It wasn’t until quite recently that I began thinking of myself as a Dancer. Labels like this take a lot of confidence to claim. I’ve finally found that Artist fits me, as does Painter. Potter, in the past sense. Musician, sometimes. Writer, sometimes. I’ve been trained, at least a little, in all of the above.
Dance, on the other hand, is something I have ostentatiously avoided being trained in. Not because I think dance is easy, not in the slightest, but because it was so nice to have a form of expression that didn’t have the weight of training or labels or experience. If you’ve never taken a class, if you don’t decide to wear the role of “Dancer,” than it’s okay to be the loud, bumbling, grinning woman who spins up around the room as fast as she can wearing three different kinds of rainbow.
This is what dance has always been to me: movement – pure, unadultered, untrained. Dancing like a child, all awkward limbs and big grins. I was raised on the fringe of the dance world, watching adults in my family blast disco or strangers in the contra world twirl in strange, undulating lines. I was often encouraged to join them and used to do so with gusto, but as I grew older and my body changed on me, I became tighter, more controlled, less likely to break loose.
I barely danced in the second decade of my life. Every once in a while, at a party or with the little bits of alcohol I was starting to learn about, the looseness of my childhood would find me through the drastic self-formation of my pre-teen and teen years but it was a rare and confusing occurrence.
It wasn’t until I was well situated in Boston that I started to dance again. A friend who wasn’t comfortable going to a salsa club alone convinced me first to take the classes and then go out with her. It was fun, although the strong steps of salsa that I was only just learning felt strange and restrictive at first. I was so used to expressing myself freely through music and art that being so clumsy with my body was frustrating.
The second time I went to salsa, I was swept up by an experienced, professional dancer. He was confident enough in his own movements, and well versed enough in the dance, that for the first time I felt myself returning to the abandonment of my childhood movement. In the year-long relationship that followed, I was nicknamed the Hurricane for my love of spinning as fast and long as I could, so excited to finally find joy in moving again. Through my partner, I rediscovered the ability to dance with my eyes closed and my heart open.
When the relationship ended, I respectfully left that area of the dance world, a place that was his home where I just visited. I didn’t dance again for a year, putting my energy instead into running after the elementary school children I was teaching art to. I missed the movement and the freedom, but the self-consciousness of my teens still lay heavy on me and I didn’t have the confidence to find that movement and freedom for myself.
Then, through a series of random social connections, I rediscovered the dancing of my childhood. With great surprise and more than a little reluctance, I was roped back into the contra world, that same world where I was first encouraged to don rainbow dresses and cackle with glee while someone spun me around the floor. I was pleasantly surprised to realize how much my remembered, how many movements had been carved into my early brain, and I was reassured to learn that my ability to move was not dependent on the person that I was moving with. While not the most graceful of dancers, contra taught me that I could get up and down a dance floor switching partners every few feet. It reminded me that my ability to move was not dependent on someone else’s expertise.
At the same time that I rediscovered contra, I transitioned from my teaching job to a desk job and dance became a way for me to stay active while also rediscovering old modes of expression and connecting to a new community. For two years –interrupted by my recent endeavor into carpentry— I danced nearly every week, jumping in the car with a group of strangers to go dance for twelve hours straight. From the contra world I branched into blues and even dabbled in swing and was thrilled to see how comfort and confidence in my movement translated between forms. I remain amazed at how confidently I can move now, despite a continued lack of training. Instead of lessons, my dance training has come on the dance floor, in the arms of a partner, with the encouragement of a friend, and under the sway of a really good musician.
Spreading this confidence and comfort is why I jumped at the idea of starting a dancing night at Miranda’s Hearth. Waltzing is something that has stuck through the length of my relationship with dancing. From waltzes I used to play on the piano, to stiffly twirling with my older sister, to the waltzes between contras as a child and again as an adult, to the ballroom class I took back in college. The dance has transcended different forms. Everywhere from galas to weddings to barns, the waltz is a comfortable embrace. Supportive, but also challenging. Familiar, but applicable to so many different styles of music.
At this point, it is one of my favorite dances. Serene, graceful, trusting, it is the closest I have come to the gliding of my childhood.
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Dance with us this Sunday from 7:00-10:30 pm at Waltzdays X: A Harlequin Ball. Costumes highly encouraged (though not required). Break out your best, bright clothing to dance to Kathleen Fownes and Larry Unger!