Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I Used to Dance

I used to dance.

I wasn't that great at ballet or jazz or even modern... the three styles we learned in middle school classes. The only reason I took dance on into high school was because I didn't know what to replace it with. The theater class was full, and I'd already been in dance so at least it was a known quantity.

I don't remember how long we were in that freshman class before the teacher told us to split into groups and choreograph our own routines. I do remember that my only friend in the class was Tina and she picked our music, "No Diggity" by Blackstreet. Off to the gym we went, playing this hip-hop song and working out moves. At that point, it was probably me just doing whatever moves Tina told me to do. Aside from my 5th grade obsession with En Vogue, I was surrounded by bluegrass and country western music. The little bit of R&B I knew was pitiful.

So, there we were, doing our thing on one side of the gym, when we heard another group talking about us. They'd paused their own routine to watch ours. The gist of their comments can be summed up like this: "Those white girls can dance."

It turns out my body was not made for ballet and jazz, but it did know a thing or two about rhythm. Dance became my confidence currency. My friend, Catherine, started calling me "Black White Girl" when she saw me dance backstage after a theater performance one night. I'd quit taking the school classes, but I hadn't stopped moving.

I went from standing on the sidelines at parties to diving into the thick of things, my body pressed against another body. Boy, girl, didn't matter. The point was to dance, to feel the music in my muscles, to know that my body knew what it was doing.

Until that moment, that acknowledgment from the outside that something about my physicality was right, I had been at odds with my body.

Too skinny.
Too pale.
Too freckled.
Too flat-chested.
Too oily.
Too weak.

There was always something wrong with me.

All of that changed when I let myself dance.

I stopped dancing when I got married. I had good reasons. By that point, the dancing I did was out at nightclubs, my body pressed against the body of some man I didn't know. I never gave out my number. I didn't drink or talk or flirt. I rarely got their names. I just went to dance, to feel the power that existed inside my limbs. But, if we're being honest, it was vertical sex with clothes on. The choreographed routines had long slipped away. What used to be about connecting to my body turned into a connection to someone else's body, allowing how they moved with me to boost up my flagging confidence.

I did go to a club once after I got married. I had two kids by that point, but I was visiting a friend in Virginia, my kids states away. We decided to go out dancing at a club called Corned Beef.

They played techno music.

I stood there, baffled by the speakers. What was that stuff? How was I supposed to move to it? And who with? I no longer needed other bodies to tell me what mine could do. My body had twice created new life. My body could rock it.

My friend and I danced together for a bit, but the music was a disappointment and we soon gave up and headed home.

I still dance in my kitchen when no one is looking.

When I started back to school last month, a full twenty years since that first dance routine to "No Diggity" in the gym at Lower Richland High School, I was nervous. My confidence was a mess.

So I made a playlist. 90s R&B blasted from my speakers in the week leading up to my first class. I dance in the driver's seat. My kids laugh or roll their eyes, and that's okay.

Because it works. I feel those rhythms inside my skin and I remember how I used to move, and I know I can do that again. Maybe I am not heading off to a hip-hop class, but I am heading off to class, and if my body can remember how to dance, so can my mind.

Who knows, maybe one of these days, I WILL head off to a hip-hop class.

1 comment:

  1. I completely get where you are coming from. I used to dance. Not sure I was ever good but I loved the feeling. When I had a family, it got harder to dance in the house because there was always someone around. Lately, I've been wanting to dance again. I have gone to a few Zumba classes and it just reminds me how awkward I feel but I feel good when it's over. I'm thinking I may just want to find a good outlet for dancing and drag my husband along. While he doesn't like to dance, he loves me so maybe that will be enough to make the activity enjoyable.


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