A cool March mist turns to rain and begins to patter onto the pavement as we scuttle along the sidewalk and then push through the glass doors of the dance studio. As I stand in the entrance way and survey the room, I have that familiar sinking feeling of being out of place. My name on the check-in list at the door is the only proof that I am not crashing the party.
In faded jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, and my worn sperrys, I walk quickly past women in sparkly gowns. I am peered at by expressive eyes framed by thick layers of mascara. A sparkly palette of blue, green, purple or pink adorns the archway between lashes and eyebrows. In the dressing room I glance at my own plain face in the mirror, and I realize that I am a pigeon in a room full of peacocks.
It was just a few weeks ago when fear hijacked our lesson, as my feet stuttered and stopped with each mistake. My jaw clenched and I muttered, “Oops, sorry! Sorry!” each time I lost my balance, stumbled, or started the wrong lift. Apologies continued after reassurances, my feet and my brain proving much less forgiving than my dance partner. At one point Laura stops the lesson, takes my arms and shakes them loose. She has to address my struggle against my inner critic.
“You’re trying to be in control. Let go of that. There is no perfect routine. You will do it differently every time.”
These words don’t take root immediately, but I let out a long breath and close my eyes. I have to release my hold on thoughts of perfection. I have to push through the awkwardness to find my own style. Does my body have any idea what it’s doing? How do I trust that when it’s been at odds with my brain for so long?
The dressing room is a flutter of activity. I pull on the satin kelly green dress with blue and green rhinestones that sparkle along the neck and through the waist. I tilt my head to the side and scowl at myself in the mirror. I’m foolishly relieved when Laura hands me a shade of deep red lip gloss–much more striking than the pale pink I have brought along. Within 10 minutes she’s styled my hair into a ponytail adorned by rhinestone clips and supplied me with emerald jeweled wristbands and large hoop earrings.
We only have to wait through 3 performances before taking our place on the floor. I stare ahead and take a deep breath as the music begins. My feet falter during the beginning turns and my body is rushing through the steps instead of waiting to be led. The dip, which felt too long for months, suddenly can’t last long enough as I seek to calm my nerves and find the beat. None of the moves are as smooth as I would like, but I keep dancing. We haven’t forgotten any steps, our final lift feels strong. I can hear clapping and a few gasps of surprise when I lace my hands around Matt’s back and slowly flip my legs over his body and onto the floor. After a bow and a curtsy, we leave the floor, and I shrug and smile.
It wasn’t perfect, but I kept dancing.
I danced through summer when it was still frustratingly new. I danced through fatigue brought on by insomnia. I danced on heels before I could adequately walk in them. I danced through the mental and physical darkness of winter. I danced when I was sure I should give it up–that my stiff demeanor would never give way to style or grace. I danced through awkwardness. I danced through performance anxiety even when I knew I made mistakes.
And still, I dance.