My Relationship to Dance

[This was written to a dance instructor I hoped to date, but had not met.  Our meeting was delayed two weeks because I got a gnarly cold.  This was my attempt to sort out how I felt about dating a dance instructor – how I felt about dance, plus keep her interested, and to share a lot of my background in general, with a theme of dance.  It is not personal to her, she thought I should publish it on a dance blog, hence ok to share with whomever.]

Dear ___:

It is one in the morning, my head is all stuffed up, I’m tired, but I cannot sleep. I like to write.  Especially when I cannot sleep.  Usually then, when I cannot sleep, it is because my mind is so actively chewing on something it won’t let go of – such that it keeps me awake.  That is not the case tonight, I simply slept too much in the daytime trying to beat off this stupid cold.

So late at night sometimes finds me writing letters to people; maybe letters to people I don’t even know; letters I usually never send.  That practice started when my marriage of 18 years was dead and I was trying to sort all that out; years before it actually came to an end even.  It continued through my divorce, and subsequent growth, and to now.

Tonight I am writing you.  About dance.  This might get long.  And no, not in a thousand years would I expect you to reciprocate even a little — again, I like to write, it is meditation for me.

Thoughts on My Relationship to Dance

Why dance?  Well obviously dance is a pervasive and profoundly important part of your life.  So if I was to be so lucky that we hit it off and down the line I found myself in a relationship with you, then while dance could of course be mostly your thing, and I could be your most fervent fan, still I would imagine I’d need, and desire, to be able to dance with you, sometimes.  And to my mind, hopefully much more than just sometimes. Plus dance has simply been on my mind – stewing in my bucket list – for some time.  I’m trying to seek more balance in my life, and trying to work on the areas where I am less knowledgeable, or weaker, or less attuned.

And life is a dance. Relationships are a dance. Perhaps a safe anchor point, from which each partner can move out and move in, exploring the world, from a place of safety, dancing forward through life, together. Dance seems to me to have an ubiquitous presence in life, even for those who think they cannot dance, and those that might otherwise believe they have nothing to do with dance.  And my new career, so much sitting.  They say sitting is the new smoking. So I chase after more formal exercise. But a concept of simply moving, somehow, to combat the sitting-not-moving, intrigues. Dancing a bit through my work day, in a vague sense, appeals. Bringing more movement, some dance, into my life, appeals greatly.  I really like that name Movement Culture; that I discovered browsing your Facebook stream.

My friend Heather told me recently that I sometimes move like I am not in touch with my body.  That stung big-time.  I don’t think she realized; she did not mean it heavily, or meanly. She was talking about being all ga-ga over her martial arts instructor, and how he moved so fluidly, and that I should take martial arts.  So that is a sore spot with me, I don’t agree fully with her assessment, but there is likely some truth to it still; I am long, and lean, and can see perhaps not perceived as fluid.  So I want to try yoga, and dance, to get more in touch with my physical self.  I always think of me as my mind, and my heart, and my soul.  I think that I have historically thought of my body more as a vehicle I am traveling in.  Which is not good, I cannot buy a new body like a new car, and best I be able to drive this body as adeptly as possible.  Which this sounds bad – it is not so bad as it sounds.  I’m not clumsy, and I have great potential. Some have even told me I dance well. Please don’t rule me out just yet. (-:

But what about dancing, learning dancing, dance styles more specifically?  I guess I should start from the start.

As a kid I was hyperactive, always bouncing. It is a good thing they didn’t go in for ADHD medication back then, as my mom says she would have had me on it.  I have seen old 8mm? video film of myself like at a childhood birthday party, and I literally bounced and moved, constantly.  Always in motion.  Nowadays I can sit completely still, but I did not fully achieve that ability until I was maybe 40.

