Getting Honest

I’ve been working on honesty here at Follow My Lead.

A big part of the reason I started this project was to encourage and support anyone who wants to dance to feel empowered to do so. The thought that anyone would WANT to dance but hold back because they’re embarrassed or afraid breaks my heart.

For most of my life, I’ve talked about how much joy it brings me, how much I LOVE to dance. And my friends, family and colleagues all know that and have seen that love and passion in action.

But it’s not so easy to talk about the other emotions that seem to flare up so easily: the envy, the insecurity, the body hate.

It’s necessary though. It helps me learn and heal, for sure. But I also want to be real. I don’t think it means much to have someone who has studied dance for their entire lives to encourage everyone to “just get out there!”, “have fun!”, “feel the joy!”

Because it’s scary to dance. It’s easy to compare yourself to other people and feel like you’re coming up short. It’s hard to feel comfort and love for your body.

It wouldn’t be fair for me to just talk about how dance is joy in motion, how it’s a form of human communication that spans our globe, how it’s a spiritual experience, how it is so much FUN. It is all of those things.

But it ain’t easy.

I know you have to get over some fears and make yourself vulnerable. You’re not alone. My fear is that if people really knew what I was thinking, knew how insecure I was, they wouldn’t like me. They’d think I was negative and weak.

So I write about it. The times when I dance and I feel love, freedom and joy. And the times I feel unworthy, envious and insecure.

Those feelings are scary for me to admit. Maybe as scary as it is for someone who’s never danced to get out on that dance floor at his cousin’s wedding. Or for someone who doesn’t fit society’s extremely narrow definition of physical beauty to put on some tights and take a ballet class.

We’re all scared sometimes. Dance is frightening because it’s so powerful. I think we can make it less so by sharing the journey together. And I can only share it with you if I’m honest about it all.

Are You Ever Too Old to Start (or Restart) to Dance?

I’ve started a new morning ritual. I get up a little earlier than usual, grab my yoga mat and some massage tools, and head to our guest room to do some stretching. My “massage tools” are a golf ball and some kind of Medieval torture device thing from Gaiam.

It’s always good to stretch in the morning, so the healthy fitness experts tell us, but I’m doing it for a different reason: my muscles are tight as hell and I can’t stand it anymore. Stretching can only go so far when you’ve got years of muscle tension and knots. I basically need to massage my body so that the muscles can move when I stretch.

And that massage? It’s not the dreamy, relaxed Zen spa kind of massage. It’s the uncomfortable, painful kind where you’re digging into some unhappy stuff.

But it has to be done. It’s so important to me as a dancer because I feel very limited in how I can move with so much muscle tension in my body. I can’t do a split, which I would love to be able to do! That’s a bit ambitious though, since I can’t even do a fully-rested, yummy-stretchy seated forward bend.

It’s time like these when I feel “old”. Maybe even “too old” to pursue this project.

I’ve always had tight muscles and felt physically inflexible though. Even as a kid in dance classes, I wasn’t the Gumby kid.

But now it’s been over 20 years since those classes, and although I’ve always continued to be physically active, I’ve also added 10 + years of computer work in there.

Part of me thinks, Melissa, don’t kid yourself. You’re 38, you’re not a professional dancer and you can barely touch your toes some (OK, most) mornings. You really think you’re going to travel the world hosting your own dance travel show?

But another part of me, I think a bigger part, says, You can do whatever you want whenever you want. It’s never to late to live your dreams. (It occurs to me that that part of me speaks in cliches.)

It’s true though. I don’t feel a certain number age. I just feel like Melissa. Yes, I’m older and I’ve learned a lot since my teens and twenties. But I’m still the same person who loves to learn new dances and share them with people. And my body is ME. It’s not a separate entity to resent, regret or despise.

I saw this story on Humans of New York’s Facebook page: One of HONY’s photography subjects “Banana George” had just died at age 98. When he was photographed, he looked pretty physically weakened and frail, and was being pushed in a wheelchair by his caretaker. But he had a story: he was the world’s oldest barefoot water skier (at age 92 he had set the world record).

