I came across this entry in my journal. I can’t recall what prompted me to write it, or why it doesn’t appear that I’ve published it before. It might have been written in response to something Barbara Sher wrote; I might have written it several years ago despite the more recent “last modified” date. But at any rate, I read through it again this morning, and felt like sharing.
I think the biggest thing that I left behind in my childhood was the idea that I could dance and perform on stage as a dancer. I used to love movement as a child, and I was always really good at it. There isn’t a dance out there that I can’t pick up pretty darn quickly. Movies will show those audition scenes for showgirls where they basically have to learn a whole dance in just a few minutes and then perform it effortlessly and with feeling. I think those scenes are supposed to impress the muggles with how good these dancers are that they can do this thing, but I’ve always been able to do that thing.
As a little girl, I would dance at home, in my room or in my backyard. I would use a ribbon stick to draw in the air, like a rhythmic gymnast. I would learn cheerleader moves, I would dance like music videos, all of that stuff. I took figure skating lessons, and excelled at them, moving about on the ice with grace and skill. But of course, that couldn’t continue. Have you ever seen a fat figure skater?
It’s my body and society that got in the way. I studied ballet for several years as a child. When I hit puberty, my teacher told me I had to stop, that I was too big, too heavy to go en pointe, and since everybody my age was going en pointe, and there wasn’t a track in this studio that didn’t include ballet, I had to leave. I learned tap dancing and flamenco at that studio as well. I tried another school a few years later, but I was the oldest student there, and I felt very much out of place with my older, fat body, so I quit after only a brief term. (They had stuck me with the little kids because, again, I was too big to go en pointe with the advanced classes) I tried to pick tap back up as an adult, but the only classes out there seemed to be for kids. I was so good at tap dancing, so good.
In junior high and high school, I tried to get into the school-based “dancing” groups: pep squad, drill team, cheerleading. I aced every audition, but I was always over the height/weight limit. Too big to dance there, too. Not to mention cheerleading was a popularity contest, with the whole school watching the final auditions and voting on who made the team, which meant I was pretty sure I’d get zero votes to be a cheerleader no matter how many former classmates have tried to get back in touch with me after high school.
After getting married, I discovered the world of pole dancing and strippers. Before having kids, Brian and I turned into some kind of connoisseurs of gentlemen’s clubs. We’d hang out for the evening up close to the stage, and I’d describe what he couldn’t see while analyzing and critique the dancer’s ability with the medium. We knew the clubs in town that had good dancers, the ones that accepted flawed dancers, what made a good dancer. I thought it would be a career I would enjoy, learning to move my body like that and being appreciated for it. But, you know, those places don’t want a body as flawed as mine, somebody with extra flesh in fleshy places and stretch marks all over.
After having kids, I got into bellydancing for a little while, led by a fellow mom whose kids were the same age as mine and whose mother led a bellydancing studio. Again, I was pretty good at it. I love the skill of body isolation and the precision work involved in bellydancing. It really showcases body control and the ability to read the music and go along. We even would practice with zills, which doesn’t seem as common up here, which meant I was combining dancing with my musical abilities. But, you know, bellydancers aren’t fat. (Ok, years later in a different part of the country, yes, I know the local troupe has big dancers. I just haven’t been able to dedicate the time to trying to join in.) I never got out on stage, never performed for anybody but Brian.
When I learned to ski, I finally mastered it one bright day in the Rockies by realizing that a good skiier is actually dancing with the mountain. This was after I learned bellydancing, and the instructions I got from one ski instructor that trip had me moving in a way that my body now recognized from the bellydancing. I was dancing with the mountain! And suddenly the whole skiing thing was so much easier. I was now doing slalom racing, taking on mogul runs and jumps, all the things. I don’t ski often, unfortunately, but when I do, I never take classes anymore, group or private. It might take me a few runs to get back into it, and my skis may be oldfashioned now, but within a day I’m right back to where I was, dancing with the new mountain.
So…Dancing. The one thing that I love and that I’m really, really good at that almost nobody knows that I’m good at, because the world, the whole world, has told me that my body is not acceptable for dancing. I have gotten a little bit of it in recent years by learning to roller skate Michigan-style, which is like a combination of graceful dancing and the black tradition of stepping or the Detroit jit. And it’s fun, but I long for more. I wish I had a partner to dance with, whether on wheels on in the ballroom. I wish I didn’t still feel self-conscious about my body shape, despite so many years of working on acceptance.
Maybe in the New Year, I’ll find a way to add some more movement back into my life.