As a kid I think I would have enjoyed learning tap.  My feet were always tapping, perhaps nervous energy, anyway.  But my sister took tap and ballet.  This was my sister Tracy, oldest of three sisters, all three younger than me.  She being next born was a rival, and if Tracy did some particular thing, I likely chose to do the opposite. Thus dance lessons as a kid didn’t happen. I still think I’d enjoy learning tap – who wouldn’t want to attempt to do at least a little bit of what this guy can?

I love Gregory Hines.  And I love how he is long and somewhat gangly like me (well he’s not gangly, but sort of, in general gestalt), but he still moves so well, and so much joie de vivre, so much his face smiles with ease.

In high school, we were all too cool (read: dumb males) for dance. None of my friends even went to prom.  Partly because it interfered with returning to family and friends in Indonesia. In high school my parents and sisters lived in Indonesia; we moved there at the end of 8th grade for me.  My dad was a chemical engineer and he worked at a liquified natural gas plant on the coast of Borneo, 9 miles above the equator.  The company provided housing and we had a maid and gardener even, kind of lived the high life.  There was not much for kids to do there – no shopping malls to hang out at, no skating rinks to go to.  But the company provided boats, with drivers even, so we spent much of our time on the ocean – diving, skiing, sailing, fishing.  The company had a school there that went up to 8th grade.  All the high school kids from there went to Singapore American School, I think almost 1000 miles away, and lived in a big three story house.  Girls on the top floor, house parents in the middle, boys on the bottom floor.  Every holiday we’d all return to Indonesia, and prom was over a holiday long weekend, so we all skipped it, preferring to head to Indonesia.

In college, since I had lived in a dorm-like situation in high school, I opted not to live in the dorms.  I came to UA for school because I thought I wanted to be pre-vet, and UA is a land grant agricultural school.  And because I had some family here, was originally born here, and loved the Sonoran desert, and the warmth.  Not living in the dorm was a mistake.  Everyone made friends through the dorm, or else previously lived in Tucson and already had friends here.  That first year was very lonely for me.  Plus the culture shock of being back in the States, plus I was very introverted back then.

Trying to break out of that introversion, I did sign up at one point for a country swing class.  They also covered a lot of ballroom dances.  The class was fun, in a trepidatious sort of way.  I think I did better with the ballroom dances like the waltz, and passable with country swing. No I don’t remember any of it any more.  An interesting aside is the girl I gravitated towards dancing with. I was quite enamored of her, in the waltz she carried herself so gracefully. I thought she had a boyfriend, so I escaped ever having to summon up the courage to ask her out. I thought that because there was always this guy who would meet her after class, she would leave with him. I found out like at the end of the last day of class he was her brother. Sigh. So then I never saw her again. Always wondered what became of her.

Only I did see her again. I was doing the online dating thing, a couple of years ago, and came across her. We ended up facebooking even before we met, and I saw old pictures of her, and they stirred old memories. I asked her, and yes she had taken that class, and yes it did turn out to be her, 20+ years later. We went on a couple dates, she was nice, but we didn’t really have enough in common, no chemistry. Still I think she is cool people, she posts really cool stories about her kids on facebook. We did sign up for some Groupon dance thing, and went to a couple of lessons, to explore what sort of dance style we might consider learning together, anew. I think we leaned towards salsa, because it seems there are more chances to dance salsa in Tucson socially. But overall we were not a match, were going to be just friends, and then I met someone else, and the new woman did not dance, so that ended that, for the time being.

In grad school I finally grew out of my shell, but then met my ex-wife of 18 years. She wasn’t in to dancing, so I was never motivated to learn for that part of my life.

Fast forward to my divorce. Window shopping online profiles. All those women, they all say they like to dance. Uh-oh. And club dancing on crowded dance floors?  To pop music, rap? I’m so long, and spread out, and gangly. Dancing a challenge for me period, not Mr. Super Coordinated, but in tight quarters, all the worse. And here I am, not having dated in 20 years, not having really dated ever, and most likely, I was going to – sooner or later – have to dance. I was scared, mortified. Thankfully, I was somewhat saved by this African American friend I made at the apartment complex I moved in to post-separation. He could dance. He was built, he could even make his pecs dance, he’d tease people dancing his pecs to the music as we might be sitting outside having a beer some evening. Which, I know it is silly, but that mesmerized me.  I’d kill to have pecs like that.

