I don't notice that my new place is in front of a mirror right away, which in and of itself should say something. I've been avoiding those mirrors fervently all along, not wanting to see my reflection illustrate my flaws, weaknesses, missteps. I do better (at least I think I do) when I can't see what I'm doing, how I'm moving. I stay out of my head, as they used to tell me to do in acting class in college -- be present in the moment, don't think about it, just commit to it and go, once you think you're out of character and it's ruined, that fourth wall crashing down at your pretty pointed feet.
I follow the instructor's directions though my brain is starting to question my stamina and my body is wavering somewhere between strong and weak, not sure which better defines it. One hand, then the other, exertion and up and right leg behind, left leg in front, gripping with every muscle in my bare legs. The instructor begins the stopwatch, 40 seconds to go, 39, 38. I hear old teachers in my head breathe, pull up, shoulders back and I adjust accordingly. This isn't just about ability, it's about presentation as well, and I've always had a perfectionist streak.
A movement catches my tired attention and my eyes glance up to the mirror in front of me. I catch my breath at the sight played out for me -- the girl in the mirror looks like a dancer, strong and poised, barely any evidence of the effort she's exuding at that very second.
She looks like a girl I haven't seen in years, almost like someone you forgot existed at all until you run into them one day and remember how well you knew each other, once.
On her face was a slight smirk of a smile, eyes sparkling from accomplishment and recognition. There you are you muse silently, and as I register that I'm slowly losing my grip the time is up and I watch the girl in the mirror dismount carefully and am more than a little amazed to feel so positively about my own reflection.
Later, during the choreography, I feel that same smirk on my face as I hit the marks time and time again. I know the feeling of the expression as I play to an audience that doesn't exist. It's my game face; the one I reserved for performances a lifetime ago, a face I have rare occasion to call forth in my regular life. I realize later that I've finally done it -- I've gotten out of my head and that fourth wall is up, and for the first time in nearly a decade I'm performing and not one bit encumbered by it.
Sitting atop a metal pole is probably the last place I ever dreamed about reconnecting with myself, discovering that while things infinitely change some passions never burn out, just simmer for a while. My reflection was something I could never imagine because no performer, no dancer ever wants to think about herself pole dancing -- that's a tell-tale sign of a failed career, a downward spiral not too far off from streetwalking. But here, in this environment, it's somehow safe, maybe because there is no performance beyond class, no recital, no eyes watching you as you sell yourself a little more with each piece of clothing removed.
No, in here the clothes stay on, and there's only feelings of pride in learning a new way to move, a new way to have confidence, and a new way exist in the spaces I occupy throughout my day.
*****It all started with a Groupon on my birthday.
I thought, hey, that sounds like fun, and I'm far more prone to impulse buys on my actual birthday because, umm, IT'S MY BIRTHDAY I DO WHAT I WANT, so I spent a whopping $25 on $50 worth of classes at a new-ish dance studio place a little south of town.
And by dance, I mean pole dancing. And burlesque. And aerial silks.
Shit just got real, kids.
The women who own/run/teach at Femme Fatale Fitness have never been, nor will they ever be, strippers. So don't think I'm learning a routine to some 80's hair band in a bedazzled string bikini, because it's not like that at all. The first teacher I met actually went to the same college I did, to the same performing arts program I was in, and she graduated with a degree in Dance, whereas I was kicked out and managed to come out with a degree in Sociology. She was a few years ahead of me so we weren't there together, but still, she's legit and I know because that program took no prisoners.
Anyway, so for the past couple of weeks I've been going to dance classes Mon-Thurs nights for a couple of hours each night. And it's completely kicking my ass, but here's the kicker -- I wouldn't want it any other way.
In trying this out I've effectively returned to dance and I had no way of anticipating how such a simple thing could impact my life in such a big way. In attending these classes, I've very quickly become comfortable in my own skin again, adjusting to the ways this post-baby body moves differently than my teenaged one, both for better (still as flexible) and worse (hips and knees straining already). There are women of all types there, and I've never once felt judged or othered.
As strange as it may seem, I feel like going there is like coming home -- just a home I didn't know existed. I am constantly encouraged by my muscle memory's lack of deterioration, impressed with myself that I can still pick up choreography (for the most part). I'm no prima, but it comforts and fortifies me that I'm still capable of these things, these movements, and that I can still produce something close to elegant or graceful with my body motions.
I struggle explaining it, because I don't completely understand it. But this is more than just getting in shape or feeling sexy or still being able to dance. It's a very deep reconnection with parts of me that I thought had, bluntly, died completely, and finding a new version of myself throughout the various roles I carry in my everyday life. Even when I'm not able to keep up or look terrible trying something new, I still feel like I'm doing the right thing, in the right place.
So yeah, I don't think this latest workout attempt is going to fade like the others. I suspect I may be involved with this one for a long, long time.