An idea popped into my head a couple of summer ago as I was thinking about getting back into dancing after a long hiatus. What if I create a dance to describe my love story and dedicate it to my late husband on the 22nd anniversary of his passing? It was just to satisfy my romantic bent, or so I told my ballroom dance teacher. Plus, I thought it would be fun.
Little did I know, what was supposed to be just a “fun project” turned into something more transformative.
As I began to work with Allen Eskridge, the owner of Sinclair Dance Studio and Adam Shaw, a dance teacher assistant who agreed to be my dance partner for this project, I realized that dancing had the capacity to stir the subconscious where I stored my fear, grief, and a sense of inadequacy for many years. Sure, I have plenty of dance experience from my childhood. But Rumba naturally has a very different style and feel to it. Moving my body in a new way with a new partner pulled me back to the time when I first came to America when everything was new and unfamiliar. How awkward and uncomfortable it was trying to adapt to the new culture so I could feel like I belonged here.
But what was most difficult for me to express through dance was the grief itself: the loneliness, the sadness, the uncertainty of my survival. I noticed that I naturally wanted to avoid showing these raw emotions through dance and would rather show happiness and my success in dancing with life. And my therapist mind reminded me softly, “The only way to get the other side of grief is through it.” So I braced myself and felt the discomfort. Lucky for me, I have Allen and Adam to provide me with the safe space to work through this discomfort at my own pace.
An “aha” moment took place right then and there. This has been what I needed all along: a safe place and a safe way to get through the discomfort of being completely vulnerable so that I could embrace grief rather than deny it, and in doing so, I experienced healing.
As I continued to co-create the dance, it became very clear to me that this creative endeavor has given me the opportunity to tell my life story, not just my love story. I became increasingly more aware of the familiar pain triggered by challenges in telling my story through a different medium without words, just “show don’t tell.” All kinds of emotions sprung out from the woodwork. Painful emotions that I thought have gone forever never to be dealt with anymore.
When I moved my body to express love or receive love, it wanted to shrink and retrieve, as if I was feeling unworthy of it. I wondered why. And how did this show up in real life? Neediness? Clinginess? Controlling? Oh my! Or it may showed up as fearfulness and difficulty trusting men (and life in general). After all, if my supposedly loving husband suddenly abandoned me…anyone could.
“I couldn’t and shouldn’t rely on anyone,” was my conclusion, even if I didn’t conclude that consciously. But dancing rumba meant I had to allow my partner to lead and I should rely on his cues. This became such a struggle. But with patience and consistent response from my dance partner, I felt safe and was able to trust again. My mind and body relaxed, I was not in fight or flight mode anymore and my capacity to be open to new movements (taking risks) got better. That was another healing experience.
To describe his sudden death and the grief that followed, I took similar movements I’d performed on stage during my college year when I was cast as Dewi Tara in Ramayana drama dance. She, too, mourned the death of her husband, Subali. But the same movement felt different now. Back then I was pretending to be grieving, but now I was remembering. I remember telling myself, “I’m not comfortable exploring, feeling, and expressing these emotions! I was never good of showing vulnerability. This is unbearable and I want to run and hide!”
But I didn’t run and hide. I felt the discomfort and stayed with it until it began to feel bearable.
When the time came for me to share my dance video with others, I was riddled with self-doubt and fear. Who do I think I am? What makes me think I can do this? What will my dance teacher and partner think of my dance ability? What will others think of what I did?
I don’t want to run and hide anymore. This video is not about showing off my dance ability, it is about having the courage to show up despite being imperfect and scared. Most of my life, I wouldn’t perform a dance until I knew I was able to perform it well. But through this project I learned that I didn’t have to perfect in order to inspire others. I could just be good enough. I could be brave enough to show my “in progress” phase. Because in life, we are never done growing. Perfection is overrated. I will get better and better…there’s no point of waiting until all my ducks are in a row. Sometimes we need to “just do it!”