Anyway, he saved me because he said fake it til you make it. He showed me a simple side to side two step. He said just do that, you can get away with that the whole night. And then just add in something here, something there, as the music grabs you. It worked. One evening I did end up dancing with this woman who talked me into going dancing at the gay bar IBTs. It was fun. The music there, the atmosphere, at least that night, was just fun, accepting. Everyone was dancing together on the dance floor, more guys than girls, but it was all good, I was even flattered that it seemed like some of the guys were checking me out – not my persuasion, but still flattering. She said I danced well, but I have no idea if she was just being kind, and/or if she even had good judgment being maybe a little drunk herself. But it was fun. I was inspired to re-look at taking dance lessons.

Then I met the woman I just got out of a relationship with of about two years.  She didn’t dance. So dance lessons, yet again, were not high enough a priority.

Now we are close to today. Back into the dating scene post that about two year relationship, yuck. I mean I like meeting new people, and I have optimism, but still, I’d rather be in a relationship – I’d rather be building big love – than dating. But dance. I do still want to learn to dance. My body wants to dance.  I catch myself dancing in the car, when the music makes me move. And now, I get to meet a beautiful, vibrant, joyful, gratitude-practicing, amazing seeming woman who is a dance instructor.  Oh my. So back to the start. If we hit it off, and I guess it is silly to even think of that when we haven’t even met, but IF we did, then I am going to need to learn to dance. Which is cool, I want to. But it is going to be a long road for me.

You know those Brene Brown videos I sent? You mentioned seeing them before, and I imagine you might be much further down the path of exploration in those kinds of areas than me. I learned of her, remarkably, from my ex-wife.  Whose therapist described her to me in a round about way as “vulnerability-phobic.” Long story, but I am pretty open, and she was the opposite. I felt some shame because of that; sometimes I wondered if she was embarrassed by me. It was almost like she was the stereotypical male in our relationship, sort of, and I am just speaking of stereotypes, so please don’t think me sexist. Just I would be the one wanting more touch (not sexual necessarily, just plain old touch), and I would sometimes want to be the one to talk about the relationship, and so on, things stereotypically attributed to the woman perhaps. Whereas she wanted none of that and seemed to think me weak for it – almost made me feel effeminate; yet I know I am not. I was a stay home dad for 8 years, so maybe in touch with my nurturing side, but most definitely not effeminate.

Anyway, that is why it was a surprise to learn of those videos via her.  She was sharing them because post-divorce, she wanted our son Cooper to see the same therapist she was seeing, and she wanted me to understand what sort of thinking the therapist advocated. I loved the videos – the white horse – I felt so validated – no I was not needy to want love – it was basic human need – not “needy” in the negative, clingy sense – and no I was not weak because I was open – I was strong, courageous even.

But why do I mention vulnerability when I am talking about dance?  Because all art, all putting yourself out there, being seen, being heard, is vulnerability.  And for me, I suspect, dance will be the hardest kind of vulnerability to lean in to. For me, it is vastly easier to openly share my deepest fears verbally than it will be to let myself truly go — on a dance floor — in front of others.

So that is why I say it will be a long haul for me.  You know that saying, about summoning up 20 seconds of insane courage? I think I even read it on some dance web site. They talked on that site about just jumping in, and sticking with it for awhile, and it would come. I think it is going to take a LOT of 20 second bits of insane courage, strung together in excruciating agony, for me to someday become a decent dancer.

And I just want to say, I’m up for that. Mortified, but up for it.


[link to Brene Brown’s TED Talks page, scroll down for her Ted talk videos:]