After taking dance classes for awhile, although I was enjoying them, I felt like I was missing something. How were others getting to such high levels in such short periods of time? Some were joining performance teams or even becoming instructors, while I was still piling up class after class, month after month, and not feeling like I had a lot to show for it. Sometimes, I felt more like I was falling behind than getting ahead.
What was the secret?
I decided to just ask. I approached some of the girls who I was envious of on the dance floor. I asked where they learned or what they did to improve. I wanted to find out who they had taken lessons from and what kinds of practise they would recommend. I guess you could say I was searching for the ‘magic formula.’
But it seemed there was none. Nada. In fact, their responses disheartened instead of encouraged me: “Oh, I just took a few lessons, and then figured it out for myself,” said one girl who looked like a rockstar on the dance floor. Or “I never took lessons, I just picked it up going social dancing.” I wanted to curl up into a ball and hide after that one. And then the final doozy was, “Girl, I’m a natural. It’s in my blood being Latina and all. You either got it or you don’t.”
I guess that meant I didn’t, I concluded.
I should have given up at that point. I mean, all the time and money I had already put into this, maybe I should just pack it in instead of wasting more. But I couldn’t bring myself to stop, to stop wanting it, to stop thinking about it, and to stop going out to the salsa clubs that brought me so much joy. Even though I was getting frustrated with my own dancing, when I would hear the music, and watch all the bodies on the dance floor interpreting it in their own unique ways, moving body parts that I didn’t even know could be moved, I felt so alive.
I wanted more of it. But I wanted to be IN it more, to be a part of it. To be one of them. Not just an observer, but to feel what they were feeling. To be one of the ones that outsiders like me were oohing and ahhing over. To be the one who inspired others to want to dance too. But how?
Despite not knowing the answer, I would still show up and put on my sparkly salsa heels, … just in case…
Then one night, as I was admiring the dancers on the floor, I spotted this one couple that really caught my attention. The girl in particular looked like she was having a lot of fun. She was gritty and grounded, but also playful and rhythmical in her movements. She had this African flair to her steps. She made it look easy, and was smiling and laughing, Her and her partner just looked so connected. I decided then to give it one more chance and ask this girl where she learned or what she would recommend for a beginner like me that wanted to improve.
I waited for the song to end, but before I could get her attention, she turned the other way as someone else grabbed her for a dance. To my surprise, the guy she had just been dancing with started walking towards me and put out his hand asking me for a dance.
Oh no, I thought. After that dance you just had with her? I am going to seem like such a bore compared to that. But for whatever reason, my hand didn’t listen to my head. And it placed itself in this guy’s awaiting palm anyway.
I was nervous, but was relieved that this lead started with some simple step rather than rushing into some crazy moves right away. Once he let me get my footing, and hopefully saw I could at least keep a basic step, he started adding in more moves and some I had never learned or even seen before. I was surprised that I could actually follow. His lead was clear and he made it feel easy and even fun. And soon, I was smiling and actually enjoying the dance, without worrying so much about whether I could keep up. I just was.
After the dance, I opened up to him about how I was feeling and how some girls made it sound like dancing wasn’t something you could really learn. He told me not to listen to them. That they may not have taken official lessons, but they had grown up with another dance or sport, or had friends who taught them without official classes. They just weren’t admitting it. He himself had a background in ice skating. And this gave him an advantage in terms of strength, speed and even spinning technique when he got into dance. His Latin background also helped as he grew up around the music.
We introduced ourselves and he let me know that he actually was a dance instructor. He wrote down his number and asked me to call him to set up some private lessons if I wanted.
I decided to take him up on the offer after seeing him out at some socials again a few days later. He obviously knew what he was doing, it seemed. And although I didn’t know what to expect from private lessons, maybe this was what I needed to improve, that one on one coaching.
After taking a few lessons with him, some things started to click for me. Not just in my dancing, but in my confidence in terms of recognizing certain movements, or understanding how the subtlelest of changes in my direction or arm placement, or even the way I pushed off the floor, could make such a big difference.
Private lessons gave me the chance to work out details that there wasn’t time enough for in group classes. And I also got to practise dancing with an experienced dancer. This got me more comfortable with catching certain cues quicker. I became less anxious about social dancing, found myself saying yes to more dances, and even taking the initiative to ask guys for dances instead of waiting for someone to approach me.
I also noticed that I was able to start tuning into how to correct my own mistake. And I was often just even more willing to laugh the mistakes away. This took the pressure off and made me feel more relaxed.
