I’ve barely danced since my wedding. When my spouse came back from deployment I found this salsa night I really wanted to go to. I asked over and over again, couldn’t we go salsa dancing? He never would–though he’d later leave while I was sleeping to dance at Legends. I don’t care so much about that anymore, but what does still gnaw at me is the yawning void where I’ve felt deprived of that particular joy and connection.
Once after I left I went to an ecstatic dance night; I found myself simultaneously intrigued and terrified by the possibility of partnered dancing. I longed for the closeness and connection–yet every time a man looked in my direction I felt intense panic and flinched away. I danced a few songs by myself, close to a wall. I slipped away with my frustration, crying tears of bitter disappointment for my lost joy, my lost trust and the deep pain of agonizing loneliness. I never tried that again.
The summer after I left I took a beach trip with a group of friends. We talked about how we’d maybe go dancing one night, and in a group of people I knew and felt safe with maybe I could finally dance. I found myself impulsively shopping for a new dress beforehand, which was confounding since I loathe shopping. I’d so thoroughly repressed any connection to my own sense of romance and sexuality I couldn’t understand why until months later when I finally acknowledged feelings for my friend Scott. We never did go dancing on that trip.
When Scott and I started dating he told me how he’d wanted to learn to dance; we put a salsa night on our calendars after my return from New York. But then suddenly I couldn’t walk at all much less dance–and then there went Scott. We never did dance.
Kevin loved to dance. I loved his enthusiasm for it. I found his creativity and joy delightful. His completely unaffected masculinity struck me as so decent and healthy. He told me he’d take me dancing if I wanted in an early text exchange. I still remember how when I read that message I set the phone down and grinned widely, both hands to my face, eyes filling with tears. Then there went Kevin, and we never danced either.
It’s Friday night and I’m driving to Raleigh. I’m sensitive to the glare of light from the oncoming cars–but I’m more confident in traffic. Remembering the last time I made this drive, I fumble for lavender oil to calm myself. Finally I arrive in an unfamiliar neighborhood and park on a cul-de-sac. It’s a housewarming party and I didn’t think to bring anything, I note with sudden distress. I remember my therapist urging me to cultivate more self-compassion. It’s all right, I tell myself–you’ve had a hell of a week. I walk up alone and empty-handed, and when I ring the bell Trow and his wife are happy to see me. I’m the first one there. I get a tour of the house and sit on the kitchen floor to watch with fascination as my friends bottle mead from giant glass jars. They offer me a taste and I savor a small sip. A few guests arrive and people start dancing. I watch out of the corner of my eye and try not to get too interested as Trow leads a friend. They’re blues dancing; it’s a style I’ve never done.
Trow and I shared the stories of our histories with dance on a run. I know this is how he met his wife and how they know many of their friends. He’s made lovely observations about the culture of this dance community and how much can be read from the subtleties of body language. He knows about my years of disappointed desires to dance and how frequent social dancing with a critical ex who was a ballroom teacher left me with massive insecurities about my ability to follow. He also knows how I get frightened if men get too close or if I feel attraction.
My training partner asks me to dance. I say yes and then stall greeting our recently arrived friends. I want to dance. I trust Trow. I’m still nervous. I eye him, and he smiles and reaches out his hand. I take a deep breath and go with him. First I try too hard to figure out what he wants me to do and what is the basic of this dance, then he spins me and I laugh a little too hard. He never pulls me too close to him yet here I am face to face with a man, closer than I’ve let anyone to me since the breakup; I feel my heart pounding. I laugh at the way my stockinged feet slide on the floor. I’m rather amused and rather anxious, too. I remind myself that I am safe here and catch Trow’s eye. When the song finishes I’m suddenly much too hot for my sweater and scoot away to ditch it.
I see how effortlessly other people are dancing. I envy them the confidence and trust I once had.
I retreat to the kitchen as the house becomes more crowded. Trow puts on a fog machine and laser lights where people are dancing in the living room. I make the mistake of looking at them; suddenly the room spins and my heart races. I yelp and jam myself into a corner, hands to my face. Jess guides me to a chair where I calm down. Soon after that, I notice how most everyone else is inebriated. I feel too sober, alone with my fear of men and my aversion to the lights. I’m tired. I say my goodbyes.
On my way out, a man asks if I’d like one dance before I go. He seems non-threatening enough, and I wish I could dance more. But I’m tired, he’s a stranger and my flicker of interest is eclipsed my by self-protectiveness. I politely decline and go back into the night alone, the heels of my boots ringing briskly on the pavement.
I look into the starry sky and wonder if things might ever again feel normal for me. Still, I did dance.