Let’s continue on the wavelength of vulnerability. I grew up a dancer. Every day, hours a day I practiced and took classes and beat up my body trying to become a professional. I took ballet and pointe, modern, lyrical, jazz, tap and hip hop. Yes….I actually did hip hop. I had a gamut of experiences; I was part of Illinois Ballet Theater, on competitive teams, the high school dance team and competed around Illinois. I was in recitals, danced at football and basketball games, went to conventions and camps. I drove downtown Chicago to take classes. I did everything I could. When you dance, you use your body as a vessel of movement and emotions. You take what’s in your head and connect it to music and steps. Your body expresses what you’re feeling or tells a story without words.
A dance teacher once told me I looked so serious, so unhappy when I danced…Yikes! There was my wall, the vulnerable brick wall I struggled to overcome. Being open with facial expressions felt like a risk, letting someone witness my innermost feelings. Scary. Although dancing is personal, it’s also a place where others judge you, compare you, and tell you you aren’t good enough. I didn’t get a part in a ballet when I was 13 because I was too short. She couldn’t say it was because my butt was too big. I would never become a Rockette because I didn’t grow higher- you have to be 5’6’’ to even audition.
I felt fat, basically all the time. Having a butt and thighs that take up space in the room isn’t ideal. Dancers are supposed to be skinny! And agile! And look the same! Around age 16 I finally realized I wasn’t going to have the “body type” to make it as a professional dancer. So I stopped taking ballet as serious, and focused on rocking the dance teams I competed with. That was tough. That was my biggest dream balloon, flying away.
In college I joined the dance team and had all the fun you could have sitting on the sideline, cheering and dancing, waiting for sweaty basketball players to fall on you occasionally. I had a coach with a Southern accent, thus I learned sideline cheers with a twang. “Baass-ket, baass-ket.” She was also downright mean. We were told we were dumb, didn’t do things right. We had to try out every week to perform. She told us we were out of shape. She compared us to each other. We had to stand profile during auditions, our body shape apparently determining our ability to dance. I remember thinking…. No one has ever treated me worse than this woman. Being beaten down, told I’m not good enough, told we’re stupid and constantly criticized…why am I doing this? The fun I had dancing wasn’t worth the abuse I faced practicing. I quit that year and focused my energy on another dance group. Quitting was the only way I could finally stand up for myself. For the years I grew up being told I was never good enough, skinny enough, flexible enough, expressed enough. Never enough. But with less time to dance, it was as if my personality changed.
I still don’t dance as much as I should. I don’t have a daily opportunity to dance to relieve stress, to express myself, to get what’s going on in my head out through my body. So that stuff stays stuck inside. Inside the mind, body, thoughts.