The day my parents agreed to sign me up for ballet and tap lessons I was ecstatic.
I had read books about dancers and watched them on television, dreaming of what it would be like to put on a leotard and float across the floor. Now I was going to learn how to be one of them!
We didn’t have a lot of spare cash for extravagances like dance lessons, so I knew this was a pretty big deal but I was confident and determined to make my parents proud of their decision so they could see their hard earned dollars had been well spent. As an above average student in school, my naive assumption was that I would be an above average dancer.
But I was wrong. So wrong.
I was awkward. My legs, which were growing faster than the rest of me seemed to get in my way instead of help me. When the teacher told us to go right, I always seemed to go the opposite. At the tender age of eight I had never gotten a look of disapproval from a teacher before. But I did from this one.
She didn’t allow me in the ballet group for our recital, even though that’s what I had wanted most. Instead she put me with the tap group. After it was over, the teacher told my mother she was wasting her money. I was not a dancer.
The message I heard was that I was awkward.
My legs were too long. I was too tall. I loved music. I loved the idea of dance. But for the first time in my young life I had failed at something and it was crushing.
My father decided to work on teaching me the Greek folk dances. The man who danced like Zorba himself did his best, but I couldn’t seem to follow his steps. Once again, I was going one direction when I was supposed to go another and the more I realized I was wrong, the more in my head I got and the worse my dancing was. I decided this meant I was awkward, already too tall for my age and with legs that if I wasn’t careful, I might trip over.
So I stopped trying to learn.
As much as I loved music and longed to dance, I hung close to the sidelines when dancing was involved. The only saving grace was that I came of age when dancing at parties became free flow and there was no right or wrong way to do it. But still, I held back. My head had told my body that she didn’t know how to dance and never would.
Time marched on and I would find myself pushed onto the dance floor. Occasionally a guy would tell me I was a good dancer and I would immediately distrust him. I knew the truth. I was clumsy. There was nothing graceful about me. It was better for me to watch. And so I did, going to the ballet, mesmerized by Alvin Ailey and eventually becoming a faithful fan of Dancing With The Stars.
Then one day in my forties I was introduced to a dance instructor who I was told could teach anyone to dance. I wasn’t convinced he could teach me, but I was finally willing to give it a try again. So I signed up for a series of lessons to learn how to ballroom dance.
He didn’t teach me the way my long ago ballet and tap teacher had.
He didn’t tell me how many steps to take or to go right and then left. He reminded me to breathe, that would help me to listen to my body and not get caught up in my head. If we get in our heads too much it stops the flow. He taught me to look for his clues and to follow his lead and to trust that he would take me in the right direction. He showed me that dancing was about being present and surrendering to the moment, to trust that my body might lead me better than my head.
He taught me to be a dancer and I learned dancing was a metaphor for life.
I still don’t hear right and left properly. Tell me to go one direction, and I am likely to go the opposite. On the dance floor and off. But dance. I can do that.