The cool part? He didn’t start water skiing until he was 40 years old! Then it became his passion and he went on to perform in shows at Cypress Gardens. He even sustained many injuries (broken back, ankle, knee and ribs) over the course of his career, but he kept skiing until the last moment. Here’s a video of him water skiing at 90 years old!

So, I’m going to keep my morning ritual, even though those massage balls hurt and it’s frustrating to feel so tight and tense. I know I need to be patient with myself. Banana George never let his age hold him back, and neither will I.

***

What about you? Do you have a dream you’re pursuing or want to pursue, but sometimes you feel like you’re “too old”? What do you do to combat that feeling? Tell me in the comments!

What is Follow My Lead? (video)

As you know, Follow My Lead is a dance blog, but it will also be a video series exploring unique styles of dance and the stories they tell.

I’ve been wanting to post video episodes for a while – interviews, tips, “dance diaries” – but it didn’t feel right until I created some kind of video that introduced who I am and what Follow My Lead is all about.

So, here it is!

A caveat: It’s not a highly-polished big production. I plan to produce professional episodes of Follow My Lead, but for now, I wanted to post something simple. And I didn’t want to wait until it was perfect. I have a lot of video ideas in mind, and I didn’t want producing the perfect intro video to become an obstacle to the dance stories waiting to be told.

So, tell me, which styles of dance would you like me to explore and share with you on Follow My Lead?

Making Time to Dance

I’m a little nervous. I’ve just started a new job which will entail more hours and a lot of travel. My schedule is not going to be as flexible as it has been for the last several years.

So, of course, the big question is, when will I dance?

I don’t know exactly. But I know I have to make the time.

I’m happy and grateful that I have a well-paying job that challenges me intellectually, with people who I genuinely enjoy working with.

But it’s also easy to let a seductive career track distract you from your path. It takes discipline to listen to your head and still follow your heart.

I’ll need to be vigilant about taking advantage of free time to dance and to continue with this project. It’ll mean cutting out a lot of fluff. When I’m home I need to be spending time on the things that matter most to me. That will likely mean date nights with my husband and focusing on Follow My Lead, along with good doses of rest.

It will take discipline. A lot of nights (and weekends) I will probably just want to veg out. I’ll need to be honest with myself about identifying truly needed rest and lazy zombie couch time.

It will be worth it. This dream is pulling, pushing, poking and prodding at me. It won’t let me ignore it or forget it. I have to do it.

But it helps to write it, to promise it, to you.

Passion + Purpose = Power

I’ve been many things in my life. I’ve been a lobbyist, a writer, an activist, a video producer, a TV host and a social media consultant.

These pursuits have often been combined with good causes of some kind: Lobbying for domestic violence shelters, marketing green businesses, writing about environmental and social issues. I was passionate about my work and I felt fulfilled knowing I was doing something “good”.

But whenever I take those “what’s your passion?” quizzes – you know, the ones that are supposed to help you figure out your life and your ideal career – I never answered “writing” or “building websites”.

“Think of a time you felt your happiest. What were you doing?”

“What are you excited to do? What is the most fun for you?”

Dancing. Dancing. Dancing.

But as a career? Or – scratch that – a lifelong pursuit? I don’t feel guilty about my obsession for dancing per se, but I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to consider it as a serious path in my life.

And sometimes it feels selfish or frivolous. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit how much I love it, even though it becomes apparent very quickly to anyone who gets to know me.

I’ve often been torn about what to pursue. I care very, very deeply about environmental, social justice and gender equality issues. I’ve worked on all of them at some point or another in my personal and professional life. But I’ve never felt totally at home in the roles I’ve played – as a lobbyist or writer, for example.

And, to be honest, I often get very angry and depressed when confronted with these issues and my own desire to create lasting change right now. I feel like I should be writing scathing articles or leading protest marches. And then I’m deeply disappointed in myself for not doing those things.

