Through the Fire
I wrote a story a little more than a year ago. I recently shared it with a friend and she thought it would make a great blog post, so here it is! It is my story of my love of dancing. Some years, dancing has played an important role in my life, other years I tucked it away for one reason or another. (Just a warning, it’s a bit longer than my usual posts but hang in there.)
Dancing and I are having fun together these days. I am opening up to letting my body do what she can and what she wants to do on the dance floor. There is much dancing to be had where I live in Santa Cruz. I have many friends who dance often. Right now I’m dancing once a week and experimenting with other possibilities.I’m not letting myself ( ahhh, sort of not letting myself) be pressured to do more, to burn calories, to “make” myself go, to sign up for classes that really are beyond my current abilities and/or desires. Free form dancing just for fun, just for the joy of moving, for the love of my body, for connection with self and others. Yay!!
The Tale of the Woman who Danced
Once upon a time there was a girl who danced. She was chubby, or as her father called her, “pleasingly plump”. ( In later years, she would lose the good feelings that gave her as a child) The girl loved to watch her parents dance with arms around each other to Frank Sinatra, one of her mother’s favorite singers. When she was very young and if it was a rainy Sunday afternoon, she danced with her father, standing on his feet as he waltzed, rhumba-ed, and cha-cha-ed her around their living room in the house by the lake, as they listened to big band records. Later, as she grew,she stepped onto the floor and followed his lead. In his big strong arms, she felt safe and loved. She felt graceful and that she could bravely do anything. In his big strong arms, it didn’t matter that her mother thought she was too fat. The love that she felt as they twirled around gave her tingles in her heart and tummy. She was her Daddy’s princess. Her family lived outside a very small rural town. She and all of her girl friends got very excited when an ex professional dancer actually moved there and opened a Ballet School. She convinced her mother to sign her up and happily went off to her first class. Can you imagine her shame and disappointment when told, after one introductory lesson, that there was no room in the school for her as she was too fat to learn Ballet ?? I can, as that girl was me. I was embarrassed and devastated, though my 6 year old self didn’t know those words.
After that, I confined my dancing to my room or in the lake next to our house, until junior high school when I got a record player and fell in love with the Beatles just as girls of my age did, all around the world. Though, for the rest of his life and beyond, I steadfastly loved George Harrison most of all and NOT Paul McCartney. In 7th and 8th grade, we could bring records to school and use a classroom for dancing after lunch. Sometimes, the room was crowded and sometimes there were only a few of us, teaching each other moves we had seen on television. I was a little shy. My body was changing from that chubbiness of girlhood into a young woman’s body. I was soon dieting , dealing with weight fluctuations, and having a hard time finding clothes that were cute AND fit. I was the fattest girl in all of my classes. I recently reconnected on Facebook with my 8th grade boyfriend and we have had fun reminiscing. I remember the Friday night dances we attended. One of my standout 9th grade memories is having a HUGE crush on Dave Lipp, a senior football player!! Back in those days, at the Friday night record “hops”, there were a few “ladies choice” opportunities, meaning girls could ask boys to dance . Thanks to feminism’s arrival soon after that, it is now OK for girls to ask boys to dance whenever they want, and even dance without them!! One night at the dance, on came my then favorite slow dance song, Ebb Tide, by the Righteous Brothers AND oh my gosh, it was ladies choice! Did I dare ? With the encouragement of my friends, I bravely walked across the whole floor of the gym to Dave, standing in a group with his friends, and asked him to dance. I was shaking so hard, but I didn’t want him to know. He accepted. I looked back at my small group of friends who waved and gave me the thumbs up. I closed my eyes, breathed in the smell of his cologne, and put my hand in his. This was the best moment of my life up until that point! I probably didn’t breathe for the whole 3 minutes of the song. The magic of the moment sent tingles through my whole body. Later, my friends told me that all of Dave’s friends were laughing at us. He was clearly laughing with them, but for those 3 minutes I was a Princess dancing with my Prince.
Let’s fast forward through school years and let me grow older. I danced my way through high school, college, and my 20’s, still overweight and gaining weight as I dealt with being on my own. As time went by, I danced less often. Some of that was shaped by working hard,and some shaped by internal self esteem struggles.What would I wear ? Would anyone want to dance with fat me ? I felt a lot of shame. You know how it goes. My life got full and busy. I would sometimes dance around the house. Sometimes I would go to friends’ parties and dance. In the 1980’s, a group of us would head into the city and hit Zorba The Buddha, a nightclub run by the followers of the Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh. We danced as a group mostly. Many years later, I attended an afternoon waltz class. We were taught a simple routine then had the opportunity to dance it, then change partners, on down the line. Early on, I partnered up with a man who was as least as inept at it as I was, coupled with a very domineering style. At one of our stumbling points, he stopped, gave me a fierce look, and said loudly, “ NO, you must do what I want you to do!!” Almost everyone in the class heard him and cringed. Um, hell no. That one comment triggered every single piece of anger I had towards men in general, and at that point in my life, it was a fair amount! For some time, memories of childhood sexual abuse had been revealing themselves and I was working to heal myself from some sexual trauma as a young adult. So, I gave him my opinion of his idea and moved away. My next partner happened to be the instructor, so I did better as it really does take two people to be good partners, and “leading” has nothing to do with telling your partner what to do. Later, I could totally laugh at what that * you fill in your own word for him* thought. He did not have any idea to whom he was talking. It still makes me chuckle. Poor man. Sadly, though, even while understanding he was incorrect, I took it in a little too deeply and so, it added to my growing belief that dancing was not for me, just as having a good partner ( on and off the dance floor) was impossible. Didn’t go back to that class!
