I’d ask the world to dance

There was a strobe light on me the first time I enjoyed dancing. My college friends had bought the light and were testing it out with a three-person dance party in the living room of their rental house. I had joined them after spending an earlier part of the evening at the computer in my own rented bedroom, in a house across town wtih absent roommates. I was about 21 at the time, still very shy, with a self-image flattened by the depression I’d been suffering for two years. On nights when I didn’t have to study or work my job at the mall, I was typically alone and adrift. But I did have friends, and on this particular dull night, one of them contacted me on AIM saying I should come over for dancing and margaritas.

It was a small thing, but it may have been one of the first times I was able to listen to the inner voice that begged for fun and camaraderie, without letting it be muffled by fear. Exacerbated by depression, the inertia that settled upon me every day was hard to overcome, and it was powerful when combined with my general timidity toward life. I  managed to break out and drive to my friends’ house that evening. They liked me in spite of my asocial tendencies and wouldn’t care if I was a terrible dancer, which I was sure I would be. (Prior to this I had taken half a semester of swing dance, in which a friend of mine remarked, “Kristen, you’re very stiff!”) The strobe light was a welcome surprise, as it made everybody’s moves look otherwordly and not subject to the rules of what was actually good.

Although I was legal I wasn’t interested in alcohol, so I had a virgin margarita and—perhaps as a consequence—hung back for a while to watch my friends dance. It was a goofy and totally disarming scene. They didn’t care how they looked; they were made happy by the flow of endorphins and fun, upbeat music. It was like staring at a cold swimming pool on a hot day—I really wanted to be part of it, but feared the shock of sudden immersion. It would require me to leave the solidity of the door frame where I stood in half-retreat to the lighted kitchen. But I knew that I couldn’t chicken out. I had come to try dancing, and I would hate myself if I didn’t, so I joined in.

I retained more self-awareness than needed (which is common when I feel that my ego is in danger) but I was able to really dance, to move around the center of the room, to free my arms from hanging idly at my waist, to shake my body (however unflatteringly) when Outkast told me to act like a Polaroid picture. My friends, under the influence of the strobe, even suggested that I was a good dancer.

In the years since, I’ve found a lot of pleasure in dancing under cover of darkness and with down-to-earth people who aren’t overly concerned about skill. Some of my current friends will get on the dance floor with me, while others simply don’t feel impelled to. I’ve come to believe in the importance of recognizing what you really want when it comes to considering doing something new and scary. There’s a difference between pursuing something that will help you grow, and pushing your boundaries for pushing’s own sake, which might lead you to a place you never wanted to go. Your heart will make the distinction for you. I didn’t start dancing because someone accused me of being a stick-in-the-mud, although I’ve heard variations on that theme all my life. I started because it was the most rational choice in the face of what my heart told me: This would be a fun thing for you. You could hem and haw, worrying about what moves to make and how you’ll look to outsiders, and never actually try it; you could make the decision not to dance, and let the idea go; or you could just freakin’ do it.

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