I still remember the ballet recital starring seven little red riding hoods prancing their pastel pink pointed ballet flats in a circle, their fluffy red tutus in tow. At five years of age, I was the tall and skinny rebel with the bobbed white hair and heavy bangs, flitting around oblivious to both the choreography and all rules of rhythm. I wasn’t aware of the audience’s reaction or the dismay of my tight-lipped instructor. I was immersed in my own world, expressing my emotions with each leap and muscle contraction. I was able to just be myself even if it meant disregarding the beats of the background music or the conventional forms of ballet I had been taught. It didn’t matter that I might be kicked out of the beginner’s class the next day or that all of my fellow ballerinas teased me endlessly at the reception. At that moment, I was free.
In many ways I envy my pint-sized former self. It’s not so easy now to completely let go of my inhibitions. I’m just as guilty as anyone else of conformity. Most days it seems unbelievably impossible to fight the tide. It’s even harder to dance off-beat now when it feels like everyone’s eyes are waiting, anxiously holding a biting sarcastic remark. It’s hard to show vulnerability when it seems all but a certainty that I will be met with rejection. But, still I love swaying to music and singing along enthusiastically even if I don’t really know the words to obscure songs. I still shake my hips wildly in the halls of my high school despite the inquiries and looks of disgust.
I am inspired by the passionate longing of modern dancers, by the graceful airy movements of ballerinas, by the bold and emphatic thrusts of hip hoppers, by the ingenuity of break dancers. Watching them on stage, on TV, or on the sidewalk I begin to see pieces of myself or maybe just pieces of who I hope to become in the remnants of dance my memory clings to. Maybe in some way my sparkle fingers or spastic arms can spark that same feeling of understanding and unity within someone else.
But I’m also beginning to reconcile what I love with what I’m actually capable of. I know I’m not the type of girl who will ever do a plie gracefully or break dance on a curb, but my dancing is a reflection of who I am and therefore it is unique and personal and real and touching and beautiful. I can defy the world’s conservative ideas of grace and beauty simply by being myself.
I’m learning that the bumbling, clumsy and awkward person I am growing up to become is someone worthy of being displayed. Dancing off-beat brings freedom and a joy to me that I won’t give up no matter the amount of sneering and disapproving glances I receive. Dancing off-beat is what I believe in.
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