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a dream of dance: finding comfort in discomfort [A&C]

a body in motion and in emotion

I dream of dance. Behind my closed lids, loose limbs and flashes of color swirl into a black vortex.

I imagine explosions of color and glitter and bodies being torn apart and sewn back together again. I move through space and time, worlds shifting and energy moving. 

When I see people dance, I want to weep. I want to flail my extremities and then sob.  

I crave dance. I shut my eyes and I see my body leaping, shaking, bounding, feeling. A body in motion and in emotion.

Waking up means my movement halts and my unbounded emotions freeze. I become clumsy, stagnant, rigid; it’s a pattern that repeats before and after my respite of slumber. I laugh when I’m uncomfortable, giggling in the hopes it distracts from my furious blush and sweaty upper lip—giggling because I’d rather exude exaggerated joy than cry (how morose!). Messy despair can be ugly.

I’ve never been a do-er, but I’ve always wanted to be. To be that idealized version of myself, who jumps at every opportunity, rises to every occasion, and creates. Vibrant acrylic paintings, best friends with the stranger in line at the Ratty, whole new futures through storytelling. But maybe, I’m just an appreciator. Maybe I’m just someone who watches from the sidelines.

I came to terms—or believed I had—with this thought last August. After many failed attempts at songwriting, poetry, ceramics, guitar, ballet, crafts, and a whole host of other creative pursuits, I accepted that perhaps my destiny was one of a reluctant critic. Though my body and soul were longing to create something, the defeated perfectionist of my mind refused to try again. 

To dance, specifically to dance well, never seemed attainable. I always felt awkward in my body, uncomfortable, inconvenient. My hands are scraggly and disjointed. My back is bent with scoliosis, one shoulder taller than the other. My hamstrings are unbelievably tight, as a ballet barre instructor once gleefully relayed: “You are the least flexible client I’ve ever worked with!” My relationship with my body growing up was colored by a hegemonic, exercise-obsessed suburb. My small act of resistance against this athletic regime was to freeze, rejecting all physical forms of expression; I decided to bury my nose in books, instead. I stifled my dreams of dance—if I couldn’t be a perfect dancer, I wouldn’t try at all.

—- 

On the first day of classes this year, a friend of mine agreed to shop Beginner Modern Dance with me, both of us severely underestimating the probability that TAPS 0310 would become part of our registered courses for the semester. She mentioned how she wanted to learn to perform the perfection of ballet; the pointed toes, the graceful hands. I agreed with her bashfully, though inside, my thoughts differed. What I really wanted was freedom—freedom from the rigidity of ballet, and freedom from the weight of my own judgment. 

The room was chattering nervously as we entered. I lost my balance as I took off my favorite loafers, self-loathing coloring my cheeks pink. Shit. Maybe I really do need to learn how to dance… I can barely stand up straight. 

As I took a seat, I commiserated with the classmate sitting next to me: Am I wearing the right clothes? The right socks?

I can’t touch my toes! I can barely even touch my knees! Am I going to be able to do this? Should I be here? I wondered out loud. 

Am I in the right body? Am I… right? Why do I always feel so wrong? I shoved deep, deep down. 

We all giggled in camaraderie as our professor told us to approach the open floor, the uncharted terrain of the daunting empty studio in front of us. She gave us our first direction: Shake your bodies with as much conviction and force as you can. 

At first, I laughed with discomfort, tentatively tossing the tension out of my bones. I caught the eye of other classmates, arching a brow and giving a shy smile. What was this professor doing? There was no way we would actually take this class… right?

As we shook and shook and shook, my body ejected perfection, shaking off normative (see: white, heteropatriarchal) conceptions of what my body should be able to do. With each shake of my legs, I began to forget the shoulds, woulds, and coulds that often cross my mind. By the end of the class, I was shaking with embodied joy. I knew then that dance would be my savior this semester. 

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I have always felt a keen sense of absence when I think of my body and of myself—I can only see what I’m missing. TAPS 0310 has reminded me of my body’s capacity for movement, my able-bodied privilege, my fullness. Instead of emphasizing our bodies’ limitations, our professor emphasizes our bodies’ natural inclinations. Instead of forcing my hamstrings to stretch to the point of pain, my professor has slowly taught me to reach with curiosity and patience, to move in a way that feels good, that feels like me. Instead of reminding the class of all the ways we are not enough, our professor has shown us endless possibilities—she has shown me versions of myself I’ve yet to discover, the value of the person I already am. (You are enough! she exclaimed one day, like she could sense I needed to hear the affirmation. I almost cried with relief.)

 

That first week of class, my professor showed me how to be comfortable with discomfort. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday each presented a different emotional and physical challenge. As our professor dared us to dance fueled by the energy between ourselves and a partner, the fear of intimacy, of vulnerability, began to shrink. The cautious looks I shared with classmates the first day became warm glances, the nervous laughter—though still nervous—became buoyant, too, and full of anticipatory excitement. 

But as I left Ashamu Studio at the end of the first week, the adrenaline of thrilling discomfort slowly fading, the rose-colored lenses beginning to slip off, the spell breaking, the curtain closing, I wondered: 

What if I try my hardest here, and I still fail? What if I fail at my dream of dance? 

Will I become a failure? 

Am I a failure? 

Am I fundamentally fucked up am I worth anything at all am I worthless why do I hate myself so much? 

Those thoughts, ones I normally let slip out with a self-deprecating laugh, make me tremble. See, they’re not really about dance at all. Hating myself has lost its conviction and fun. I’m just a kid! my heart screams. I’m so tired, my body aches. The shadowy claws of a depressive episode sink into my spine, stroking my hair tenderly, whispering in my ear.

Even now, I have these same thoughts. But they come as a faint murmur, a murmur I’ve learned to embrace and let heal with a ferocious kindness. Letting myself exist as I am—in motion and in emotion—has paved the way for this transformation. Dancing feels like boldly caressing the body I’ve been afraid to see or touch too closely, like soothing my feverish brain with a cool cloth, like shattering the protective shell I unknowingly built around my insecurities. 

I still have doubts, about myself, about my body. But now, when I feel myself drowning, I remember: I can dance.

I’d no longer rather be asleep or crying or drowning in the cloak of my self-despair. I’d rather be dancing. 

 

— 

Upon reflection, the stifling of my artist's dreams had been slowly crushing my spirit. August Alaire never would have guessed that by October, she would be dancing not without the absence of fear or insecurity or discomfort–but with the addition of joy, sweetness, vulnerability, care, and whimsy. Heck, August Alaire never even guessed that she’d be dancing at all!

Now, when I wake up from my dreams, they actualize: I get to dance almost every day of the week. 

I still lose my balance every once and a while, like this morning while crunching leaves under my favorite loafers on the way to class. I still blush when I mess up or when I can’t touch my toes when we stretch, but now, I grin in earnest, too. I twirl around while brushing my teeth. I skip along the Main Green. 

Hating myself has always felt okay. My body has always felt wrong; in this class, it is nothing if not always right. Scratch that. There is no right. There is only you, and me, and us, dancing and dreaming together.



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