Just Dance, Dance, Dance

I’m really starting to believe in the synergy and “woo-woo-ness” of putting your questions out into the abyss and letting the universe give back the answers. This little writing adventure is evidence. 

I’ve been pondering this question for a while: “What brought you joy as a child that you’re missing now?” 

And then Medium popped a different (but equally as interesting) question in their weekend writing prompt newsletter.

“Have you been a good friend (to yourself) lately?”

To be honest, the answer is, no. There are so many ways that I’ve failed myself as a friend. But I think the most important way I let myself down is allowing the joy I felt as an unashamed, courageous, brave little girl melt away into a timid and shamed-filled adult. 

It’s strange how quickly we transition from doing things that bring us pure joy and happiness to squashing that very thing because someone gave us their opinion on it. Or society had something to say about it. But worst of all, we squash it out of shame, embarrassment, and low self-esteem.

So it’s time that I put on my big girl panties and become a better friend to myself. And I’m going to start by giving some tough love to the woman I am now.

• • •

Dear Me,

Get off your ass and just dance, dance dance.

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I know you can’t actually remember it, but you have been dancing and moving that cute booty since you could walk. There are pictures and stories to prove it. I mean, just look at you in that stylin’ pink dance outfit… perhaps that’s where your love of everything pink started? The outfit is cute, yeah, but look at that cheesy grin. Radiating happiness. 

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And let me remind you of your first crush, which happened to be on the guy who was partnered with you to do the tango. In front of the whole school. That part was pretty cool but I’m more impressed with your ability to hold hands and keep a fake rose in your mouth. 

Do you remember those summer days where you and your sisters made up dance routines to perform for your parents?

If there was music playing, you were dancing. Weddings, family events, around the house. You even forced your poor babysitters to watch you dance to 90’s boybands. 

But you were so happy. 

Then came the early middle school years of dance classes. You went into that dance studio thinking you were going to be soooo amazing. You were passionate, you loved to dance and so, of course, you started off with this innate confidence. You were courageous and so authentic back then. 

You quickly realized it was going to be much harder than you thought. You hadn’t been trained in the traditional/classic methods like many of your classmates. You were coming from a place of joy, not from a place of practice and training. And yet, you stuck with it that year. You weren’t as good as the other girls, but you improved. You felt happy and joyful even if you weren’t the one getting solos or being tapped as the “next great dancer.”

Listen, I know it’s hard to remember these fleeting moments of joy and happiness from your past… and I know it’s easier to remember the cruel and savage moments that stampede the good into the ground. Those are the memories you have saved and stored in your brain. The ones that stick out instead of the memories of a little girl in pink and a big grin.

You had to search back in that storage container of memories to find what you were looking for in order to write this piece. The happy bits at least. It didn’t take you long to remember a particularly devastating moment because you have them seared into your brain. Especially the moment you realized that reality takes precedence over what brings us joy, and it often comes with the price of pain.

It was supposed to be a simple homework assignment using picture collages to describe who we were. You had recently received your costume photos back from your dance class and you were so excited to pin them to your collage. 

Except at lunchtime, as some of the kids gathered around the corkboard that our pages were attached to, you saw someone point to your photo collage and say, “look, you can see her mosquito bites.” And of course, (because those cliche movies do have a basis in reality, you know) the popular girl in class, who also happened to dance at the same studio as me said, “she’s not even that good at dancing.” 

That confidence and joy? Snuffed out before you could even let it mature. I’m pretty sure you stopped dancing publicly for a lot of years because of it. 

Fast forward to high school and maybe it was the connection you had with friends who were always more confident than you were, but somehow, you made your way back to dancing. Who was it that came up with the idea to choreograph a dance for the annual school variety show? That seems way out of your comfort zone, but maybe you were having a good day. Either way, you found yourself co-leading the choreography for one of the most iconic songs in your history: Thriller

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In a way, it was as bad and as good as it sounds. You found the video of it a few years ago. Watched it. Totally didn’t die from embarrassment as 16-year-old you flailed on stage with a smile on your face. Dig deep and you can remember the adrenaline of being on stage and dancing your heart out, loving every minute of it. In those moments, you were operating from a place of pure joy again. 

It was that very performance that convinced you to do something crazy. You were going to try out for the Poms (the school dance team). Remember how big of a deal they were? The team was made up of popular girls. Talented, pretty, smart, and respected. They had boyfriends, and money, and big futures ahead of them.

Even though you loved to dance and felt confident about it, you weren’t trying out for that reason. No, you wanted to be popular. To be liked. Respected. Seen. 

Isn’t that really what we all want when we’re that age? 

Looking back though, you were such a badass. You had some cajones back then and boy, you sure wish you had them now, don’t you? You thought you could walk into those tryouts with only months of training behind you (instead of the years and years the other girls had on you) and just “make the team.” Okay, maybe you were more foolish than badass. 

But this isn’t a feel-good story, is it? Yes, you auditioned to an auditorium filled with your classmates, parents, family, dance instructors, and teachers.

And you completely mortified yourself. Your reality in those moments following the audition and social fall out came out in one blubbery mess.

“You bombed that. Oh my god, you were SO bad, of course you didn’t make the team. What were you thinking? That was such a stupid decision. You’re so stupid. Now those girls will really have something to bully you about. Maybe you didn’t do the pirouette right because you’re fatter than them? Your boobs are too big. Your hair is too wild. You failed. You are a failure.”

You called your mom to ask her about this experience. She doesn’t remember you being as bad as you think you were, but she was honest, “I don’t know… you were average. Not terrible but not great. Let's just say I wasn’t surprised that you didn’t make the team.” (Another reason you love your mom’s straight-shooting personality). 

You never really danced publicly again after that. At homecoming dances, it was all about grinding and slow dancing. Everyone is good at grinding because grinding is just so bad universally.

In college, it was more of the same except, you know, alcohol makes you think you can do things really well and if not, it makes you NGAF (not give a fuck). 

And that brings us to now. When was the last time you danced? Your sister’s wedding? A year ago. Okay, maybe you’ve had a quick shower dance or two between then, but nothing rememberable.

And because hindsight is 20/20, I know why you don’t do it anymore. Because at some point in your life, it went from being something you loved to do, to something shameful. The joy was sucked right out.

You know that saying, “Dance like no one's watching”? I understand the sentiment but I think it’s a little weak. 

Let’s modify it to be, “Dance like everyone can see your joy,” because it’s infectious. It’s impossible NOT to see it. And everyone deserves to see what it looks like for someone to get joy from something they love to do, regardless of what “worth” other people put on it.

So just, dance. Don’t do it for other people, do it for yourself. Feel the rhythm. The beat. The way the music rumbles in your veins. And then dance some more because you deserve every damn joyful minute of it.

You need to remind me every now and again just how important dancing is—because it’s more than the movement. It’s joy. I can use more of that in my life. I think everyone can.

And just in case you need some inspiration — here’s one of your favorites.