Living with devastating loss is like dancing on a trap door. One moment I feel light hearted and weightless and the next, like I’m falling fast onto the shards below. Since my son’s death fifteen years ago, I’ve discovered that when I dance more I fall less.
Dancing allows me to see myself in a new light and release the expression of my true self. It is this expression that leads to joy and joy is a lovely place to live. This is why I am attracted to partner dancing so much. My dance with grief, much like ballroom dancing, is performed best when I partner with others. Whether in grief groups or dance groups, the shared experience opens me up to a side of myself I couldn’t have seen alone.
The connecting is where the alchemy happens.
A few months ago, I walked into SoHo Dance LA looking for a place I could call home. Truthfully, I was a bit nervous. I entered and saw the most spacious dance studio I’d ever seen. Inside, stunning young women greeted me. They stopped what they were doing and made eye contact. Their smiles put me at ease. They seemed genuinely happy that I was there. Laughter prevailed throughout the group Hustle lesson taught by Raul Santiago the owner.
It had a good vibe.
Dance balances the serious with the playful. Justin, my firstborn, was in junior high when he and I took our first swing dance lesson which is one of my fondest memories. Remembering his stunning smile and bright brown eyes looking back at me still brings tears to my eyes. Life without him began a year later when his leukemia came back and he died at the age of fifteen.
I cracked open. Saw sides of myself I didn’t know existed. Painfully transformed.
Tragically, six years later, my youngest of four children, Jacob, was also diagnosed with the same kind of non-familial leukemia as his brother. Jacob is now a healthy sixteen-year old boy. He has a great love for pizza and video games and sometimes dances with me in our kitchen. He has no clue how happy I am when he offers me his hand to dance.
This is why I need a strong dance community.
I’ve been social ballroom dancing for about five years and can hold my own in Ballroom, Hustle and Lindy Hop social settings but recently I found myself wanting more. There’s an urgency welling up in me to be a better dancer. With over half a century in this body, perhaps its my biological clock wanting to birth something besides babies? I wonder if I will be able to dance my best a year from now? Ten years from now? What is this force that’s moving me to become more?
Maybe it’s this notion that at midlife I’m not done giving birth to something and dancing has become my new focus. Or maybe at midlife my competitive nature has taken hold and I just want to be the best damn dancer I can be! I took a promotional private hustle lesson with Raul. I quickly discovered that compared to jockeying among multiple partners in group lessons, dancing with Raul privately is like riding a race horse.
Let’s just say I walked in a middle-aged woman and walked out a teenager.
I’m taking lessons with Raul regularly now. He says I have talent. Don’t be scared. I know the difference between being patronized and being praised. These lessons are quite a luxury and I am most grateful to the benevolent forces of life to have manifested this opportunity.
As a nurse and bereaved mother, I know better than to waste a healthy body, mind and spirit. My body is strong. My spirit is powerful and my mind is full of wit, words, and the ability to comprehend instruction. Raul may debate the latter especially when my misstep forces a lowered gaze as he says with a sigh, “Really?” And he repeats, “…and one, two, three…” while exaggerating his steps for the hundredth time. I’ve always thought of dance lessons as simply playing. With Raul the lessons are fun but serious. I can take my passion to new depths without ever missing that playful feeling that makes my heart sing. Like kids on a playground holding hands, spinning.
At my second private lesson, Raul invited me to compete in a Pro-Am in Miami the weekend of April 29th falling serendipitously on my 55th birthday. I heard myself say, “Yes.”
The time is now. I want to know what it feels like to be my fully expressed self. A bonafide, for real, kick-ass, grey haired, 55-year-old Hustle dancer! I must allow the expression of my inner child who likes to rock step, triple step, spin and pivot. My inner child who likes to hold hands with a well matched partner and feel the next move coming through his finger-tips. My inner child who likes to come out and play in twirling skirts, form flattering flowing fabrics and shake my “money maker”.
I trust her.
Laughter, movement, and connection. I’ve found my happy place. Blame it on endorphins or whatever science you like, dance is spiritual and leaves me feeling high. No wonder I sort of float to my car after each lesson.
This is going be a wild ride.
Editors Note: This essay originally appeared on Lisa’s Blog, check out more of her world & wonderful writing here.
For more on the power of physical activity to help heal, read KW Oxnards story I Got My Groove Back Doing a Sprint Triathlon, in which she conquered illness and depression by pushing herself back into competition.