For a long time now I have been a part of a spiritual community in which sacred dance has a central part. It is a ceremony and part of an ancient tradition. We dance our prayers into the Earth. In this simple yet profound dance step,we make room in the heart for love, joy, courage, and connection to our Ancestors. While laughter and joking also plays a big part as well, I was finding that my life had become more serious and narrow in focus, leaving less room for playful activities such as social dancing. I began to miss it. I also was almost out of hope that I would ever be in a relationship, that I would ever feel a man’s arms around me again. I have friends who are huggers, but i’m talking about feeling shelter in those arms and being twirled around the dance floor.
Let’s fast forward again to the last few months. Now, in my 60’s, I have given up “dieting”. I am comfortable with calling myself fat, though not always totally at peace with my size. I’m getting there.I love myself and my body with all that I am able to give. Through the regular encouragement of a dear friend who loves to dance, plus meeting up with some fabulous other women who love to dance, I was getting closer and closer to taking those steps on the dance floor. Having made a commitment in my artists’ group to open myself up to my creative self, and not so coincidentally meeting yet more people who love to dance, one day in I walked to an open,- “just bring yourself, it’s all about connecting your inner and outer worlds and your higher self through moving on the dance floor, don’t need a partner” – kind of place. I was so anxious. I could hear my heart pounding, and feel myself shaking. I immediately looked around, checking out the room. Yep, I’m the only fat one here. OK, I can do it. I gave myself permission to leave if I was too uncomfortable , got scared, or felt any “bad vibes”. I know the DJ, so I waved at him. I walked slowly across the room without looking at anyone, and found a corner with some space. I took a deep breath, turned so I couldn’t see very many people, and started to move. Stretching seemed like a good way to start, not quite dancing but practice for seeing if anyone stared at me. I mostly stayed in my little spot, letting myself move., sometimes with my eyes open, sometimes with them closed.
I’ve been 4 or 5 times now, each time feeling braver and freer, and having more fun. I’m less awkward, both physically and socially. I’m learning to work with the limitations of my arthritic knees and hips. I am becoming more and more comfortable with allowing my body to open up and move in harmony with my spirit. I still feel those nerves and shyness when I walk in. I still check the room out, and every time I am the fattest one there. Some days, at least I am not the only one. I still check out the vibe of the room and have never felt any non acceptance. More and more, I am silently greeted with a smile or a look or a hug. ( There is a “rule” of no talking) This all leads me to this morning which was an amazing healing time. I was a little more adventuresome today in taking up more space on the dance floor, moving around more, making more eye contact, consciously moving closer to several particularly nice looking gray haired gentlemen, dancing with a few women I know. This kind of conscious dance is really about being with one’s self even if you are making contact, eye or body, with another. It’s a different kind of engagement with the others. It’s inwardly quiet, and it might be playful or deep, or some combination of the two. I was moving around thinking good thoughts when I got gently bumped into by an energetic couple, who immediately grabbed my hands, and included me in their dancing play. Oh boy, a Threesome! We moved around each other, some combination of hand holding, going forward and backward and around each other. Here was both what I had been hoping for, and what I feared. Who was leading and who was following ? Obviously, it didn’t matter. Some moves worked and some didn’t. We would just smile and keep going. I could hardly keep up the fast pace, and eventually didn’t, but the ice was broken! Look at me, out of breath and having fun! Out of the corner of my eye I could see another man watching me for some time. When I turned to look at him, he danced his way into my space with a big friendly grin on his face.He took my hand, put his other arm on my back, and off we went! I didn’t even really have time to decide if I was nervous, or attracted to him, or what. It was all I could do to keep my rhythm in sync with his.
We were moving together fairly well, with a few missteps here and there which were accompanied by giggling on both our parts. I managed to pair my feelings of awkwardness and not quite knowing how to move my body, with some boldness, playfulness, and femininity. We went back and forth between touching and not touching. I managed to allow myself to enjoy the strength and beauty in his big strong arms! I could feel the joy emanating from my Inner Little Girl as she once again got twirled around the room, encircled safely ( albeit in a much different fashion) by those powerful arms.
Oh how healing it all was and still is!! To be looked at and smiled upon, to be touched, to be held, to reach out and be met. To (literally) bump up against that Masculinity, to hold a man’s hand, arm, shoulder, back. To make contact in a deep way with my women friends. To look into peoples’ eyes, and see kindness and friendly laughter. To laugh. to cry a bit later on the way home. To connect in that deep ancient Sacred way of moving and communicating through the body. To be in a container where my sacred Feminine can come out and move in that playful seductive sort of way and be met full on with that Sacred Masculine. It’s a celebration. I felt comfortable in my body. I felt seen. I felt safe, I felt strong( though the knees and hips were letting me know I was asking a lot of them!), I felt beautiful. I felt joy in my heart, my breath, and my belly. I was a Queen dancing with my King. Dancing with women, we were Queens, Priestesses, and Wise Women, telling our histories through our movements. And when I danced alone, I danced with my own internal Beloved.
I will keep going, and not just because of Mr. Big Arms. I am getting comfortable moving my body again, and having that body be seen. I feel connected to the Earth as I move my feet, feel connected to my sisters and brothers as we move through the room together. I give myself permission to take up space.By learning to connect with my self/ my body on the dance floor, I can integrate those old uncomfortable memories. I can honor that girl who loves to dance. I can teach that incorrect Ballet teacher and my Waltz class partner a thing or two. I will cherish the sweet memories, and create new ones. I can not only develop those dancing muscles but strengthen the muscles of connection, of grace, and creativity.
So, it looks as if this is the end of The Tale of The Woman Who Danced, but don’t you also think it is a lovely beginning?