“I want you at my wedding, and I want you to dance the way you dance,” a friend said to me earlier this month.
Needless to say, I was touched. Someone wants me to dance? Ce n’est pas possible.
You see, dancing and me, we go way back, and not necessarily in the best way.
When I associate the word dancing with my life back in the United States, I associate it with all things negative: shame, embarrassment, fear, failure.
However, when I associate the word dancing with my life here in France, it is a word associated with fun, positivity, and laughter.
I was a gymnast for 14 years. And I was a good gymnast. But I couldn’t dance. I was known for my forté on bars and even on the vault. But, one very rarely saw me competing on the floor or beam. I could tumble just fine, but, always lost all of my deductions through my dance. I had no poise, no coordination, and no grace. Worst of all, I had no confidence.
As a pre-teen, I was required to enroll in extra dance lessons in order to improve my floor and beam scores. I remember feeling humiliated as I struggled to complete the same kicks, twists, and turns as the others, and had to watch and repeat myself in front of my coaches, and in front of the mirror again, and again, and again. Throughout my high school years, I couldn’t keep up or master the most basic floor routine choreographies. I was mocked and snickered at by teammates and coaches for my lack of dancing capabilities, both on the floor exercise and off of it. I felt ashamed and embarrassed when I danced, and avoided it at all costs, both at the gym and in my private life. I learned to associate dancing with shame, with embarrassment; with something that my body was to avoid, and something that was completely out of my reach; something that I was not good enough to do, or to master.
Fast forward to now. Parties, get-togethers, etc., in France include dancing–lots of dancing. And I dance. Sometimes, I dance with a partner. Sometimes, I lead the crowd. And sometimes, I dance with only myself. Am I probably just as terrible at dancing as I was as a competitive gymnast? Probably. But I am a heck of a lot more confident. And perhaps that is what has made all of the difference.
Back in the states, I always tried to blend in with the crowd– to disappear into the corner, not to be noticed or ridiculed. My voice often felt muted, my choices felt mocked. But in France, or on the road, I’ve had no choice but to put myself out there– to use my voice to get noticed, to get things done, to fix my mishaps, regardless of the outcome. I’ve had to confront cultural misunderstandings, laugh about silly travel mistakes, and learn how to combat the world– all alone. I’ve had to become comfortable in my own skin, and accept and be confident with who I am.
I often question if I would have eventually arrived at this current state of mind as quickly as I have if I had not jumped ship and moved to France. In some ways, it’s hard to be sure. But above all, I also wonder if teenage Dana could have rocked the floor or the beam a bit harder if she had just thrown her hands up, ignored the haters, stopped trying to perfect the imperfections, and just danced.
Nevertheless, I am confident that today’s Dana, when given the choice between being wallflower or being on the dance floor, chooses the ladder.
Have you been able to overcome fears or improve your confidence because of your travels?