Beginner belly dance class. Mid-way through the second year, I entered a beginner class, wanting to polish some of those basic moves. The beginners started out with a warm-up that was far beyond my ability to do at all, let alone complete. I was gasping for breath just trying to keep up at half speed. Many of the actions were beyond my ability by a long way: I simply could not make my body do them. And this was a beginners’ class!
I tried. I really did my best. Everything shown that evening was beyond my ability. I felt shocked, dismayed, discouraged. Knowing that even rank beginners were WAAAYYY ahead of me really hurt. I’d been practicing at least one hour a day, often two or even three, for a year and a half, and here were brand-new beginners who were so far ahead of me I couldn’t even keep up with their warm-up.
Then came the actual dance movements. The first lesson, I was able to do all of these at least to some degree. By the third class, I was so far behind I was beginning to despair of evet catching up. I left the fourth class crying. I left the fifth class early and cried alone in my car. I felt like a complete failure. Twenty-one months of lessons and drilling and daily practice and I wasn’t able to keep up with people who had only five lessons. They were stronger, faster, quicker to learn, more agile, more graceful, more talented than me with all my practice and learning and working hard to become a dancer.
I felt like a failure. I dropped out of class, not wanting the pain and humiliation of being reminded what a piece of crap I am. I posted a thank you to all the teachers who had tried to help me. I wanted to die. I felt like I deserved to die for being such a piece of crap.
but…. one of the things that belly dance teaches is that each of us is different. We learn at different speeds. We have different natural abilities. We have different lives with different demands on our time and energy. We are different ages, with different bodies that need different amounts and kinds of rest, activity, recreation, nourishment.
Examining the way I’d been living other than dancing, I saw I had made some terrible mistakes: I’d given up my weekly night out, during which I’d simply relaxed and enjoyed myself. I’d given up my twice-daily walks, which were done more for pleasure than for anything else. I’d turned my dance practice into exercise sessions. It was almost as though I was punishing myself by learning to dance, by doing something that was just for my pleasure instead of to fulfill someone else’s ideas of how I should behave.
I was, in fact, trying to win back as friends those who had been so supportive to me when I was in pain, limping around my arthritis, struggling to climb a flight of stairs, waking multiple times every night because of pain, feeling sorry for me most of the time, and being available to others whenever they wanted to tell me their problems (not one of them offered to share any good news with me. Ever.)
The safety of the familiar had seduced me into returning to the behaviour that had been hurting me for many, many years. Belly dancing made me feel very alive, lovely, and strong in a wonderfully feminine way. It made me feel that being a woman was good. That I deserved to have fun, to laugh at what I think is funny, to be myself and be pleased with me. This was so new that it scared me, and I’d emotionally run away from it back to the familiar deliberate deterioration of me into a helpless, ugly, nasty, depressed old woman.
Well, it’s possible that I’m going to be alive for a couple of decades more. I can choose to live those decades in misery, or I can choose to enjoy life. Enjoying life will mean I have to be me. I have to accept that at 69 years old, my learning curve might be more deliberate and less spontaneous than it was fifty years ago. (goodness, that’s half a century!) On the plus side, that means it’s all my choice, that I’m not sopping up whatever’s there just because it’s there. I’m choosing to learn to make the three quarter shimmy look good on my braw Scottish bottom. It may take a while, but I will do it. That braw Scottish bottom is not old, it’s experienced. um… perhaps I should re-word that…