This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a personal development strategist and coach working to help people with self-acceptance, self-trust, and self-compassion. You can learn more about working with me here.
In an effort to drag my body over the line into my 5th decade while retaining some form of muscle tone and cardiovascular ability, I’ve recently reconnected with working out. In particular, dance. There’s this one hip-hop cardio dance studio I started going to about a year ago. I wanted the workout, for sure, but at the time, I was looking for something more, too: a way to reconnect with my body.
I went regularly for a few months then, as it does, life got in the way. I had the craziest year I’ve had in decades; as I wrote on Instagram here, “2019 was a frigging crazy year full of whiplash contradictions. I left my job; I started a business. I buckled under the depressing weight of the state of the world; I felt deeply into the beauty of this experience of life and nature. I dated without success; I took a risk and started a sweet, beautiful romantic relationship where I feel more authentically myself than I have in years. It was… a lot.”
But things are settling, and as I now dictate my own schedule and don’t have to cram workouts into the dawn or evening hours, I made my way back to the dance studio. I’m less self-conscious than I used to be, but there is something about taking your rapidly-middle-aging body into a room of mirrors and lithe 25-year-olds that is still slightly unsettling. But I shake it off now, or at least, try.
At a class I went to right before Thanksgiving, I was stationed behind two aforementioned lithe youths, and as I was a little rusty on the routines, I was keeping my eyes on them throughout the class to try to keep up. And as we danced through the hour, I kept feeling utterly mesmerized by these two young women. They moved fluidly. They tossed their hair. They drank up their own images in the dance room mirror, smiling at themselves, jutting hips out, posing, lost in the movements. They… they loved looking at themselves in the mirror. They were proud and vibrant and happy at what they saw.
When I realized right at the end of class how they must be feeling — sexy, proud, alive, in touch with their bodies, enjoying themselves in the mirror — I felt such a beautiful warm glow spread throughout my body. And then, mortifyingly, I also felt tears.
I scuttled out of the studio before anybody could see me crying, wondering what my watery eyes were about, and quickly realizing I was upset because this:
I couldn’t remember the last time I looked at myself and my body in a mirror that way. That I couldn’t remember the last time I danced with joy and abandon, not caring what I looked like or who was watching, that it had been years — decades — since I loved being in this body and reveled in the joy it gave me.
I used to love to dance as a child. I was in ballet for years, and then have the fondest of memories of choreographing dance routines with my middle school besties, not feeling self-conscious or ridiculous for how absolutely into it we were.
And then, though I would dance at house parties or out at bars, I realized, or decided to believe at some point, that I was not good at dancing. I was awkward, self-conscious. My arms were too long and flailed too much; I couldn’t quite keep up with the rhythm and my attempts at moving my hips were stilted. I believed I was bad at dance and so I just… stopped.
These classes have been an effort to reconnect with the joy, the gratitude, the expression of movement that I want to both feel for myself and to offer the world. And I cried that day after class because I think it truly just hit me how much I had been keeping myself small; how much I had beat myself up; how much I had not tried things because of fear. How scared I’ve been to love myself and be myself fully in the world for most of my adult life.
My movements now are a promise to my heart and body that I love myself, that I can be myself, and that I can show all of myself to the world and be accepted.
I try to emulate those young women in the way I look at myself in the mirror these days at class. It still feels a little difficult, to abandon myself to the movements, to let my body take over, to not judge the way I execute a move. Sometimes it feels hard to look myself in the eyes in the mirror while dancing and feel joy and boldness, not shame and shyness.
But I’m trying.
And I want you to, too.
Make me a promise, right now: that you will try one thing in 2020 that you think you’re not “good” at, or have been scared to do.
Maybe it’s a dance class. Maybe it’s writing a short story, or vacationing alone for the first time ever. Maybe it’s going to a workshop where you don’t know anybody; maybe you can do like I did and pull a full Julia Roberts standing in front of Hugh Grant moment, just asking to be loved.
Maybe it’s big, maybe it’s small. Maybe it’s to do with your body, or love, or fun, or your mind, or travel.
Whatever it is, as you’re reading this: you already know the thing you want to do. And you already know all the excuses.
Don’t let 2020 be the year where the excuses win again.
Try. Risk. Dance. Look in the mirror. Feel joy; feel terror. Feel.
Step into the world, and into your promise. You can do it.
And I’ll be right here, rooting for you with all of my heart.