I have exciting news, peeps: I have a new friend. A real, live friend. And we go salsa dancing together. Twice a week.
Every time I come back to dancing, I wonder how I ever survived without it. In fact, dance has always been the tool I used to start to pull myself out of any depression I’ve been in.
Salsa was my first love, but bachata is my true love. It’s slow, it’s sexy, it’s fluid. Everyone looks good dancing bachata. Every body type works, there’s no ideal. In fact, my ample hips and booty were always most welcome on the dance floor, even if they weren’t anywhere else. (and yes, that’s exactly how I look when I dance)
Another reason I love dance so much is because it gives me intimacy with boundaries.
I never knew how much I ached for human contact until I moved to Philadelphia for work. I didn’t know anybody, I had no family in the area, even my roommate was a stranger. I didn’t touch anyone. And one day, in yoga class, my favorite yoga teacher gave me the most basic assist on the face of the planet, and I almost started crying.
We crave intimacy. We need it physically, we need it emotionally, where we can show up as our authentic vulnerable selves and trust that our person can contain us.
But I also crave boundaries. I acknowledge that not everyone has this particular hang-up, but I always get a little anxious when I’m being myself to the opposite sex, because I worry that I might be giving an impression that I don’t mean. And I don’t mean that men are predatory, I just mean, I might be interested in you and not interested in you. Know what I mean?
When it comes to dancing, the rules are clear: it’s just a dance.
I can dance whatever I feel, and it’s just a dance. It’s contained within that song. If a guy thinks it means more, he’s flat-out mistaken. If someone gets jealous, they’ve misunderstood the rules.
It’s so liberating! I don’t have to stay in my head, worrying about what signals I’m sending and cutting off my authentic expression because I’m anticipating what other people are thinking of me.
So the final frontier for me when it comes to staying embodied while dancing is following.
I want to be good at it.
That’s not even true. I want to be the perfect follower. I want to be able to handle every single move, effortlessly, smoothly, professionally. I want everyone to love dancing with me and to be psyched when I show up.
Of course, that’s not what makes dancing fun. And to illustrate the point, a few weeks ago I had a terrible time dancing.
I was with this guy that’s a very subtle leader, which is not really my style, and I just couldn’t figure out what he wanted me to do. He’d move his hand, and I’d think he meant one thing when in fact he was thinking another. And then I’d get mad at myself for “messing up” and he’d give me this look, like I was a kid that just colored on the walls with permanent marker. If I got it “right,” he’d cheer me on.
And then I got mad at him, in a “Hey! Nobody gets to be a jackass to me but ME!” kind of way. [see this note on my Ego needs: to resist the dominion of others]
I was so indignant the whole night. I was so angry that dance, my love, had turned into an environment where I was wrong on all fronts.
I was so self-conscious, waiting to mess up, worried people were dancing with me from obligation, jealous of the other girls that made it look so effortless. I kept apologizing to all my partners when I messed up, promising to be better if they tried that move again.
I was angry that I danced with someone who made me wrong, but I was mostly angry at myself for not only allowing myself to be treated that way, but for being the ringleader! I had shied away from real life, caught up in the image of perfection.
I made dancing black and white, right and wrong, his way vs. my way. His unspoken idea shoved into my space and became a template I had to match exactly. I sacrificed my self-expression for approval, and I was patronized in return.
So when I went out on Friday night, I decided on a whole new experience. It was a new venue, I wore a different dress, different shoes, I “pre-gamed” with a “book group” (or so they call themselves. We just drank wine and chatted, which is the way I prefer it 🙂 ), and I decided that, no matter what happened on the dance floor, I was not wrong. Nobody was wrong.
There’s no such thing as wrong when it comes to dancing. If I believe nothing else, I believe that.
And I had a wonderful time. I danced the whole night, with tons of new people, and I had a blast.
That night I actually chatted with a friend about my thoughts on leading, following, and “messing up” and he said that he’s had to have that conversation with his wife when she comes out with him. He said
She’s trying to do what she thinks I want her to do. And I don’t want that at all. I just want to be with her, however she wants to move.
Never is it more apparent to me where I elevate other people above myself than when I dance. Never is it more apparent to me how often I make myself wrong than when I dance. Like all the other good things in my life, it’s a microcosm for how I’m showing up in the rest of my life, particularly when I show up to relationship with other people.
I censor myself all the time. I second-guess my honest opinion daily, thinking it’s not the “right” thing to say. The voice in my head that makes me wrong is effective and tyrannical, although it is a ghost of what it once was.
My point is not to say, “I’m imperfect and I still love myself!” I’m so tired of hearing statements like that I could scream; it’s just lip service to what’s actually a very vulnerable topic.
Acknowledging and rewriting patterns takes practice, courage, patience, and tenacity.
The point is to notice.
Let these areas be a microcosm for you: dancing, intimacy, eating, exercising, self-care. Notice the patterns there, and see if they show up anywhere else in your life. You don’t even have to change them quickly (although dancing becomes infinitely more enjoyable when you do). All you have to do is notice.
Let yourself be who you are. Change when you’re ready.