You Can Dance If You Want To…

Dancing skipped a generation by Eirik NewthThere are things that you believe about yourself. Things that define who you are, the decisions you make, and really, how you live your life. Core beliefs, like whether you are good at math, dislike working in groups, hate computers or are great with kids. Though they might seem small, they’re part of how we describe ourselves, and they make a difference in our lives. For example, depending on how you see yourself will determine if you decide to join a friend’s amateur softball league, the church choir, or a coworker’s book club. And who you spend your leisure time with will affect who you are friends with. Or take an example like being bad at math: how you feel about math might affect the college courses you take – or even if you go to college at all.

Here are a few of my core beliefs: I have an artistic eye. I dislike crowds, but am comfortable with public speaking. I enjoy reading and learning how do things with books. Spelling is not my strong suit. I can’t sing, and I am uncoordinated.

My lack of coordination is more than “being a little clumsy”, it is so bad that I frequently quip that “I can’t even spell rhythm.” (Which I can’t. Thank goodness for spell check.) However, an interesting little set of circumstances took place over the last few weeks that has challenged this belief. (In fact, part of it took place over the course of writing this post, but more on that later.)

It started with the hoop class I took the weekend of my birthday. Hooping takes a lot of coordination and rhythm, and I walked in knowing I probably wasn’t going to be very good. However, before the class I made the decision not to care. And sure enough, I wasn’t the best in the class, but more importantly, I had a great time. Afterwards I decided to take another class the next chance I got, irregardless of my lack of skill. I decided I would just have a lot of fun and not worry about the rest. For some reason, we adults always feel like we need to be perfect at everything the first time we try it. We don’t have that expectation for children. When it came to hooping, I decided to go into it like a child – excited to have fun, but not overly worried about being great.

So that has been percolating in the back of brain, and then last week I read an article over on Fit, Feminist and (almost Fifty): On Knowing Yourself, Changing Yourself and Ending the Negativity. Here’s an excerpt:

The other day a friend was asking me about rowing. I talked about how much I was enjoying it. She’s a runner by habit and expressed concern about the technical skills required to row. She asked how much coordination rowing required. My mother smiled and said it couldn’t take that much because I could do, right? And then she looked at me for affirmation.

I smiled back, a bit puzzled, and then realized she’d said that not to be mean, my mother is very kind and gentle, but because I used to describe myself as uncoordinated. It was part of my story of myself as a non athletic book loving person. I’d been calling myself uncoordinated since elementary school.

Yep, that describes me too. I’ve also been calling myself uncoordinated since elementary school. Sam B. goes on to say that rowing takes a lot of coordination and she realized that by being involved in activities that require coordination, she has become coordinated.

That article challenged my world view – something that has been happening a lot lately. Just a year ago I would have never described myself as athletic, yet now I run, bike, weight lift and am learning to box. The “non-athletic” label doesn’t fit the way it once did. Maybe the same can be said about coordination and rhythm.

Maybe the truth is different from what I once believed. Maybe it looks more like this: as a kid, I never liked sports or dance, not just because of my lack of skill, but also for a lot of other complicated kid reasons. Things involving acceptance by peers and kid social hierarchies. Since I didn’t have parents that were particularly interested in physical activities either, I simply never learned how to be coordinated. Sure, maybe coordination and rhythm is something that many people are naturally born with, but they are also skills that can be learned. However, since I had labeled myself a certain way, I never tried to overcome it.

Then came the clincher. Saturday morning I was jotting down ideas for this post and trying to put it into words, and I wrote this paragraph:

All my life I have I have felt uncoordinated and clumsy. I’ve never had rhythm or grace. Don’t get me wrong, I can hold myself perfectly well, I have good carriage, but I’m not much on the dance floor.

That day we attended a friend’s wedding. I hadn’t finished the post, but parts of it were still floating around in my head, because I was determined to get on the dance floor at the reception. I decided to let go a bit, have fun. Julian is a wonderful dancer, so all I had to do is relax. So, I did.

Now I hadn’t told him anything about all this, but when we got back from the wedding that night, Julian mentioned over and over how good he thought I looked on the dance floor. He kept saying how much fun I looked like I was having – that it showed that I was enjoying my new shape. He told me I was sexy!

So, perhaps I’ve been getting in my own way this whole time. Not that all it takes is changing the way you think and suddenly you’re Ginger Rodgers, but that many of these things that I have been saying “aren’t me” are just that way because I haven’t tried – let alone practiced. Maybe I can learn coordination by learning more about how my body moves… and removing the chains of “you can’t do this.” In fact since we’ve been together, Julian has mentioned taking dance class or a martial arts class several times, and I have always turned him down.

Sunday night he brought up taking a couples dance class again. This time I said, “Sure! That sounds like fun.”

 

Photo credit: Eirik Newth on flickr

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2 thoughts on “You Can Dance If You Want To…

  1. I love this post. I think there is so much to be gained from being open to stepping outside our comfort zones and trying new things instead of relying on our old definitions of ourselves and being content with those. I don’t know about anyone else, but a lot of the ideas I had about what it meant to be me were formed when I was still a kid and I’d never really make an active effort to update them until the past five years or so.

    Before it was like: uncoordinated, can’t cook, shy, unathletic, afraid, etc. Now I’m much more coordinated, I cook like a fiend, I’m confident and I play sports for fun. A few core things have held true, like my love of reading and writing and my emotionally sensitive nature, but I’ve expanded my definition of myself to encompass more than what I thought had been assigned to me when I was younger.

    • Thanks for the comments Caitlin!

      I couldn’t agree more! I’m the same way – so much of my identity was formed when I was just a kid, how I think of myself, how I react to things, choices I make… they all stem back to when I was really little. It’s kind of ridiculous when you sit back and look at it. But it has taken me taking big steps in new directions to even see it.

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