It’s hard to understand where I’m going if you don’t know where I’ve been.
My friend Erick, who has danced around the world, once told me I was the most energetic bachata dancing woman he had ever met. Usually, when people made comments about me like that they meant I was wild, out of control and danced too hard with no technique. I always thought that perhaps one day I let a little too much emotion show one day and Erick knew my real story: I wasn’t dancing to burn calories. I was dancing to burn memories.
I wasn’t one of those young ladies who started taking ballet, tap and jazz at three and four years old. Not even ten. I wanted to badly. I hand wrote letters to Mayfair Dance Academy and Sammy Dyer (unknown to my parents) begging them for scholarships to dance at their studios. I was probably nine. Nine is when it happened. Nine is when my entire life changed. Nine is when I realized I was different than the other girls and they knew I was different. Nine is when everything happened. Nine is when I started swallow my feelings. I became more introverted except for when I was in charge of a dance. I didn’t want to dance when asked because people made fun of me because I was too “wild” or danced too “hard.” I was having a hard life. But when I could make the dance up, yeah, when I could make it up, it all made sense. I could tell my story inside of the beat. And no one ever knew.
Even now, when I am questioned about my “authenticity” as a teacher, my lack of experience in a structured dance environment, I always think of the things that makes dance real to me. I learned to study movement, not just learn it but feel it, digest it. I learned to only go based on what I feel since I have no real repertoire to pull from as far as tried and true choreography and precise movements. I learned to move in and out of space, how to adjust when things got too heated, how to be quiet when the outside noise made me want to scream but I knew no one would hear me, how to whisper in code so my words wouldn’t be used against me. And that’s how I produce. It’s no wonder you’ll see me singing while I dance because I’m more attached than people realize. It’s not just a sport. Dance has been my private spotlight, where I could lay myself out, naked, in all of my shame, guilt, shortcomings, hatred, bitterness, confusion and make peace with my life.
And it’s a beautiful thing when you can spread what has now become happiness as your job. Wow.
I won’t lie to you. There are days when there is still pain wrapped up in those moments. But dance is so therapeutic. Whether I’m in the studio teaching, dancing in my bathroom mirror or in front of a Zumba class, singing (ok, lip syncing. I know where my talent lies and where it doesn’t. :)), I am giving it everything I have for sake of remembering when I felt like I had no place to do it, remembering when I gave it up, remembering when it was all I had and remembering there may be someone just like me, needing to dig deep inside of them and not feeling like they have permission to be “wild” and “dance hard.” I go full out every opportunity I get. There has been nothing gentle about this process.
There has been nothing gentle about my life.
When I was invited to be a part of Under Armour‘s #WhatsBeautiful campaign, I couldn’t see myself in it. “Redefining the female athlete?” What? Who? Me? Athlete? I’m just a girl with a story. I’m just a girl with some pain. I have never played an organized sport in my life (true story), I don’t run (not even when I was “running”) and I am probably the only yoga teacher in America who doesn’t do handstands and wrap my leg around my entire body. I felt like I had nothing to give. But an athlete is a person gifted in stamina, agility and strength. And I had that. Enduring what I had been through and being able to dance about it was a big deal. And my perspective started changing about who I was, what I did, how I did it and my vision of myself and the people I served. It was almost a year ago that I gave up sleep 🙂 for a couple of weeks and brought 175 dancers of all shapes, sizes, ages and color under one roof to celebrate what was beautiful about them. And each other.
To date, it is the most humbling moment of my career.
And having Misty Copeland as an Under Armour athlete surely helped me out a little. 🙂
Dance is my sport. Dance is my therapy. Dance is my song. Dance, the wild, untamed, unpolished, raw, unapologetic, authentic part of me that gives me life. That’s what’s beautiful.
What’s beautiful in you?