As I was growing up, I watched countless MGM musicals and reenacted them in front of the mirror. I retraced the steps of Fred Astaire and Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly. I spun and whirled and leapt across my bedroom everyday. I felt like a superstar.
When I got to college, I discovered dance class again. I signed up for Modern Dance on a lark and loved it from the minute the music began. That semester, I choreographed a dance and performed it in front of my class where I was met with enthusiastic support and a dance teacher who said, “You should take ballet.” I signed up for Ballet the following semester.
I was immediately grouped with the “weaker” students and spent each class period embarrassed and ashamed of my obvious lack of technique and grace. I suffered through the class and vowed to never take another.
After Harper Lee was born, I began to dance again. Her happy little body could barely contain the joy within, and so she danced and wiggled and twirled and jumped and ran as we cranked the music louder. I followed her lead, and in no time, I found myself throwing my body around like I had when I was just a young girl.
But I was not a dancer. I knew I looked like a fool, but toddlers don’t care, so I let myself be foolish.
The idea of taking a dance class crossed my mind many times. I liked the way dancing made me feel. It wasn’t really about looking good; it was about expressing myself through movement. Every time I saw flyer announcing a new dance class at a local studio or a group dance at the recreation center, I would think, I should do that. But I never did.
I should do that, I thought, but I didn’t sign up. From time to time, I would come across the link again, on her website or in my inbox, and every time, I would tell myself to do it. Finally, at the last possible minute, I signed up.
What the heck? I reasoned. No one will see me. No one needs to know.
What happened blew me away. Jamie began the two-hour class with a description of what we would be doing and how to get the most from it. I felt nervous. Standing, completely alone, in my living room, I felt stupid, and at first, it was really hard. My body felt stiff. My mind kept saying, You look so stupid. It was so bad, in fact, I started to laugh.
Good Lord, what if a neighbor comes up on the porch right now and sees me?
I kept eyeing the front door in fear that the FedEx man might show up unexpectedly. It was very distracting.
Finally, I closed my eyes. The voice in my head was still there.
But with my eyes closed, I started to loosen up a little. I began to listen to the music more than the voice inside my head. I felt my muscles relax.
Now, to the FedEx man, I still may have looked like a total fool swaying and bouncing around my living room, but inside, I felt like a dancer , the way I had in my bedroom or in that first Modern Dance class. I allowed myself to feel the music and to loosen up and go with it. It was fun. And I felt good.
I was a dancer.
Afterwards, I felt the best I’d felt in months. My heart was beating hard, I was out of breath, I wasn’t as stiff or tight as I had been, and my mind felt amazingly clear. The rest of my day and the days that followed were much more productive.
I found myself thinking about the class again and again, and I realized that it is such a simple thing—the act of dancing and allowing your body to move the way it wants to. It is the ultimate experiment in “letting go.” I had resisted doing this thing that has always been a natural part of the human experience. Like many things, I made it much more difficult than it really is. I don’t have to sign up for a class or perform for others or even be particularly “good” at dance. All I have to do is turn on the music, turn off the voices, and move.
The simplest actions are often the most liberating.