This month’s guest is a fellow writer/dancer who has explored a variety of partner dances for almost 20 years! Her latest passion is Argentine Tango, but from every style, she’s found another piece of the puzzle that is her true self.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Karen Kaye.
I came into the world of dance deeply disconnected. I was 25 and had just begun grad school. I knew I wanted to study psychology, but was torn between four different areas of focus. I had a myriad of casual hobbies and pursuits – none of which I was passionate about. I had friends I secretly couldn’t relate to, a job I was too good for and a hunger to do something more than work and get married.
I was struggling to connect with something that would capture my heart and spirit. I needed to find my home.
A friend invited me to try Salsa one night. It was a fantastic night – the DJ took a liking to me and spent most of the night dancing with me. I did things I didn’t know I could do! He left me feeling like I was the most amazing, talented woman in that room! I was in awe.
I went back again two nights later. And that’s when I realized that dancing was only easy when dancing with a pro dancer. But I was already hooked.
With the exception of that first night, dancing felt awkward, embarrassing and at times simply miserable. And yet… painfully irresistible. I was an awful dancer. But I couldn’t stop myself. I began dancing 2, then 3, then 5 nights a week. I never got better. I switched to Lindy Hop. I got worse.
I often reflect back on those early years… and wonder why I stuck with it. I don’t have a good answer for that. Sure, I made friends early on who I’ve now known for almost 20 years. And the venue where I danced 5 nights a week truly had a magical quality to it.
But I was incredibly frustrated. It felt hopeless – and yet irrepressible. I was a struggling grad student counting out my $5 cover charge in coins on the front steps of the venue. I couldn’t afford private lessons and group classes didn’t help much. The dance community did feel like home to me, but it was a house I didn’t know how to live in.
To make it worse, I came into the dance world not really knowing who I was. Or who I wanted to be. I only knew that I didn’t want to dance like everyone else. What I didn’t know was how to dance like myself.
I started by figuring out what didn’t resonate with me. I didn’t want to just “execute” a movement. I didn’t want dancing to feel mechanical where we just went through the motions. I wanted dancing to feel natural, raw, and very Zen. I wanted to be fully in the moment where I would simply express what was happening with my partner and the music as we felt it.
I also wanted a real conversation (not scripted or filtered!) on that dance floor with all the human elements of it. If I was feeling spunky or flirtatious during a song, I let those personas come into my movement. I wanted people to see my personality and emotions in my dancing. I didn’t want to be just a dancer; I wanted to be a storyteller. I wanted to tell the story of the song, of the dynamic with my partner, of what I felt in that moment.
I began moving through different forms of dance and movement…. lindy hop, west coast swing, ballroom, blues, fusion, ecstatic dance, contact improv. Each one helped reconnect me to a missing part of myself. I loved the music for west coast swing – it cracked open levels of creativity I didn’t know I had in me. Blues reconnected me to being raw and vulnerable. Ecstatic dance made me feel completely unfiltered and took storytelling to all new levels.
And then there was tango. Shifting me without a clutch to square one. I had to learn all the technique that I never had to learn in other dances. Some of it were things I had figured out intuitively in other dances, but most of it was brand new to me. I was truly starting over. It was deeply humbling but I embraced it with hunger.
Tango also connected me to a desire to learn the art of movement. For the first time, dancing wasn’t just about playing and having a super fun time. Tango made me want to study, practice, and work on my craft. And I loved discovering the part of me that needed to experience dance on this level. I feel blessed to have experienced this full spectrum of various dances and being able to explore myself through all of them.
This entire journey has been about going on this wild treasure hunt… unexpectedly discovering parts of myself that either got lost, broken, twisted or silenced. I had many dances, conversations and experiences that sparked major epiphanies that helped weave my world back together, giving me clarity, a voice and a weird kind of purpose.
For most of my dance life, my purpose was simple: Having fun.
But lately my purpose has returned to where it started. Finding myself.
So let dance be more than a dance. Let dance be the way you connect with your true self. Let it be the vehicle that drives you to seek the fullness of who you are – and who you are meant to become. And never stop seeking.
Connect with Karen and read more about her journey of self-discovery through dance at https://karenkaye.net/.