Prior to COVID times, Maricopa residents might have had a memorable experience going about their day at one of the big events in the city, when all of a sudden a dance party breaks out in the middle of everything.

Donning bright pink shirts, the dancers would bring a different sort of energy to an occasion, showing off their moves in well-choreographed routines. But they’re not goofing off — well, not just goofing off, anyway. It’s all for a cause that has impacted so many people in heartbreaking ways.

They belong to an organization called Dance for Tatas, which was founded in 2018 by Maricopa residents Jeannie Day and Donna Aguilar. Day and Aguilar were talking on the phone about their shared experience of losing someone to breast cancer. At the time, Aguilar had just lost a close friend who was only in her 30s and needed someone to talk to about the pain. Day, having lost her mother the same way, was there for her.

The two friends figured there were plenty of other people out there who needed that same level of support, and with October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they figured it would be a good time to provide it themselves. They were both Zumba instructors, so they took advantage of what they knew and held a Zumba-a-thon, raising about $1,500 in the process.

Seeing how successful that event was, the two decided to start Dance for Tatas, holding one big event a year while also popping up with flash mob dances at big Maricopa events. Since then, they have funded 60 mammograms and contributed to Impact One, which provides prosthetics, compression garments and hypoallergenic supplies that are very helpful to people being treated for breast cancer.

“I’m really proud we’ve been able to do that many mammograms,” Day said. “We want people to let them know they’re not alone in this battle.”

Since then, the activities offered by Dance for Tatas has expanded to yoga, running and other fitness. Day said the focus has been on improving survivors’ health outside of the cancer, which could then improve the outcome of that treatment.

Having helped so many people, Day has encountered plenty of emotional stories. She remembers a big event they held at Maricopa High School, and a recently diagnosed woman who didn’t think she would be able to attend because she was to be in surgery just a couple weeks later. She felt so alone at the time but managed to attend the event with the help of her husband, and she met many people who were going or had gone through the same ordeal she was.

Since then, she has gone through four surgeries and a lot of pain, but at least she has connections with people who can be there for her.

“It was something she really needed at the time, and we were able to provide it to her,” Day said. “It’s sad hearing about how prevalent breast cancer is in both men and women, but it seems like nobody talks about it, that the awareness isn’t out there. We’re trying to push mammograms at a much earlier age. … A lot of times, doctors aren’t listening, so we’re telling women if you think something is wrong, you have to push and push and push until you get the care you need.”

From the provocative name to the flashy shirts to the energetic dancing, Dance for Tatas has been trying to remove the stigma of talking honestly about breast cancer. Day remembers the pain and agony her mother went through during her treatment and how her doctor didn’t have the best bedside manner. One time, he yelled at her mother for taking the wrong medication, when it had been an innocent mistake caused by having too many to take.

Day would like to see more compassion from others when supporting breast cancer survivors, but she also wants men and women alike to be unafraid to seek the help they need. Those who want to be a part of Dance for Tatas or need help seeking resources can email her at jeannie.dancefortatas@gmail.com. There will also be an event called “Bros in Bras” at Honeycutt Coffee on Oct. 16, which includes a fashion show with prizes, for those who just want to show up.

“There are a lot of positives that come out of this if it gets found out early,” Day said. “So advocate for yourself, and if you feel something is not right, push for yourself. And if you need someone, reach out to us and we’ll help to get you the answers you need.”

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