Happy Fourth of July, dancers! Does it feel different to anyone else? Well, to be fair, every day of 2020 feels different than the years before. But this Independence Day in particular feels significant because it follows a month of protests and demonstrations over the fact that so many citizens of this country still don’t enjoy the freedoms that this country is so proud of.
The energy has quieted down on my social media feeds as people return to their “regularly scheduled programming” after expressing support or solidarity for social justice for a week or so. And now it’s Independence Day! It feels like a prime opportunity/symbolic transition point to commit long term to evolving into a better country that believes that all are created equal (no qualifier necessary).
For my part, I’m continuing to work to evolve into a better dancer and person overall. As we go through this series, I’ll share different parts of my vision for my future self. Something that the last few months has made me recognize (and I can’t remember if I’ve already shared this with you) is that our ballroom bubble is an illusion.
We walk into the dance studio and it feels like walking through a magical gateway that prevents any of the “real world” from following us. Dance is our escape from the dirt and grime of reality into a world filled with bright lights, beautiful people and shiny rhinestones. The business side of ballroom works hard to deliver this fantasy and we eat it up.
But reality came crashing through the door with COVID-19 leading the charge. Our bubble was burst as studios closed and competitions cancelled. Next, we had to face the fact that our fantasy world wasn’t so welcoming to everyone. Racism exists even in ballroom dance.
As my pre-COVID vision faded into oblivion, I was left with a big ‘ol question mark about my dance future. In what direction did I want my dance journey to go now? What would my goals be?
More “recently” (time has become a much more fluid concept so it could have been last week or last month), I’ve switched from thinking about the what or where of my future to thinking about the who of my future. Who did I want to be? How did I want to show up as a dancer?
Considering the who instead of the what gave me a greater sense of control. I have no idea what the rest of 2020 is going to look like (anyone else have sharknados for July?). I can’t even predict if the studios will remain open or if they’ll be shut down again. What I can predict and control is who I’m going to be and how I’m going to show up in whatever crazy scenario 2020 throws at us next.
All of this was in my head as I drove to the studio on Wednesday for my first in-person dance lesson in 3.5 months. In the last 3.5 months, I also haven’t been around more than one person at a time and it’s always been at home so my fur babies were with me. Because of that, I was also driving to the studio with some social anxiety butterflies in my stomach and chest.
The butterflies quieted down as soon as I walked into the studio. Teacher and the studio manager were the only ones there. Both had masks and gloves on. I had put my mask on in the car after using my asthma inhaler. Even though all of our mouths were covered, I could see the smiles on their faces. Not overwhelming like “OMG, WE’RE SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE!’ More of a calm welcoming “we’re so glad you’re here and let us step back so you have space to come in.”
My temperature was checked, bag was stored, hands were washed, and then it was time to dance!
Where the heck do you start when you haven’t danced together in 3.5 months? Anywhere you want!
Teacher suggested we start slow and just see how much of the Open Waltz routine each of us remembered. I say “each of us” because we were dancing apart. Even though I had serious doubts about my retained dancing abilities, it felt like the right place to pick things back up since my dance lessons pre-COVID normally started with a solo of at least one of the dances, sometimes an entire round.
Turned out my doubts were unfounded! I remembered most of the routine and my body felt surprisingly strong and mostly balanced. Just goes to show that dance doesn’t live in the head, it lives in the body. My body remembered more than my brain.
We spent the rest of the lesson focusing on using my core and back muscles to improve that balance through the beginning sections of the Waltz routine, and I saw quick progress. We danced in contact for a bit as well. I’ve heard it from other dancers and now have experienced it for myself – it really felt like riding a bike, just being able to pick up right where we left off all those months ago.
One thing that I think my body forgot was how much of a full-body workout ballroom dancing can be. I was TIRED by the end of the lesson! My knees were sore, which was no surprise, but damn, my whole body felt worked. Hopefully, that means it will be easier to work off some of the extra weight I put on over quarantine.
Dancing with the mask wasn’t exactly fun, but aside from the lower half of my face getting sweaty, it wasn’t that bad. I had concerns about the mask + my asthma being a bad combination. I was diagnosed just before everyone shut down and was still getting used to the idea that I even had asthma! But it certainly explains all of the times I felt like I just couldn’t catch my breath at competitions or during full-out practice rounds. So would a mask make it worse?
For me, no. Before the pandemic, my doctor had instructed me to use my inhaler before my dance lessons as a preventative, so that’s what I did this time too and I was fine. At least breathing-wise. My knees might disagree.
So the first dance lesson was a success! I felt a sense of peace along with the soreness and tiredness, like my soul was back in its happy place.
Another thing I hadn’t done in 3.5 months was write in my Journal for the Whole Dance Journey. It had been gathering dust in my dance bag too. It felt good to break it out again, the final piece to making the return official.
I think I’ll stop here for now. Next week, I’ll write more about this nonexistent ballroom bubble and how bridging the gap between the “real world” and the ballroom world can move us forward to becoming greater dancers and allow us to bring that happy place feeling home with us.