In the spring of last year, I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram when I saw Chicago-based poet and visual artist Sydney Boyle share this observation:
“It’s okay to be proud of and celebrate the things you love even if you’re not an expert in them.”
Sydney often posts videos of herself dancing in her living room that are cute and fun and not overly coordinated. She doesn’t look like a professional dancer — she just looks like someone who loves to dance. It’s clear she’s doing something that makes her really happy.
Her tiny statement moved me deeply. I’ve always loved dance, but I never thought of myself as a dancer. Dancing wasn’t a passion I pursued hopes of doing it all the time or even with much with precision. But I’m pretty proud of the way my body can move. Being someone who takes great joy in dancing was always something I wished more people knew about me, and not something that I found many opportunities to share.
So with that poet’s mantra in mind, I made my first dance vid:
The profundity of this experience is multiplied by the fact that I started making these videos around the same time that I came out on the Internet. The two feel aligned in my mind. They both required letting go of self-judgment and hang-ups about what other people might think. They are both things that I decided to do in an intentionally public way.
I have made many dance vids since. A quick scan of my Instagram Highlights shows that I posted over 50 clips of me dancing in 2018. And I’ve already posted 40 or so in the first three months of this year. And those are just the clips I felt like sharing. It doesn’t count the dozens (hundreds?) of other videos on my phone that I’ve recorded and watched and savored and haven’t posted (yet).
The public-ness of sharing my dance vids on Instagram has been a vulnerable thing. But it’s also made them more meaningful. It reminds me of this passage on “writing to be read” that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since a friend shared this article with me over a year ago:
Writing gets real when it is read. Before that, it is a dream in letters. Writing to get read makes you careful, responsible, and considerate. It forces you to think as simply, clearly and understandably as possible. It forces you to think about how what you say may look and feel from the outside.
Writing to be read may not be desirable for everybody. But if you feel that you have something to say, write to be read.
The magic of the internet has given me an opportunity to do creative things that matter to me — writing and dancing — in front of a (digital) audience. I feel so grateful for that. It’s affirming to be read. It’s affirming to be seen.
It sometimes feels like posting so much of myself on the internet is self-absorbed or naïve or presumptuous. My writing. My dancing. My sexuality. Making these things visible makes them consumable and critiquable. Does that make me a fraud? I wonder sometimes. But I know that the feelings I get from these acts of vulnerability — however big or small — is one of happiness and wholeness. So I’ll keep sharing until it doesn’t feel that way anymore.
I often think of the smattering of dance classes I’ve taken over the years as my life’s greatest return on investment. I didn’t spend much time learning how to dance, but the little time I have spent has made me immensely happy.
There were the beginner tap/ballet lessons I took when I was in kindergarten, and then five-ish years of hip hop/jazz classes at a local senior center, followed by Latin dance class I took in while studying abroad in Ecuador. Every time I took a dance class, I loved moving my body in new ways. But I didn’t love having to follow someone else’s routine. So I eventually dropped it as a hobby.
I have crystallized memories of moments when I realized certain people I love loved dancing as much as me. Aaron and I celebrate our anniversary on the night I taught him how to samba. I cherish the swell of pride I felt when I saw my little sister Lara move with joy and confidence at the club the same way I do (RIP Luna). I remember being wowed by how deeply my friend Mary vibed with the same early 2000s hip-hop/R&B jams I loved and thinking okay I guess we’re friends forever now.
Dance has always had this important, deeply emotional role in my life and my relationships. But I didn’t feel like I had permission to celebrate how much I loved it since I never pursued it seriously. I am glad that my thinking has changed here. It’s okay to be proud of and celebrate the things you love even if you’re not an expert in them.
There is no one who watches my dance vids more than me.
I watch them while I’m brushing my teeth. I watch them at the gym. I watch them alone in bed. I watch them almost every day on the train to and from work. I keep wondering when a fellow Blue Line rider I know IRL will catch me in this act of complete narcissism. (Maybe it will be you??)
I love watching my dance vids because it is still pretty surprising to me that I like the way my body looks in a recorded image. The way the woman in this video talks about her relationship with dance here resonates with me deeply:
The choreographer who is interviewing her asks: What do you love about dance?
She quickly responds, “Everything.” Then takes a deep breath, and while holding back tears, says:
I love the way I feel when I dance. It’s just — there’s so much joy when I dance. And when I dance, I feel beautiful. And as I get older, that’s not always the case. But it always, always is when I dance.
My beauty hang-ups have less to do with age. But I’m extremely familiar with the feeling of gratitude that washes over you when you like the way your body looks in a picture or video because you know how special it is. Like a rare gift.
Growing up, I regularly heard from family members, teachers, and doctors that I would be more beautiful if I lost a few pounds, that my thighs were too big, that I was obese. I learned to love my body as a rebellious fuck you to the many people who told me it would be better if I changed it. I’ve avoided body dysmorphia and eating disorders so far in my life, but I feel strangely lucky here, like I know how close I could have come to either one given the forces around me. (How much are we fucking up as a society when not hating your body makes you feel lucky?)
It is a genuinely new feeling for me to love my body because I think it looks great, without that lining of hostility toward others. I cannot get enough of it. It is intoxicating. It’s sort of like having a crush on — myself? (I know this is the part of the blog post where you’re like wow did we take a turn from body positivity to unhealthy megalomania??? and if we have I don’t wanna know because it feels too good.)
This is not because dancing more often has made me lose weight. I’ve gone up a clothing size in the last year. But when I watch myself dance, I see someone who looks beautiful and confident. And dancing regularly makes that confidence a feeling I can take with me into other places in my life. Like a rare gift.
When you post dance vids on the Internet, everybody wants to invite you to their Zumba class. So I just want to throw it out there that dancing alone in my living room is exactly what I want right now. (But I would still love to go to your Zumba class even though I’m not a big fan of dance routines because I AM a big fan of hanging out with YOU!)
Like writing, dancing is a passion I’ve protected from too much formal training. I dance because I like it. I write because I like it. At this point in my life, pursuing both casually keeps them sacred. I feel like I’ve been able to nurture both of my creative passions in a way where they keep filling me up instead of burning me out. I don’t feel like a pro at either, but I take a lot of joy in being a long-standing practitioner of both.
It’s okay to be proud of and celebrate the things you love even if you’re not an expert in them. I’m grateful that I get to share the things I love with you.
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P.S. If this blog post has inspired you to dance alone in your living room (please take a vid and send to me if you feel so inclined), here’s a playlist of all the songs I have created dance vids to that will help get you groovin’.