You Belong Here

Happy Summer, dancers! We are nearing the halfway point of 2020. I don’t think anyone expected us to be where we are. Every week seems to bring another plot twist to the year.

So much is happening in the U.S. right now. I took a conscious break last weekend to give myself the time and space to process. I’m still processing and figuring out where I fit into this new reality and how I can continue to contribute to the world in a positive way.

I did want to check in with you though because I heard something last week that broke my heart and woke up the mama grizzly bear in me at the same time. In case you missed it, a small group of ballroom dancers came together to have a conversation about diversity and racism in the ballroom world.

Please set aside two hours to watch the video in full. Seriously. I actually got so immersed in the discussion that I forgot I was preheating the oven until an hour in!

The discussion was so valuable in the different perspectives and experiences that were brought to the table. I loved the different ideas to bring ballroom dance to a greater and more diverse audience, and I love that Sherrad has already been working for a couple years now on bridging the gap between the different dance communities in his area.

What had my heart breaking and my inner grizzly bear waking up were the moments when more than one dancer on the call confessed that because of their experiences in the ballroom world or because of what has been coming out on other ballroom dancers’ social media, they have questioned whether they should return to the dance floor. They questioned whether they really belonged.

No one, I repeat, NO ONE should ever be made to feel that they do not belong where they love to be. No one should ever be made to feel that they are not worthy of their passion.

If you’ve followed me for awhile, then you know that the question of belonging comes up a lot for me. I’ve hit a lot of roadblocks that tried to convince me that I don’t belong in the ballroom world, but the most painful was the one set by another dancer.

Obviously, I’ve managed to push past or break down those roadblocks. I’ve also been blessed to act as a barrier breaker for others when they’ve shared their own struggles with fitting into the world where they fell in love with dance.

It’s one thing if you’re struggling to feel like you belong because of your own inner demons whispering lies. It’s a whole other thing when you’re struggling to feel like you belong because of other dancers’ ignorance, bias, and even hate.

It’s a betrayal of trust that is not easily healed and has ripple effects. When one person breaks your trust, you start questioning how trustworthy other people are, even if they’ve given you no reasons to suspect them. After a bad experience with my first teacher, it took me years to build trust with my current one. And if I’m honest, after almost seven years, I’m still building.

I can never fully understand what it’s like to be a Black ballroom dancer. No matter how badly I want everyone to connect and bond over our shared love of dance, I know I can’t control how others behave or think. I’m a solutions-oriented person. Give me a problem and I will work to solve it.

I can’t solve this problem. None of us individually can fix this. At the same time, I am seeing an amazing surge of open hearts and open minds coming together in this country and in the ballroom world. It gives me hope that together, we can make everyone who wants to be on the dance floor feel welcome and like they belong.

For me, ballroom is first and foremost about the dance, this amazing art/sport that allows two people to share one movement. It doesn’t matter what your gender, age, or race is. It doesn’t matter if you’re short or tall, fat or thin. The only requirements are that you love dance and you’re willing to learn and improve. I guess I was naive to think that this third requirement was implied: you must treat your fellow dancers with fairness and respect.

If you meet those requirements, then you belong here and I’m here for you.

I’m grateful for this tribe because I don’t need to question. I know you all belong here. We have shared this dance journey for better or worse and I am genuinely excited to see what this new chapter brings. Change is happening, and if you’re like me, you’ve been overwhelmed by it more than once in the last few months. That doesn’t stop it from happening though.

More plot twists came to my own personal dance journey this past week when the studio where I’ve trained for my entire ballroom career announced it would be closing its door on July 1. The physical location has actually been two different ballroom studios, and a small part of me hopes that a third owner will magically appear and save the gigantic dance floor. I fear it’s truly gone this time.

I’m going to sorely miss dancing on this floor.

Luckily, I am not without a dance home! Teacher actually moved over to a Fred Astaire franchise studio just before everything shut down, so once he’s ready to reopen, we will pick up there. Last I heard, it could be next week!

I’ll reserve my thoughts on reintegrating back into dance lessons for a separate post. For now, I’ll end by saying I don’t care what anyone else says. You belong here!

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