We were in Montreat, NC, over the 4th of July week/weekend, and in that visit, I had a plan to go shopping in the dance store in downtown Asheville.
Josef and I had chatted about exercise just a few weeks prior, and he said that he wished I would dedicate myself to exercising more consistently. He had a point. Pretty much every form of exercise I’ve gotten involved in during my adult years really didn’t stick around. Simply, I got bored and/or distracted.
I joined the gym, got a personal trainer, and worked out on my own at the gym pretty inconsistently for about a year and half.
I tried running every now and then but didn’t enjoy it.
I hula hooped solely for a bit, but, although it was great fun, like any new toy, it got boring for me, too.
I picked up running again. I kept things interesting by adding a dangling carrot for myself: treating myself to British chick lit audiobooks to run to. That was all good, except I didn’t have a consistent schedule, an endless cue of books I hadn’t listened to, or consistently good weather or schedule.
Along with admitting my love for British chick lit, I have to admit another shallow quality of myself: I enjoy watching the show Dance Moms. Truthfully, the dancing on there is amazing, and it’s done by girls who are, I think, 14 and under. While I could do without the majority of what the show has to offer, I love watching the girls compete with the routines they picked up across the week. It reminds me, now that I think about it, of how the cheerleaders I used to coach could learn a dance routine so quickly.
When I cheered, this was my poorest skill. I got laughed at all the time for it, especially during tryout week, when everything was already so nerve-wracking. Luckily my jumps were good and I could hit motions sharply and project my voice well, but dancing was the hardest thing as it didn’t come as naturally. I had to work so hard to remember the 8 counts to every routine, and even after I felt I’d learned it cold, my nerves were still so bad that I could easily forget the routine when it came time to performing it. Needless to say, even without it being pointed out to me, I was always in the back lines of dance formations so that those who could actually dance could be at the front, showing what the motions were actually supposed to look like, not as danced through the stylings of “please don’t watch me dance” Susan!
(This pic reminds me, my calf muscles also were a point of mockery on my cheerleading squad. I’ve since learned that 1. guys think calf muscles are hot, and 2. that was why I was able to do such good jumps. So THERE.)
It’s funny to think about my life in terms of dancing. I started pretty young. My sisters and I danced at a small studio in Boiling Springs, SC. It moved to varying locations by the time I quit in 3rd grade (this is when I started cheerleading), but I had basics in tap, jazz, and ballet. Mind you, I never was good at it, but I did enjoy dance class.
Flash forward to 6th grade, the spring chorus concert. I had cheered for little league for three years, but not danced. 6th grade had been a pretty good year, aside from general puberty-related insecurities. I’d volunteered to dance for one of the songs in our chorus concert. Tap was the style of dance chosen. Luckily, my big sister’s tap shoes fit me, so I had shoes to wear. Our chorus teacher asked a girl, B., in our dance number group to choreograph our routine (she was already a competitive dancer, just like the girls on Dance Moms!). B. quickly learned that the group she was working with were not really up to her standards, mostly because of me. I still remember the song we danced to, but not the routine. I remember the night of the concert, one of the other girls in the group asked me if I could do higher level tap dancing than what was in the routine, and I think I lied and said I could (see again: general puberty-related insecurities), but was quickly found out when she asked me if I could do a certain move, which I sadly couldn’t demonstrate on the spot. The next week, in chorus class, we watched the video from the concert. A boy in my class laughed during the dance routine I was in and kindly (okay — UNkindly) pointed out that my thighs were very jiggly in the dance. And this was visible to him in the early 90s VHS quality. In my quiet shame, I vowed I would never tap dance again, and I also simultaneously realized that I was no longer as skinny as I used to be. I’d stopped growing upward and had started growing out instead. How I wish I could go back and talk to myself about how absolutely everyone’s legs jiggle during tap dancing, but at that time, it seemed I was marked as a washed-up, has-been, overweight loser. A GREAT feeling, really.
One summer, after 7th grade I think, I missed dancing all of sudden. I think my dance studio had officially closed by then, and my sisters were probably working, as were my parents, so I had no way to get to a dance class. I would “dance” for hours and hours on my parents’ car port making up dance routines I’d quickly forget. I’d walked around in relevé, leaping through the air, and stretching, thinking if I couldn’t go to dance class, I’d have dance class come to me. I am sure my neighbors thought was nuts. (I was.)
