People, things and places have the power to change us with their energy, beauty, contrast, and subtle truths. These encounters reveal to us what we later identify as the things we “can’t live without” and wonder how we did for so long.
It took me 25 years to figure out that I am a salsa dancer.
When I was about three I started dancing school with my friend Jillian (pictured below). I remember it was an ugly yellow building right by the New Dorp Lane Train Station on Staten Island. I wish I could remember the name, Lydia’s Dance Studio, maybe? (maybe not…)
Either way, according to my mom, we didn’t last very long, maybe a few weeks. Not because we couldn’t dance but because we giggled too much. They politely asked to leave.
Let that sink in for a minute.
As three-year-olds, we were asked to leave dancing school for giggling too much.
As a 29-year-old woman writing this blog post today, I feel a little sad typing it, and I feel the regret of all the years I didn’t get to move my little body in a feminine way.
I didn’t dance again until my first school dance in the sixth grade, by which time my top priority wasn’t my moves, but covering up my already curvy figure with baggy T-shirts. I remember not having any idea how to move my body and feeling really self-conscious. The only solace I could take was in knowing all the TLC, Salt N Pepa and LL Cool J lyrics (that made me cool, right?).
I think this is why I liked sports so much. No one ever asked me to leave “sports school.” In fact my dad and grandpa had been playing with me and showing me how to do athletic things since I was probably around the same age as the dancing school fiasco.
I could swing the hell out of a bat, dribble a basketball between my legs while walking all the way down my street, and the boys had no problem letting me QB in the school yard for a game of two-hand touch. Sports came easily to me and giggling was never frowned upon.
This is how I decided that I hated being a girl, because being a boy was clearly much easier and more fun. I wouldn’t learn how untrue that was for another 15 years…
Even though I was “satisfied” living like a boy in a girls’ body, I always loved any movie to do with dance. Dirty Dancing, Save The Last Dance, You Got Served, and of course, Step Up (all of them) and yes even, Dirty Dancing Havana Nights. In fact, I remember watching the blonde chick who played the lead in that movie dance and thinking to myself, “I bet if this white girl can do it, I can totally do it.” I am after all 25% Puerto Rican…that skill must live somewhere in my body!
Once I got to college I discovered that I could actually dance-but only when I was drunk. Why? Because that was the only time I stopped caring about what other people thought, I could just let myself feel the music and move to it. I never said I lacked rhythm or had two left feet. I just felt silly dancing. There was something about moving my body like that in front of people that felt so vulnerable and terrifying, I convinced myself I needed something to blame it on (like Long Island Iced Tea).
Fast forward to 2008-I was going through a break-up. My downfall had been losing myself in the relationship. I put my partner’s needs first and spent a good amount of time denying who I really was. At this point I was still only ever able to dance if I was drunk so I decided to use this break-up as an excuse to do something for myself.
I signed up for 10 salsa lessons. Within weeks I was social dancing three or four nights a week. Within months, I was pretty good.
I was finally accessing a part of myself I always knew was there. Learning didn’t come naturally though. Being a girl who took pride in hustling and working my ass off my whole life, giving up complete control and engaging in an activity where my only job was to follow and look pretty wasn’t easy.
I sensed there was a deeper meaning in this for me but it wasn’t until recently that I finally understood what it was.
I am a woman.
I have curves.
I have curly, crazy, messy hair.
I am agile and I have a deep desire to move my body the way it was meant to move, sensually…not just for function and strength.
Salsa dancing is a way for me to tap into all of that. To own it, to love myself for it, and to bask in the freedom of being who I am.
When I’m working too hard, feeling stressed, tired or drained, I’m usually not dancing. And when I’m not dancing, I’m not expressing my true self.
Self-expression is as critical to productivity and creativity as actually doing your job.
So many of us spend our lives pursuing a deeper connection with our true selves. We take things on, let things go, grow in and out of everything from clothes and careers to beliefs, apartments and relationships. We spend so much time trying to figure out who we are that we sometimes forget to just look in and listen to that little voice that’s always been there saying, “I really wish I could ______.”
My question for you today is, what if you could _________?
Who might you become and what might you learn about yourself?
(Go ahead…tell me in the comments!)
I’ll end the same way I began here…with a perfect quote for any day.
“Feel free to change. When you discover something true about yourself, put it in action regardless of who you were yesterday”. – Danielle LaPorte
Liz DiAlto is a Fitness and Lifestyle coach, on a mission to help millions of women all over the world get the bodies and lifestyles they crave. Recently named one of the Top 30 Motivators for 2013 by Shape Magazine alongside Dr.Oz, Jillian Michaels, Ellen DeGeneres, and more, Liz believes that willpower sucks and simplicity, motivation and enjoyment are the non-negotiable keys to achieving success. Connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and her website.