What is it like to be a middle-aged beginner dancer? Find out in this guest article by the fabulous Isabelle Guzman.
I decided that this is the year where it all comes together. I have perfected the art of unraveling, the art of stumbling, and the art of surrender. When I let go of my expectations and my ego, I am usually quite surprised at how benevolent the Universe is.
I consider myself a creative woman. Even so, there are powers beyond my understanding that are far more brilliant, original and skilled at providing me with exactly the right experience I need to continue growing.
Learning the Lindy Hop has been one of those experiences.
I dreamed of being a dancer for most of my life, but ambitions to become a “fly girl” were thwarted at an early age. In middle school we had social dances that basically provided wonderful scar tissue for those of us who were unpopular and poorly dressed. Not fitting into any category, I always danced alone.
I probably developed my abstract moves back then because like Napoleon Dynamite, I was dancing to the beat of my own drum dressed in some ridiculous hand-me-down outfit—compliments of my dear mother who was clueless when it came to the cruelty inflicted by 6th grade preps and their fashion standards (indeed, I was a helpless victim of the 80’s).
Last week I attended my first dance event.
It brought up some of my worst adolescent insecurities. My friend Eric and I huddled together between classes to share moments of solidarity as beginner dancers.
I have never been so grateful to see a familiar face as I was during the week of this convention. Neither one of us felt cool in comparison to the other kids who were sporting vintage attire and striking updo’s. I felt depressingly middle aged in my stretchy yoga pants and T-shirts, but I guess the more I blended into the wall, the better.
I didn’t want to be noticed. The only thing worse than being a beginner and feeling like you suck is being a 38 year old beginner who dresses like a soccer mom. I thought I was doing okay with my careful swing-outs and tuck turns. But then I watched as couples performed moves I had only seen in video clips. And they had mad style.
Eric and I agreed that it felt like we were back in high school, except that I would bet my life savings that he was ten times more popular than I was and probably from a somewhat functional family.
Not to be ungrateful, my parents did the best they could, but I had issues. We had issues. This led to my lack of healthy self esteem which leads me here to this moment.
And that’s where the dance camp really hit me.
For five days and nights, people from all over the country and even some parts of the world flew into Asheville to attend this Lindy Hop convention.
In other words, it was serious.
We took classes during the day and then live bands would play music all night in two different ballrooms. Another friend filming the event reported that people were dancing until the break of dawn. Eric described the dance floor as “something between an obstacle course and a battlefield.”
I don’t know where they got all the energy from, but I’m discovering that Lindy Hoppers are a bit fanatical. I had to drag my weary body home by midnight or at the very latest 2am, which was pushing it as far as my inner grandma was concerned. My theory is that because there are endless variations of Lindy moves that can be repeated and combined, this must be the inspiration that fuels their passion.
Since I am a beginner, I have a repertoire of about five moves which makes it easier to call it a night. I also have a very warm, soft and fluffy bed that inspires me to be reasonable.
The first two days were grueling.
My local instructors thought I would fare well in the intermediate level so I took their word and jumped in. It wasn’t long before I realized that most of my classmates had been social dancing for at least 3-5 years in contrast to my eight weeks.
The classes moved at a pace that went beyond my skill level, and I found myself apologizing to my leads. A few guys looked at me with disdain while others smiled and reminded me to have fun. Thankfully, I danced with several partners who were gracious and didn’t seem to be bothered by my ineptitude. The stronger the lead, the better my dancing was anyway, and I realized that the grumpy ones were probably just as insecure as I was.
I might have thrown in the towel had it not been for Eric and our other local friend, Emily. The three of us would huddle together at the dances and share our mutual concerns and insecurities. Eric prevented me from taking anything too seriously with his sarcastic wit, and Emily was a reflective mirror for my fears and feelings of vulnerability.
One night we decided to bag everything we’d learned and we just danced.
Crazy, funny, silly dancing that made me feel like a kid. It was such a relief not to care about the way I looked or how well I could swivel. I just needed to have fun and lighten up.
And that’s when it happened: I got bit by the Lindy bug!
Somewhere in between losing my ass and my ego, I found my heart.
I remembered the joy of dancing and I knew that I was exactly in the right place. It occurred to me that being a beginner is not to be taken for granted.
There is an excitement that you feel when you’re a beginner. It’s like falling in love. There’s no way to recreate that first time. So when you have the opportunity to do something new, it’s a gift.
From that point on I decided to relish every single moment, even the awkward and uncomfortable ones, and by the end of the week, I was so grateful for all of it. It’s not about how good a dancer I am but how good of an attitude I have while I’m out there. We ended camp on New Year’s Eve.
Eric said it better than anyone: “2009 kicked my ass, but at least now I know I can take a punch.”
Truer words were never spoken.