.

In addition to being a CAF PAO, I am also an avid competitive ballroom and Latin dancer who usually trains up to seven hours a week. With more than two months on an RCN vessel, I am taking two usually separate aspects of my identity – the military member and the dancer – and merging them together on the high seas.

Navy Ship Obstacles

This is my first extended sail, so figuring out how to transform an area on a Navy ship into a temporary dance studio took some thinking. The ship on which I am deployed is only 55-metres long overall, and almost all of the spaces are small and cramped. The “gym” is located in the back part of the bridge and consists of a treadmill, rowing machine, some bikes, and free weights. Space is a luxury everywhere, and there certainly is no ballroom – or even wooden floors – on board.

The floors themselves are an obstacle. Instead of the smooth and shiny floors I am used to, maintaining safety at sea means that the decks have rough surfaces to keep sailors from slipping and sliding as the ship rocks and rolls with the waves. Finally, the heat – even though it is November, we are close to the equator and the average temperature is 28 degrees Celsius – before adding in about 75% humidity. There is some air conditioning on the bridge, but it is limited. There are days I feel I am swimming instead of dancing!
A lot of challenges to overcome, but not impossible.

The Best Laid Plan…

I look at this deployment as an opportunity to really nail down some of the little details that have been on my dance ‘to do’ list. All the exercises I chose can be done in a small space without needing the floor to be too slippery – so on paper it works!

…Usually only Survives till First Contact

Well, that’s the plan, but here is the reality…

Kingston-Class ships move a lot on the open ocean!
This adds an unexpected challenge to all my exercises – but on the other hand, the core work needed to maintain my balance is going to pay dividends when I get home. I have discovered there is a real art to doing Cuban motion on a platform that sways beneath you and rocks forward and back. The bonus is that there are handrails that act like Barres for stability.

Doh! Sea Sickness!
My first couple weeks at sea were a little rough. I had to wear a sea sickness patch that made me feel pretty fuzzy in the head and a little dizzy. Since I stopped wearing it, I feel okay most days, but there are those few rougher days at sea where going my stomach is a little iffy as I dance. I have adjusted now, but it was rocky there for a while…

She is doing what?
My fellow sailors, needless to say, were not sure what to make of a new officer on the ship doing somewhat odd exercises. Even my Commanding Officer, who knew I was a dancer ahead of time, took a few moments one of my first days to figure out that I was walking through dance routines on the forecastle (front deck of the ship). However, once it became a regular routine, the fact that I was doing rumba walks to the radar and back on the bridge didn’t seem unusual anymore. I became the same as everyone else working out in our little gym.

Needing to just dance.
One of the hardest things is that there really is no space to just go and full out dance on the ship. Dance is a big part of my personal stress relief so when we get busy (and boy do we!) and I don’t get the opportunity to practice for a couple days, I start to feel a bit stressed, frustrated, and irritable. It usually resolves with a good practice to burn off the steam and disconnect from ship life but there are still times when I just want to dance full out.

One of the hardest things is that there really is no space to just go and full out dance on the ship. Dance is a big part of my personal stress relief so when we get busy (and boy do we!) and I don’t get the opportunity to practice for a couple days, I start to feel a bit stressed, frustrated, and irritable. It usually resolves with a good practice to burn off the steam and disconnect from ship life but there are still times when I just want to dance full out.

Keeping it Realistic till I get Home.

I came into this deployment knowing dance was going to be a challenge, and I am staying positive simply because I take time to look after myself and just dance. I may find myself stumbling around trying to keep my balance, but even the rockiest days at sea are great days when they are dance days.

I usually keep my military and dance identities separate, but since I live where I work on this ship I have had to find a way to blend them together. In many ways my overall understanding of who I am is growing with each nautical mile we travel. I firmly believe that as people we are always changing and evolving and most limits we encounter are those we place on ourselves. I came on board not knowing how these two parts of who I am would come together. It was a personal challenge to take those first dance steps on the bridge – but I am proud that I did and that I figured out how to be a truly military dancer.

I’ll be home in time for Christmas, and I am looking forward to getting back inside a studio and working with my instructor again. But until then, I am absolutely loving what I am doing onboard HMCS Nanaimo for Operation CARIBBE. From telling the stories of my fellow sailors to snapping photos of the Gnaval Gnome, I am slowly and surely dancing my way through my Navy days at sea.

Oh, I should mention that I am actually in the Royal Canadian Air Force… but that’s another story…

Author: Captain Jenn Jackson
Exclusively for Dance Comp Review

Facebook Comments