Susan's Blog

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Dancing With Myself

Even before I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be a ballerina. I’m not going to say, “What girl doesn’t?” because that’s crap. My sister did not. Ever. She was into her own kind of stuff as a kid; I actually don’t know what she wanted to be when she was little (I will ask her). It’s funny that we say when we are little, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and then when we are grown up, we like to think about what we wanted to be when we were little. When we are little we know ourselves in a way that we can forget when we grow up. I think back to me and I can remember how I thought, how I felt. It was still me, but so much more naive. I can still hear my young thoughts and I smile at how passionate and sweet they were. But I also long to be her sometimes because she knew me without a lot of grown-up discouragement and “reality” knotting up underfoot.

My cousin Karyn (back then she was “Karen”) took ballet, tap, and skating. Karen was beautiful, is beautiful, with long straight black hair and almost black eyes. Once, when I was around seven, I opened Karen’s closet and saw a long row of “flairy” dresses; this was what my sister and I called dresses that flaired out from a sash at the waist. One of those dresses was gold lame. I could not believe that someone my age could have such a dress! But of course Karen did. She also had a great little skating outfit. I did not understand why I could not have clothes like this and lessons for things like that but Mom and Dad did not think it was “for me.” I guess I didn’t push the point, but instead tried to accept how others saw me.

They signed me up for Modern Dance, which I hated. Everyone wore all black and cut-off leggings. I looked at myself in the wall that was entirely mirror and saw my round stomach and muscular thighs and thought I was tubby. The other girls looked like black sticks. The dance teacher, Mrs. Taube, though slim, looked lumpy to me in her leotard and tiny skirt tied around her waist. Why doesn’t she wear a tutu? I thought. That was what I wanted. I would see the girls who were taking ballet in the class after me, like a box of candies, all sugar pink and frothy. I don’t know why I did not ask for something like ballet or a tutu; maybe I did once and was told, “No.” Maybe I felt embarrassed for wanting it, when really Modern Dance was so much more sophisticated, kind of the Anti-Barbie of dance. My parents were not Barbie people, either, though they bought them for me. But see, I knew how they felt about it, even then. That might have dampened my enthusiasm along the way. Playing with Barbie, like wanting a tutu or a gold lame dress, were like my guilty pleasures, even before I really knew what guilt was. They were the things I was not supposed to like, and yet I did. And the not-supposed-to added to the thrill.

I pay attention to that guilty pleasure thing now because I think it will tell me a lot about me, and who I really am, versus who I am supposed to be.

Eventually, as a twelve-year-old, I did take ballet, but it was a similar experience to the Modern Dance. Everyone wore leotards, some even pink, but no tutus. We were too old and “serious” by then. Tutus were for the little kids. Of course we were not actually “serious,” because if you are “serious” about dance you start as a little kid. Too late, too late, were the words that flew around my brain like mosquitos that you can’t really ignore. I looked in the wall-mirror and saw my emerging womanly body and did not like it at all; everything looked misshapen and wrong, squeezed into a pink leotard, stretched tight like a birthday balloon.

Decades passed and ballet became a thing to watch, an event to dress up for at the Wang Center or Lincoln Center; a birthday treat. Swan Lake is my favorite. The music is unbelievable. Ned hates ballet but every now and then accompanies me. The person who loves to go with me is Mom. It is not ironic. Mom always loved ballet; she and Dad just didn’t see it for me. They did not understand me fully back then, and I did not know how to explain myself to them. I did not know how to stick up for myself about that kind of thing; sure, I never took crap from anyone and even punched a boy at the bus stop once, but in terms of revealing a deep, inner desire that others did not believe — that was fraught with shame.

Sometime around April or May I looked at that Shakira “Hips Don’t Lie” video. As I watched her dance, I felt something grip me, a kind of longing, a hunger, sort of like looking up in Karen’s closet and seeing that gold lame dress. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to dance like that. Only now, even though I’m older now and not in my first bloom like Shakira, I’m not afraid or ashamed of what I want.

And the wonderful thing about belly dance is, you can be full bodied; the more voluptuous, the better. There is no lumpy. I am now taking my second series of classes, with a new teacher. She is a real disciplinarian. She corrects our form, even down to how and where our fingers point. Last night I learned a shoulder shimmy and a belly roll. I did it perfectly after practicing at home for two more hours. Just like Shakira. Well, like me, really, but that was good, too.

Yesterday I went to my belly dance teacher’s store in Cambridge. Two double doors, shut. Frame painted deep red. I rattled the knob, and the clerk swung it open. I looked up, and saw costumes hanging overhead, and on walls and racks. Feathers, gold and silver coin belts, bright colored fringe, sequins, sashes. I felt happiness and a deep forbidden thrill wash over me and I stepped inside.


I’m happy that you’ve found something to enjoy and be passionate about. That’s a wonderful thing indeed.

Today, I’m working professionally doing what I wanted to do as a child. I see that gift for how wonderful it is. In fact, I know not even one other person who is doing, professionally, what their childhood dream was. That always strikes me as sad.

— added by Joel Smith on Wednesday, October 4, 2006 at 10:16 am

YOu go girl!

— added by enna id on Wednesday, October 4, 2006 at 11:08 am

Party like it’s your birthday! err-in a belly dancing costume. Fun. So, I had this white netting long, layered skirt that I used to wear over all sorts of things..riding bike and stuff at around the age of 10, if I remember right. I know the dream of a tutu…gaw! I wish I could scan this one prom picture of a dress I made-black tutu under. You could honestly have any color tutu and even make it yourself for about $20-30. Tutu it up in the attic. “ know you got me hypnotized..” 😀

— added by mrs. gilb on Wednesday, October 4, 2006 at 12:55 pm

Yeah! I actually own a black tutu but I don’t like it. I am shucking the tutu thing for a belly dance costume. I tried one on in the store yesterday — emerald green. Amazing. Ned knows where to find it in time for October 18!

— added by Susan Senator on Wednesday, October 4, 2006 at 1:40 pm

Go for it! Dance, dance, dance!

— added by Steve Sherlock on Wednesday, October 4, 2006 at 8:18 pm

Whew! I was wondering what you were referring to! Billy Idol has a song called, “Dancing with Myself” and he’s referring to, uh, well, it’s not dancing, that’s for sure! 🙂

— added by Wendy on Thursday, October 5, 2006 at 10:39 am

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