I didn’t traipse back into dance until junior year. By that point, I’d become I high school football cheerleader, having the dance experience described above. The spring of sophomore year, I’d become friends with A, who’d choreographed that 6th grade tap dance routine, and she’d told me and my friend Holly about a modern dance class at her dance studio. Holly and I took a summer class and then decided to take the class during the school year. It was a lot of fun, but it was only one hour a week.
The summer after junior year, Holly and I attended South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts in Theater, which involved taking a lot of jazz classes. There was tons of stretching involved, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was more interested in whether or not a boy in my class liked me. Also, I wanted to improve my singing that summer. So, I was doubly distracted.
In college, I volunteered to teach dance through our Student Volunteer Services. That was kind of silly that I was teaching it at all, because the little elementary-aged girls and I were pretty much on a level playing field in terms of dance knowledge. I relied heavily on the expertise of my college roommate, Rachel, who had actually studied ballet right up until college.
Flash forward to coaching cheer. I would find myself at home trying to do the motions of the dances the girls had learned, only to discover I couldn’t remember what happened at various counts in the dance number. How I envied those cheerleaders who could learn and perfect a whole dance in a matter of days. It would have taken me weeks! Luckily, the coach didn’t have to perform! They definitely would have stuck me in the back of the formation again!
Back to the shop in Asheville over 4th of July weekend:
After Josef’s and my conversation, I had decided to look for a dance studio. Maybe this form of exercise would stick. I looked online for “dance studio Atlanta” and came up with a studio super close to my house.
It had all kinds of classes: ballet, jazz, hip hop, etc., along with ZUMBA classes and other things I’d never heard of (I’ve come to learn that the classes are named after some of the instructors). I read through the FAQs and came away with knowing I could pay as I go, meaning I didn’t have to sign up for a semester of dance and commit to something that I had to attend one hour a week one a certain day of the week. This flexible option really agreed with me.
Thinking I’d start with ballet and jazz, and later maybe branch out to try some other classes, I bought a couple of leotards and some slip on jazz shoes (they didn’t have my size in ballet shoes at that store). I called the following Monday to the dance studio and asked a lot of newbie questions until I was satisfied that I could confidently walk into this place and set aside the fears that my legs would jiggle or that I would look like a complete idiot if I messed up.
I went to a yoga class and wanted to cry. It was hard! I had done yoga before, but it had not been in an intentionally hot room filled with advanced students who could balance on one foot for what seemed like hours. I went ballet next, thinking it would be better. It was taught by a man who takes time off from teaching to go perform in Cirque du Soleil shows – wowzers! It also was difficult and I felt out of my element. The next day though, I felt really good. I was sore from what I’d done, and I remembered how much I have always loved stretching and that dance was always something I’d enjoyed, even if I hadn’t been very good at it. I figured that everyone has to start somewhere, so I could only get better if I kept going to to this dance studio.
For the last two months, it has gotten better. I have danced 4-7 hours each week the last 6 weeks. This is crazy coming from someone who before would only exercise, at most, 30 minutes a week (one run), and that’s being generous. Josef definitely had a point – I wasn’t exercising consistently.
I don’t know if I will keep dancing at this rate. It’s probably unrealistic, but I hope I will keep going. I keep inviting others to come dance with me, and I love the dance studio and its teachers. I’ve had such wonderful experiences there. I’ve gotten stronger as a result of my dancing. I have identified things to work on by myself, and I’ve also figured out why I wasn’t good at dancing in cheerleading: outside of cheerleading, I’d never had much experience with learning choreography. But in my hip hop classes and others I’d taken, we learn something new each class, so I’m stretching that part of my brain now. And this past week I was in a class way over my head, and though I was having a meltdown in my head, the sweet, sweet instructor said she wanted me to not hesitate so much, to trust myself, that she could tell that I had danced before! And my internal monologue had me thinking I was out of my element, I didn’t understand what was going on, and that she was going to say things similar to that to me once I asked for help. But she didn’t, and I am starting to trust myself to try things out, even though I don’t know what I am doing! 🙂
Josef’s happy for me that I’ve found this dance studio. It’s really the perfect combination of what I need right now in my life: kind people to dance with, I go when I can (which has turned out to be often!), I don’t feel guilty when I can’t go as there are always more classes to attend later, and it’s super close to our house. I feel awesome, I love that I am back in dancing, and I actually think I am a better dancer now than I ever was in the past because of all the stretching and technique classes I’ve taken there.
My wish for you, reader, is that if you don’t have something in your life that is giving you life, that you’ll go out and seek it! It’s out there! It might even be less than 10 minutes away from your house. 🙂