Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Dancing: One Month Later

I have been taking dance classes for a month. I have learned a basic mambo step (break on two!), half-turns and right turns and inside and outside turns and the Suzy Q (where you basically cross your legs and pretend that you really have to pee). I have also learned all about dance shoes and how if your feet feel like they are in a tourniquet and your toes protrude desperately from the front, as if gasping for air, you are wearing them correctly.

But I have learned even more about myself and life and love and passion. . .well, not really love and passion, but I am just assuming that will happen eventually as the music gets faster and I learn how to make my body gyrate just right.

Here is what I have learned so far:

1. I am terrible at dancing. Terrible. My instructors say I think too much and get into my own head and they grab my hands and my arms and shake them as if to loosen them up and shake away my inherit awkwardness. I have learned that having a "chicken wing arm" is NOT a good thing. My brain and my body seem to have a disconnect - I want my leg to go over there, but instead it just sort-of shuffles slightly to the left. I'm like a stroke patient learning to walk again.

2. I do not look sexy. At all. I watch the other women in the class, most of them Latina, and they just look sexy, no matter what they are doing. When they do the basic step, their hips gyrate and their shoulders shimmy and their backs arch as if they will orgasm at any moment. When I look at myself in the mirror as I step forward and back, I look as though I am auditioning to be an extra in a bad zombie movie. If I do try to "be sexy", an instructor will rush over to make sure I am not having a seizure.

3. I am estranged from my body. I have never been an athlete or dancer, never learned to swim, never took ballet or tap as a kid. I can't do a cartwheel or handstand. I can't even jumprope. I do love yoga, surprisingly, and can make it through an advanced class without hurting myself, but that has not helped me feel particularly close to this fleshy blob that I call home. When I dance, I feel so distant from myself - I see that arm move and that foot slide, but I feel like I am using a remote control to make it happen. Like I am sitting on the couch playing a video game (a very very bad video game). One of my instructors was talking to me about "body isolation moves" and she might as well have been trying to teach me how to "wave my arms and fly". It just doesn't click with me. She told me that it would take time - I just hope the 40 or so years I have left on this planet is enough. I'm hoping for an afterlife so I can make it to the intermediate class.

4. I am tenacious. I have gone to class every single week. I stay late, watching the advanced level class. I practice at home. I listen to the music. I dance around my house. The instructors see my determination, my commitment. They work with me one-on-one. During the intermediate class, they will pull me aside and review what we have learned that night, repeating the moves with me over and over and over (and over) until I seem somewhat comfortable. They give me tips, moving my body, touching me here and there. They smile, they laugh, they support me. I tell everyone I am taking classes. I display my moves. I do not give up. I will not give up.

5. I can laugh at myself. Ok, this is not a new one - I spend most of my life laughing at myself. However, in the past, when I have been truly uncomfortable in a situation, truly out of my element, I have tended to shut down, quit, avoid. In my "beginner" class, I am the only true beginner. The others have all been dancing for years, just not to the mambo. But they have that comfort with their bodies that comes from dancing. One glance at the room of moving bodies will tell you that I am the outsider, I am the one who does not belong. They all know each other, talking, joking, giving those double kisses that only foreigners can pull off. I do not belong. In the past, I would have fled. But I don't. I stay, I smile, and I laugh at myself, I laugh through the awkwardness. I laugh instead of run. I laugh a lot.

6. I inspire. I was surprised at the reactions to telling the world that I am taking dance classes. People light up, they support me, and, most of all, they tell me what they have always wanted to try but have been afraid to - guitar lessons, voice lessons, dance class, foreign languages, sewing, karate. They are afraid to try something new, afraid to look foolish, that they won't be good enough. People seem genuinely fascinated that I am doing this - and they watch. They watch to see if I quit, if I give up, if I I am so terrible that I have to stop. When they see me week after week loving my dance classes, it seems to give them hope. Since starting my classes, I have had many friends start new adventures of their own and that is the best thing of all - that I have inspired adventure and life. That I have inspired someone to get out of their own comfort zone. That my dancing, my very very bad dancing, has meaning beyond myself.

7. And, finally, the one that I am most reluctant to admit to myself, I am not really that bad at dancing. A friend came to my class this week and watched us dance. Afterwards, he said to me "You looked amazing! You are doing so well!" and I BELIEVED him. Was he telling the truth? Who knows, probably not. But it doesn't even matter. I believed him. I allowed myself to think that, hey, I DON'T look that bad out there. I am moving, I am learning, I am living my life. I am dancing. And is there anything truly as beautiful as that?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dance Lessons

I don't dance. Well, I have danced and I do dance sometimes in the privacy of my own home when I can shake my booty without scaring small children. Overall though, dancing is something I have never felt comfortable doing. Probably because I was raised in a homogeneous small town where music was something that was played on a dusty old church organ on Sunday mornings and occasionally in my uncle's garage when the guys played pool and listened to tapes of Def Leppard and Guns N' Roses (the only people who dance to that are generally hanging off poles and there were definitely none of those in my hometown.)

I went to a small Christian school where dancing was not allowed ("dancing standing up leads to dancing lying down" my principal was fond of saying). Instead of school dances, we had "banquets" where we all sat at tables next to our dates eating the baked chicken and wishing we were hanging out with the heathens at the local public schools who were groping each other under the dimmed gymnasiums lights as they danced to Boyz II Men.

When I finally escaped to college, I was faced with dancing in public and quickly learned the only way to deal with nights in the clubs was to drink a lot and dress so slutty that no one would notice that my dance moves resembled a grand mal seizure. Under the strobe lights, pressed into the writhing mass of sweaty bodies, my inability to dance remained hidden.

So, whenever I am faced with a dance floor, I grow sweaty and scared, typically faking an injury or hiding in the bathroom until the music has stopped. I watch other people so effortlessly move to the music and I am jealous. I want to be out there! I want to feel the beat and grab a partner and enjoy life! I have tried. . .I have taken a deep breathe and walked out there and started to dance only to slink away quickly realizing that I literally had no idea what I was doing and others were not-so-subtly moving away from me and my flailing limbs.

I have often googled "dance lessons Tampa" and scrolled through the listings, looking at the photos of happy looking people paired off in couples being led in dance by some fit Ricky Martin look-a-like and I hover over the "register" button. Then fear and anxiety take over and I quickly close the page and clear my browser history, embarrassed as if I had been searching for porn. I just wasn't ready.

Until now. I am 37 and on my 38th birthday in SIX WEEKS I am travelling to Puerto Rico, an entire island of people who learned to dance before they learned to walk. I envision getting off the plane and being greeted by Salsa music and dancing airport employees. City streets full of women shaking their hips to the tropical music that fills the air. Latino men reaching out of doorways, grabbing the first woman they see and pulling them close into a sensual Merengue. And me. Standing there. Terrified.

I want to dance on my birthday. I want to go out and hear some music and dance in Puerto Rico. And not be terrified. So, I have decided to finally do it, I have finally signed up for Salsa dance lessons here in Tampa. I have waited too long. I start on Tuesday in a group class. A GROUP CLASS. That means there will be others in the room, others who will see me, others who will witness my awkwardness.

Life is short. Do something that terrifies you. DANCE.

(updates on the lessons to come. . .)