On a whim, on Saturday afternoon, I pulled out a photo album my mum made years ago. She was a very organized person, and I remember when she decided to make a bunch of these themed photo albums. She sifted through boxes and boxes of photos to create them, and they are honestly pretty great. We have one called Pets, another called Cottage…you get the idea. The boys love them, have always loved going through them, turning the pages to reveal the dogs and cats of my childhood (there were so many) and the photos of parties and events at the cottage (ALSO so many) and asking questions about who the people are, what was that dog like, you had how many cats at one time??? (that answer would be five.)
I am not really a photo album kind of person, but decided to pull out the one labelled Dance and take a look at it because I couldn’t remember the last time I had. In fact I may have never looked at it, although some of the photos felt very familiar so I had either seen the album before or I had seen the photos at one time in their natural habitat: a large suitcase under my parents’ bed.
I started taking dance lessons in 1975 at the age of eight and continued until around 1992 when I was 25. I loved it and I was good at it and as I advanced the teachers challenged me with complex steps and routines and accelerated me within the school. By the time I was 12 I was an assistant teacher and at 14 I started teaching my own classes to the littlest kids with prescribed choreography. Then I was allowed to develop my own choreography which I started teaching to the bigger kids, and then, finally, to the adults. I loved everything about it, and looking at the photos brought back so many amazing memories. And so, I decided to share some of these photos with the internet.
The response was overwhelming, honestly. People left the loveliest comments about how cute I was, how great the photos were, how they evoked a real time and place (the Dorothy Hammill-esque ‘short and sassy’ hairdo got a LOT of love) and it was fun to see how much people were enjoying these snaps from the past, from a life that not a lot of people know about (I usually don’t drop the “Oh yes, that time I was a tap dancer…” in polite conversation, you know?)
And for me it was interesting to look back on myself, to that body that I have always felt was so incredibly flawed and realize that it was, in fact, just fine. And yet, even the tiniest iteration of myself on those pages—eight year old me, ten year old me—already knew that she was a chubby kid, a chunky kid, the kind of kid who was destined to shop in the Misses Plus department at The Right House and Eaton’s. And she knew that back then not because she felt it, or understood anything about bodies in general, but because she was told those things. And so she shrunk, literally and figuratively. And she apologized. And she tried to make herself different, better.
And what a waste to think like that, to think that my body was too much or not enough. But now? Now it is so overwhelmingly wonderful to look at that girl and tell her,
“Look at you go, look how happy you are there. To be dancing. To be performing. To be onstage. I know how self-conscious you were in every other aspect of your life, but onstage, you owned it. You were confident, you were so good. People watched you and said you’re a natural. Teachers accelerated you because you picked it up – all of it – so quickly.”
And I’m getting there again, I can feel it. Trying so hard to eliminate the critical self-talk, treating myself, my body, the entirety of me with kindness, with respect, with the words I should have been using for more than 40 years.
How lovely it is to say to myself “You’ve done a good job, here” instead of picking the job apart, looking for its flaws.
How affirming to make a mistake and gently remind myself that I’m human, I’m not ‘an idiot’ for forgetting, that I don’t have to jump so quickly to anger with myself.
What a gift to find and wear clothes that make me feel good, that make me say to my reflection “You look so nice” instead of wishing away the parts of me that don’t seem to measure up to what others want to see, what others expect to see.
How wonderful to exclaim “I exist like this and I’m actually quite ok with it!” Such a simple sentence and yet for so long, so impossible to utter.
I spent a lot of years trying to fix myself, to make myself different, better. But when I entered my 50s I said I was done with that and nearly five years in, I’m getting there.
Do I wish I’d started earlier? Of course. But on Saturday I was so immensely happy to be able to look at those dance photos and smile. To reminisce without judgement, without cringing, without apologizing for how my thighs look, for my double chin. To see that girl and know she’s still inside me, dancing her heart out.
Give us a stage and stand back. Watch us soar.
Baby, remember my name.