Why I’ve decided to dance for a year …
Do you ever stop loving what you loved when you were little?
When I was tiny, just three years old, my parents took me to see a performance of The Nutcracker – the beloved Christmas-time fairy tale told through ballet and music. I still remember so clearly the intense awe, amazement, and wonder, things I’d never felt before. I would never have imagined humans could be so beautiful, so graceful. I wanted to be like that! To join in the dance.
I begged for ballet lessons – but money was always tight in our family, and it wasn’t possible.
A year later, when I was not quite five years old, I nearly died after I fell ten feet during an outing at the lake. I suffered a concussion and wasn’t expected to live. During my long period of recovery, to encourage me to get better, my mother promised ballet lessons as soon as I was well. So I got to have them, at last!
But then disaster struck: my family moved to a new city, and again, lessons weren’t possible.
Dance never became part of my life. I’d never seen my parents dance, nor my two brothers. It seemed to me that dancing was for other people – not us, not me.
And now I have to add another, sober element: my father and grandfather molested me at various times during my childhood. This brought on shame and social anxiety, as well as very mixed feelings about my body and about physical spontaneity. I began to feel that my body wasn’t even mine, that I had no right to it.
As I grew up, I became shy, withdrawn, and very quiet. I rarely went to parties or school dances, and when I did, I suffered the agony of sitting by myself, never being asked to dance. I don’t think I really even wanted to – I just wanted to be around people who were. There was just one time I remember dancing, during a gym class when we were forced to do the Charleston to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” I felt awkward and uncoordinated. It wasn’t joyful, it was awful!
But I’ve never forgotten that feeling of amazement at The Nutcracker, or how happy I was when I took ballet lessons. I’ve loved the feelings of movement, spontaneity, and self-acceptance that have – sometimes – come during the few times as an adult when I’ve let myself relax and dance at a party or celebration (usually with the assistance of lots of alcohol). And I’ve always enjoyed kinetic activities, like bicycling and skating. That makes me think I’d love to dance, even now.
That’s why, at the age of 52, I’ve made a decision to dance. I’ve reached the point where I want to reclaim my body and spontaneity. I want the feeling of joy in life and movement, and at least a little of the grace and beauty that I yearned for when I was little.
Someone recently commented on Twitter that she talked a lot about working out because it was the most powerful thing she knew to claim ownership of her body, which had been hurt and controlled so much. That’s how I feel about learning to dance: Dancing can be a joy in itself, and it’s a way to reclaim joy and life.
Communities use dance to build a sense of belongingness, and movement therapists employ dance to heal. It’s how I want to make a midlife recommitment to self-care, happiness, health, engagement, and growth.
… and how I’m able to do it
I’m aware that very few people have the freedom and resources to undertake a year like this, that I’m extremely privileged to be in a position to do it. I’m able to do it because of the shape my life has taken: I don’t have children or a partner, and I currently have no home to maintain or pay for. I’ve been traveling nomadically since the end of 2016, making a living by working online as a freelance writer and editor. I’m not wealthy – in fact, one reason I “went nomad” was that I had been homeless for nearly two years, living in my truck and with family members and friends. There didn’t seem to be an end in sight, and I felt a big change was needed. I bought a $450 return airline ticket to Thailand and began to live in backpacker dorms around Southeast Asia while I worked on getting back on my feet. But that’s another story!
And then, last summer, my father died, and I unexpectedly received some funds, through the generosity of my brother and his wife. I decided to use this unexpected windfall for joy and good. Without it, I would probably be learning to dance from YouTube. Now, I can engage dance in a bigger way!
I believe technology and social media can be forces for either good or evil. They can help people connect and share experiences all over the world, people who would otherwise never meet. I hope that by posting about this experience on Instagram and Facebook, I can share some of the benefits with anyone in the world who would like to (virtually) join in.
That’s why I’m so serious when I invite, plead, and beg you – yes, you, if you’d like to! – to follow along, get in touch, and let me know how I can make you part of this experience in healing and joy.