But something shifted recently, in large part because of a short exercise I found in a back issue of Yoga Journal Magazine called “Passion in Action” (October 2009). Yoga teacher and activist Seane Corn does a journaling exercise meant to illuminate how yoga students can transform the world around them with their own unique gifts.

Here are the steps:

  1. Write down 2-3 words that someone who loves and appreciates you would use to describe you (e.g. intelligent, fun, loving).
  2. Write down the ways that you express those qualities in the world (e.g. cooking, knitting).
  3. Write down your ideal vision of the world (e.g. where all people have access to healthy food).
  4. Put it all together in a single statement.

This simple exercise made me realize that I can pursue my passion for social justice – especially for gender equality – while living my passion for dance.

The people who are truly living in their passion (maybe even their destiny) are amazing to be around. You can feel a rightness with them – and a power. The positive influence that they can impart is huge. I’ve felt that with writers, activists, artists and teachers I’ve been exposed to. They are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing and they are making a tremendous impact – sometimes to millions at a time, sometimes to just a handful of people.

Whether you’re a songwriter, an accountant, a cook or a teacher – there’s always an opportunity to embody your vision of an ideal world.

I decided to finally integrate the love and joy I feel and express through dance with the vision for the world that has driven me for years:

“I will use my compassion and intelligence, through teaching and studying the world’s dances, to make the world a better place for women.”

Just those words made me feel so excited. I could finally see a purpose behind my passion, and the power it could have.

I don’t need to be famous or influential. I’m also not tied to having a specific career. But I do need to feel as though I’m of service in this world, in this lifetime. I’ll tell you more about why I chose “making the world a better place for women” as my ideal vision for the world and how I hope to do that through dance.

But for now, I hope you’ll enjoy thinking about your own special qualities, the activities that make you glow (inside or out), and the vision you have for the world.

And if you’d like to share your “Passion in Action statement” with me, I’d love to hear it.

Follow My Lead!

I don't look "perfect" in this picture, but I'm perfectly happy - in my element, dancing at Burning Man 2007.

I’m on a mission to learn all of the world’s dances.

Since I started taking ballet classes when I was four years old, I’ve loved to dance. I dreamed of being on Broadway, or better yet – on “Fame”. Or, even better yet – on “Solid Gold”.

A Solid Gold Dancer. YES. That was the ultimate dream job in my little Jersey girl mind in the 80’s.

I’m a grown-up now – in fact, I’m a grown-up with a grown-up job in marketing – but I still dream of being a dancer.

In fact, I still think of myself as a dancer. I’m most alive when I’m dancing. It’s like I have a swirling, sparkling disco ball spinning inside of me, shooting beams of light out in all directions. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

You know how sometimes, someone just glows? Because they’re just completely in their element? They’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing? That’s me, when I’m dancing.

I’m not saying I’m the best dancer as far as technique goes. Technique is important, but it’s not the passion or the heart of dance.

I’m saying that I’m the first on the floor at your wedding and the last to leave. (And I mean the last – I actually cannot physically leave a wedding before the dancing’s done.) I will try any type of dance.  I’ve taken classes in ballet, contemporary, jazz, salsa, merengue, Argentine tango, ballroom, country line dancing, hip hop and more.

I’m fascinated by every new dance – the music, the rhythms, the steps and the story. Because all dances tell a story – of people, of place, of time. There’s a social context that creates these layers of meaning and feeling to every movement.

It’s not just steps! Dance is a collective story. And it’s the individual dancer’s story.

So. Here it is: Follow My Lead. This is my journey to learn the world’s dances.

I want you to join me. Maybe you’re just like me. If you could chuck it all, you’d spend your whole life traveling the world, learning every dance you could.

Maybe you’re not like me, but you love music, you love history, or you just love witnessing someone else following their passion.

I plan to chart my experiences in the world of dance with articles, photos, videos and playlists – taking you with me as I discover new movements and meaning. Most of all, I want to have fun and share it with you!

So, tell me, what do you love about dancing?