My first ever documented dance is the robot dance. I was around two then, holding a fork with a slice of fried banana, indulging my parents in my interpretation of a mechanical contraption. (I probably had no idea I was even doing that.)
Then came the Spice Girls/boy band era of the 90’s. Like the fun and cool thing to do in school at the time, four classmates and I made a Spice Girls’ Stop dance number for one of those Christmas parties. (I was Ginger Spice, if memory serves me right.) There were other songs, other dances, and little girls drama along the way. And at home? I choreographed a dance with two neighbors and my sister, even illustrating both the step and sequence (with written labels) on a sheet of paper. To top it all off, I even made each of them dance as a test. (with grades, of course) I also vividly recall the time an uncle and aunt reprimanded us for instigating a cousin dance to Backstreet Boys’ Get Down, all because of “Oooh baby you’re so fine I’m gonna make you mine your lips they taste so sweet…”
Somewhere along the pre-adolescence, I grew overly-conscious of myself and danced less. In (futile) hopes of returning to it, one of the aforementioned neighbors and I decided to join a Trumpets workshop in streetdancing back in Grade 6. To this day, Craig David’s Re-Rewind reminds me of getting lost in velvety black curtains and sheepishly attempting to salvage my ego as I awkwardly re-joined the other dancers onstage in our culminating performance. Independent Women by Destiny’s Child is part of a recurring nightmare where I’m always the last one in class to learn a set of dance steps. Much as I tried, I always just lacked the hip-hop punch and bodily coordination for it. After that, I danced only when I had to. And when I did (hello phys ed group indigenous dance routines in high school) I always felt stupid and awkward. I hated dancing.
For those who know me well, it may come as a complete shock that there was a once a time I loved to dance. Thinking about it is actually funny and sad. Funny, because it seems so far away that I used to be that person. I am the worst at eye-hand-body (and all other parts in between) coordination. But the sad truth is that I love dance. Every time I see a beautiful routine, I get goosebumps, and the desire to leap alongside the dancers. However, I stop myself from doing so because the dancing part in my system has been rendered non-functional.
Dancing is one of those things that makes you feel truly naked, like raw meat on a chopping board. This is partly because dancing involves moving your very own skin and bones. The other part is how the way you move says a lot about what you think about yourself. I find that when you hate yourself and your body, dancing becomes tantamount to a prolonged walk of shame. Perhaps, this is because dancing is a lot about an acceptance of who you are.
Moving your body is the most obvious (it’s actually the primal) form of self-expression, and it is shared only upon being seen. When it is seen, you know that what they see is the very (literal) meat of you. So if you don’t even like you, it’s hard to miss. Hence, one of the greatest tragedies is feeling that your ability in expressing yourself through dance is weird, shameful, and ugly. It says a lot about your relationship with yourself.
No matter how hard you try though, I don’t believe anybody can completely get dancing out of their system. Dancing is an element of being human. Even if it seemingly involves only the physical self, it actually speaks to us in a cross-cultural language that transcends words. It’s a universal language that speaks not only to the eyes, but to the soul. Somewhere between the gesturing of the fingers and the pointing of the toes are stories as diverse as the human emotional spectrum can experience. Then there are the dances that feel like lost prayers from within you, which you realize you had only in that moment of watching. Its power of dance is not limited to the strength evoked (and needed) in movement; dancing has a way of healing and liberating the inner self.
(Melanie and Marko in a contemporary dance. One of my favorite routines.)
Well, guess what?
Tonight I faced one of my long-time fears and joined a Zumba class.
Granted, my eye and body coordination was at its usual slowness. But who gives a shit? It felt great to get all sweaty, flail my arms, jump around, and wiggle my ass. (thankfully, the class included elderly people. Not to imply anything about them, really, but it’s a comfort.)
It’s been a lifetime struggle to grow comfortable with myself, especially with (and in) my own skin. I’m my own worst critic, and fiercest source of rejection. So aside from learning to care less about things that don’t really matter, lately I’m learning to get naked with myself, and enjoy it. My private bellydances and shimmying sessions metaphorically indicate how much I’m growing to embrace myself in the pleasure of my own skin.
Only in rare, split-second occasions do I feel beautiful when I dance. I’m still warming up. For now, I’m simply enjoying the gift of movement and the beat of the music. The wonder of being silly, alive, and human.