Okay, I am old. Almost two years ago, I walked by a bright red door and saw a small sign that said dance studio. I opened the door. Behind it was a large ballroom where two people were twirling across the floor in each other’s arms. I started to retreat with apologies for interrupting them. They waved me in and thus began my dance adventure.
I signed up that day for ballroom lessons. My instructor only three months out of high school was warm and encouraging but a lot of what he was asking me to do was hard and beyond my capabilities. And when you want to be immediately graceful and skillful, it is really painful to trip and stumble through routines that look breathtakingly lovely when demonstrated by these young teachers.
Then there were the painful physical limits. I would limp out of a session headed for the Advil bottle with sharp pain in my feet, considering whether I was just too old for this. I was too slow to complete the dizzying number of steps in the stunningly short amount of time allocated. My brain didn’t process quickly enough to make all these quick transitions between parts of a routine. In other words, it was frustrating and painful.
But at the same time something else was happening. I would have these moments of grace where I was totally immersed in the music or my body would perform beyond my expectations or my instructor would coax me somewhat gracefully through a complicated routine. And I would feel joy.
So I kept coming back. First, one time a week then two, then three. I got stronger. My feet still hurt but I could dance a lot longer before they started complaining. I could actually remember the routines and feel some growing competence.
Then my instructors started suggesting that I perform these routines in front of an audience. I was clear. That was not why I was here and I was not going to do it. The idea of taking my old, chubby body in front of an audience to display these nascent dance skills horrified me. I could only imagine the humiliation I would suffer. How dare I imagine that people would enjoy watching me dance.
But they persisted. And slowly inch by inch they moved me toward performing. First, they would have me perform a routine in front of several students. Next, they had me perform at a small party at our studio. Then they had me perform at a statewide event. It was sometimes excruciating. I would mess up a step or let my anxiety send me zipping through a routine with little attention to the actual timing of the music. But I made it through and sometimes I enjoyed it.
Plus, I learned something. Dancing in front of people demands bravery. You have to let people see you for what you are. Yes, I am old. Yes, I am chubby. But I love to dance and have some growing skill. And it feels good to be seen for all of that.