A few days ago I found myself dancing in the kitchen and then like a leaky faucet, I spread to the living room. I just couldn't stop—what do you call it?—grooving? getting down? None of the words fit because they weren't familiar. Until two months ago when I started taking a range of dance fitness classes, unless I was trying to get a certain unnamed someone’s attention by flailing in front of the television, I did not dance. Now I do it unintentionally, almost like I have dance-Tourrete’s often in the car when I allow myself the guilty pleasure of listening to a top forty station (my equivalent of reading celebrity fashion magazines in the dentist’s office). Why is this such a shock? Because not being able to dance has been an important cornerstone in the foundation of the monument I've built to all the things I can’t do.
Also on the list? Singing. A voice teacher once told me I was tone deaf, which I- and many others- had already suspected. When I told my mother, who’d made a habit of singing with me in the car everyday, she sighed heavily and said, “Well, I tried.” Who told me I couldn't run? Who didn't? It seemed like everyone, including my very best friends laughed when I more-than-walked. I laughed with them while internally adding another brick to the Temple of Can’t. I still sing to myself and I do occasionally run—especially when I see my son’s bus rounding the corner--but dance combines more complex elements—rhythm, coordination, confidence and grace. More than anyone with a rigid structure of shame and self-doubt can juggle on the dance floor.
Perhaps my anti-dance stance started somewhere around elementary school when I came in last place in the school dance competition. Or maybe after hearing that my moves fall somewhere between Elaine’s on Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman’s impersonation of an old lady freaking out at a Bar Mitzvah. In any case, I was still willing to try at 16, when my mother, in an attempt to keep us kids safe off the streets and safe from sex and drugs, started a “Teen Square Dance Group.” Yes, I wore her matching square dance outfits but even more outrageous than me outfitted in hillbilly frills was the fact that my friends—my cool, alternative, punk rock friends--actually came out to do the dos-e-do. I still don’t know whether to be forever grateful or forever mortified. Maybe I didn't stick with dance because, flawless as my mother’s plan was, I still managed to find sex and drugs-- another routine altogether.
Several years ago when I explained my disabilities to my therapist, she made a compilation of my favorite songs, writing “You CAN run, you CAN sing, you CAN dance” on the CD in black sharpie. But restructuring the foundation is more difficult than building it. Still, as someone who helps push people to their creative edge for a living, advocating for exploration beyond the comfort zone, I realized I was a hypocrite for staying safely in mine. Although I stumbled into my first dance class in years thinking I’d shown up for gentle yoga, I returned on purpose. And I fell in love. I have never laughed, sweated and salsa-ed with more happy reckless abandon in my life. It’s not necessarily that I’m getting better with each class, it’s that I care less if I suck. When I leave, I feel glorious. Like a dancing queen.
At a recent parent’s coffee, I told one of the moms that I'm going through this bizarre phase where I don't care how stupid I look flailing around in a spandex polyester blend behind glass walls. She smiled at me and said, “I hope it’s not just a phase.” I do, too.