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!

Taking the Risk to Dance

I saw this image quote on Facebook today and started thinking about risk and dance.

via the PVD Lady Project

I don’t think most of us think of dance as a “risky” behavior generally. It’s not particularly dangerous and or even uncommon.

But any time you put your heart and soul into something, there is risk involved, because you’re vulnerable.

And dancing – whether it’s learning a new style, dancing in front of or with other people, or just getting comfortable with moving your body – is not just a physical exercise. It’s emotional; it’s spiritual. It requires both strength and vulnerability.

I can think of a lot of situations in which dancing could be seen as a risk that someone would be afraid to take:

  • Dancing with people after being told their whole life that they’re not a good dancer (or having told other people that).
  • Being terrific at a certain dance style and then trying a new style and being a beginner again.
  • Choreographing a dance and performing it and wondering whether people will “get it” or even like it at all. Or worse, criticize or mock it.
  • Dealing with physical injuries or limitations and taking dance classes with people who are in “better shape”.
  • Learning to dance a partner dance and worrying that the other leader or follower will not enjoy the dance.

I could think of many more scenarios where dancing is scary. It’s emotionally dangerous and risky because it triggers a lot of fears and shame we may be harboring about our own bodies and what others will think or say about us.

But, of course, the exciting things happen when we can recognize something as scary and risky and decide to push through and see what happens!

I’ve been pushing myself out of my shell more and more in the Reggaeton Fusion class I’ve been taking and it’s been feeling great. I feel more confident, have more fun and I think I’m improving as a dancer.

Last week, on my birthday, I even volunteered to do our choreography solo. I was so glad I did! We all dance in a circle while students do the choreography in the middle as we clap and cheer them on. I felt so much birthday love from the other students 🙂 and I was really proud of myself for just going for it. I didn’t have to be a perfect performer and there was no real reason to be scared. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my birthday this year!

What about you? Does dancing ever feel scary to you? What risks do you take so that you can enjoy dancing more or grow as a dancer?

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?

Dance Advice from my Mother

I was reading the new issue of Real Simple magazine and the Editor’s Note was all about advice from moms. The editorial staff shared the favorite words of advice they’d received from their moms over the years.

It got me thinking about advice my mom has given me and one bit in particular popped out.

She once told me that when someone asks you to dance for the first time, always say “yes”.

One time I said yes to dancing bachata with a guy in drag - go-go boots, sequined dress, blonde wig, the works! (It was the weekend before Halloween, but it still felt...strange.)

This may not seem like a big thing, but it takes a lot of nerve to go up to a stranger and ask them to dance. I’ve adopted my mom’s philosophy as my own, thinking that I can always dance ONE dance with anyone.

It doesn’t mean I have to say yes every time or even finish the dance. If dancing together makes me feel uncomfortable – whether it’s a rough style or the person is drunk or creepy – I reserve the right to stop the dance or say no next time.

On rare occasions if I’m taking a break for my feet or to get some water, I might say “not right now”.

But, for the most part, I say “yes”. It doesn’t mean I always end up with the perfect partner for me, but it does make me feel good to share a dance with someone and not contribute to any feelings of dance rejection.

I’m not saying everyone should do this since everyone (especially women) needs to set “yes” and “no” boundaries that work for them, but it works for me.

***

What advice about dancing has helped you?  Tell me in the comments!

Dance Is for Boys Too

This is Billy Elliott, not my friend's kid. Billy doesn't look too happy here, but he LOVES to dance!

My friend posted an adorable picture on Facebook the other day.

It was her young son’s first day of dance class and he was at the barre in second position along with the rest of his classmates. He was in shorts and a T-shirt and the other students (all girls) were in leotards and tutus.

As a ballet lover myself, I was so excited to see the picture! Little kids at ballet! And better yet, a BOY getting the chance to experience the joys of ballet. He was adorable and according to his mom had a great time.

I commented on the photo supportively, as did many others. But there was one comment that really pissed me off:

“Aw man is he gonna hate this picture in a few years!”

My heart sank.

Here it was: It’s embarrassing for a boy to take ballet.

I don’t think a similar comment would have been posted if my friend had uploaded a picture of her young daughter playing baseball for the first time with all boys.