I was showing up laughing and less worried about making mistakes in my lessons as well. I felt more comfortable around my instructor, and he would sometimes ask if I wanted to hang after our sessions. When he started showing more of a personal interest, I was a bit surprised because I didn’t think we were each other’s types and we lived very different lives. But at the same time, we were getting to know each other more, and running into each other at events since I was dancing more. It was new and fun, and he seemed pretty interested. So I went with it.
He also made it seem like he wanted to continue to support me with my dancing, that maybe I could even help him with some of his classes.
But as we spent more time together outside of dancing, the lessons became inconsistent and dwindled pretty quickly. We were doing a lot less dancing together, and he was asking others to help him with his classes instead. I felt I didn’t have a right to say anything about it because I was a beginner and the other girls were more experienced dancers.
But when we were out at the same venues dancing, he would spend a lot of time with those other girls, and I almost felt like I was supposed to keep my distance. I wasn’t sure if it was my own insecurities or what was going on. But it felt like he was different in those places, or we were different. He would use the excuse that he was promoting his classes or practising with the other girls for some dance performances. He kept trying to convince me that this was just the way the dance scene was and that because I was new to it, I didn’t understand.
I tried to get used to it, but everytime I went out dancing, I had a different kind of nervousness going on. Was he going to be there? Were we supposed to act like a ‘we’ or not? Was he going to ignore me or wrap his arms around me like he did the day before when we were not at a dance event? I never knew.
But the one thing I did know by then was that I was finally loving dancing. It was no longer a question for me as to should I or shouldn’t I do it. Yes, I was still trying to figure out how to improve at it. But I knew I was staying in it. I just didn’t want this confusing situation with this guy to ruine the progress I had made. I didn’t feel I could rely on him. So I decided to take classes with other instructors. At least then I would get my dance practise in, and if this guy wanted to help sometimes, he could. But I wasn’t going to wait around for him to figure out when that was. Maybe it was healthier for us to separate my learning to dance from our personal connection.
At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
For months, I tried to pretend I was the problem. And I had myself easily convinced since I came to dance already feeling insecure. So I gave this guy a lot of space to do his own thing at the dance socials because ‘he was an instructor’. But then when I was dancing with other guys, he would grab my arm in the middle of a dance asking me what I was doing. He would also make up rumours about the instructors I was going to- telling me how they were cheaters or liars or didn’t know what they were teaching. He made comments to mutual dance friends of ours saying that I looked stupid dancing in the way these other instructors were teaching me.
I didn’t realize that he was using my insecurities to make me feel like I couldn’t do the dancing thing without him.
Why did I even stick around for this? Well, it was confusing because there were days when he would be so loving and affectionate, and bring me flowers at work, or call me many times in a day to tell me how much he cared and loved me. He would even make these grand gestures in front of the staff at the restaurants that we would go to, letting everyone know that we were together, sometimes pretending that we had been together for years. We would laugh about it and things seemed to be better again, so I would let it go. He’d even take me to other dance venues, and give me lots of attention and affection there. But it took me awhile to see that no one knew him at those venues.
But then we’d be out dancing again at the regular places, where he was well known in the scene, and he would turn into another person, treating me no differently than the girls he called his students or friends. When I tried to bring it up, or tell him I couldn’t do whatever we were doing anymore, he would always seem to pick up on it just before I could get it out. He would be extra sweet, or extra attentive to me on those days. He had this way of saying the right things to explain the strange behaviour away. His excuses seemed so plausible. And then I would feel like I was just overreacting. That again, maybe it was just my insecurities with the dancing that was making me read into things too much.
I didn’t want to believe that it was him. I didn’t want to believe that he could be manipulative or that he was anything other than what he had made himself out to be, or what I had made him out to be. So I blamed myself. It seemed easier somehow. Sadly to say, it felt more familiar.
I didn’t know at the time that this had been a pattern I had built up over many years- of holding back what I was really feeling, of putting another person’s needs first, before my own, of thinking this was being considerate to a partner. But I didn’t understand what a lack a consideration and value I was showing towards myself by being this way.
The thing is that Dance was not going to have any of it. Dance was not going to allow it. It was going to come to my rescue in a way I never even knew Dance could. Here I was thinking I was taking Dance lessons to learn how to move like the girls I envied at the socials, and how to be more fluid and graceful and fun on the dance floor. Little did I know that Dance was showing up to teach me how to move through the dance floor of life unapologetically, more true to myself and without the need to shrink myself in order to ‘lift’ up or cover up for others.
I wasn’t insecure because I didn’t know how to Dance at the level I wanted to yet. My insecurities came from my disconnection from myself. My lack of awareness of my self worth.
Dance was going to show me the value of letting people show me who they really are. And that my job was to first become strong in who I am. To value myself first.
How ironic that this very thing that this guy had been teaching me- salsa dancing- was going to get me more tapped into my body and my intuition, and that that would help me feel into what was really going on with him and this situation.
But the thing is that it was never about HIM. It was always about me. I needed to put the attention back on me, because he certainly wasn’t. And I had spent so much time trying to figure out what he was thinking, or where he was, or why he wasn’t showing up the way I wanted him to. I needed to realize that I was depleting my own energy towards myself trying to sort out what was going on with him.
Dance got me to focus back on me, literally. On my body, on my fingers, my feet, my head, my weight transfer, my direction, and my gut feelings. My having the courage to take classes with other instructors despite my own insecurities around dance was a great move. Each day, each class, each week and each month of lessons and social dancing that I participated in away from this guy’s influence was building on top of each other. I was developing a better sense of balance physically, but also alignment with who I really was. Becoming more and more body aware, feeling into what felt right or wrong for me from deep within, allowed me to listen to and trust in my senses more, to believe in me more.
Eventually, I learned through following these senses, that this guy was sleeping with at least one of his students during the months and months he was professing his love to me (though I am sure there were others). And the girl who he was dancing with the first night I met him was actually his girlfriend. I mean, they had never broken up! And none of us girls knew about each other.
And only when I was connected enough to myself did the truth come out because I was finally open to receiving it. Dance helped me with that connection to myself.
Looking back, none of it should have been a shock to me. The signs were all there. But I WAS shocked. I was embarrassed, I felt betrayed, I felt humiliated. I thought I wanted to get as far away from the salsa scene as possible. It felt like everyone knew what was really going on except for me. That they were all covering up for him, or just didn’t feel it was their place to get involved.
For years, I am sure I referred to him as ‘the guy who cheated on me’, because I had never experienced anything like that before, and thought of course, he was to blame. But it took me a very long time to realize that I had been utterly unfaithful to someone as well, that I had exercised the worst kind of betrayal. I had betrayed myself. And not just once, but over and over again.
The not knowing, or not wanting to know, the doubting but not speaking up about it, the pretending to myself that I was happier than I was- it was a pattern I had built up to avoid confrontation, to avoid conflict, to avoid seeing less than the best in someone. I thought this was compassionate, and giving, and forgiving. But what about compassion towards myself? What about giving myself the chance to have and be the best? Why did I think it was okay to compromise my own worth in order to save or help or hold up and care about someone else? Where did I get the idea that this was loving?
I was exhausting myself. Depleting myself of energy and worth so that someone else could look good, look better than he was.
Even though my intuition was telling me, and even showing me, that this guy couldn’t be trusted, I didn’t want to believe it. So I ignored it and pretended I wasn’t feeling or seeing what I was. In a twisted way, it felt better at the time to to not trust myself instead of not trusting him.
It wasn’t until I could see it from the outside, until I saw the reactions in the other girls as well, that I was able to step in and put myself first. Through them, and our exchanging of incidences, everything started making sense. I even learned that he was actually quite violent towards one of them. And then I had to face that though he hadn’t actually physically hurt me, I could recall moments where I had seen those tendencies emerging in his behaviour. His anger, and grabbing me, and making threats. But I shoved them aside. Luckily, I wasn’t around long enough to be the recipient of them physically. But I could now see how close I had been.
I remember looking at all of us girls and thinking how was it that three beautiful, intelligent, sweet and caring women actually fell for this guy’s games? They say hurt people hurt people, and so maybe that was my reasoning back then. That he decided that because he was hurt either through past relationships or childhood abuse or neglect, that he would take his hurt out on innocent girls like us. I knew I was never going to continue that chain of pain and hurt someone in return, even if I was hurt or lied to or cheated on. Maybe I took pride in that.
But there was more to it that I needed to learn. That I wasn’t that powerless. That I had a part to play in all of this. The missing piece was that hurt people also know how to target those who put others first, people who allow themselves to get hurt, who choose others’ well being over their own. If I kept betraying myself, how did I expect others not betray me? People who would rather allow themselves to be hurt, the way I was, by staying in situations where they are not valued enough, often continue to attract partners that are willing to hurt them, or to not put them first.
I needed to learn to put myself first. To recognize that this was not selfish. That it is actually completing the circle of kindness and love I was giving to others. I needed to give it to myself. And this would also make it clear to others how I deserve to be treated. They’d be able to see it in the way I treated myself.
This guy, this situation, as well as the others involved was perfectly planned for me to break my old pattern for good.
Dance showed up to teach me how to choose me. And once that lesson was learned in the way that it was, there was no going back.