But for a boy to dance (especially ballet), to do a “girls” thing WITH all girls. Now that could prove embarrassing some day.

I think that’s bullshit.

Dance is for everyone. EVERYONE.

There is much to be learned, experienced and enjoyed from learning dance from an early age – whether it’s ballet, modern, jazz, or tap.

It’s a chance for kids to play and have fun. At the same time, they learn better connection and control over their bodies. It’s an opportunity to communicate through movement and music. And, again, it’s FUN.

It’s not as much fun when you feel embarrassed or self-conscious.

And a lot of that comes from the idea that what girls do is not cool – it’s not for boys. It’s pretty accepted (and even celebrated) for girls to be “tomboys” (a bullshit term in itself; girls who like to climb trees and play sports are just kids who like to climb trees and play sports, not a type of “boy”).

But, sadly, it takes a brave parent to introduce and encourage their boys to explore activities still disproportionately associated with girls – like dance. So many boys grow up thinking that dance is not for them – and they turn into men who don’t feel comfortable with dancing.

And why should they? I’ve been dancing since I was four, and I’ve not had one moment in my life where anyone has, either implicitly or explicitly, called into question my gender or my sexuality for doing so.

But that’s what happens to boys and men- at least in the U.S. In many other countries, it is not considered weird for boys and men to dance everything from ballet to salsa to ballroom!

I think this needs to stop. All kids deserve the chance to explore all aspects of the human experience, regardless of sex. Whether that’s dance, baseball, swimming, singing, tennis, running, playing music…you get my point.

Offhand comments like that of my friend’s friend on Facebook keep us back by perpetuating the idea that a boy enjoying dance is something to be embarrassed about. And those little comments add up when others have negative reactions or make jokes (“So do you wear a tutu, like the girls? haha”). It also contributes to the devaluing of girls.

If my friend’s kid winds up loving dance, I want him to love it without anyone telling him it’s weird or wrong. It’s a tragedy for anyone to feel bad about what they love to do, simply because of their sex or gender.

Dance is for everyone.

Inspire Others by Dancing First

Sometimes loving to dance means being the first one on the dance floor. It means letting go of what other people think and just immersing yourself in the music you love.

It can be hard though. It’s fun to dance with other people, and it feels safer being in a group.

But dancing is also infectious. It usually only takes a few people to get the crowd going. Pretty soon you’re not alone anymore!

Like this guy. Check out how one “freak” turned into a dance mob in less than three minutes.

My favorite part of this video is at the end when you can hear one of the concert goers repeating, “How did he DO that? How did he do that?”

I loved hearing the awe and delight in her voice. He became a leader of dance, but not with that intention. He just felt the music and let it move him. Pretty soon, it took on a life of its own and just spread.

It’s OK to be shy about dancing. It’s not easy to be that vulnerable. But dance is an essential human right, in my opinion. It’s your chance to move your body in joy.

If other people aren’t ready or interested in doing that, fine.

But dance anyway. (You probably won’t be alone for long.)

 

A Reason to Love “Call Me Maybe – Chatroulette”

Steve Kardynal asks, "Call Me, Maybe?"

One of the things I love most about dancing is getting the chance to dance with other people.

It doesn’t matter whether people have the perfect technique or the most amazing style. I just love to move and laugh and sing together.

And a lot of times, it’s the simplest, most upbeat, often “overplayed” songs that help us do that. We can all find the beat. We can remember the words. We can laugh at the silliness of it and have fun acting out the lyrics.

That’s why I’m not a music snob. I love pop music. Not every song that tops the charts, but a lot of it. Because there’s something to be said for fun, upbeat, simple music.

This hilarious video reminded me of all that. It combines “Call Me Maybe” (the big pop hit of the summer) with ChatRoulette (the website that pairs random strangers together for webcam chats).

There’s some naughty dancing involved (slightly NSFW) which prompts reactions from the random strangers on the other side of the webcam.

Maybe it’s how the “star” edited it, or maybe it’s a good representation of what occurred, but the main thing you experience is people letting down their guard and smiling, laughing, singing and dancing along with a weird guy in a bikini.

It makes me so happy. I hope you like it too!

BTW – when I first saw this video a few days ago, it had about 70K views – it’s gone viral now and has over 10 million. Guess I’m not the only one who loves it! 🙂

**

7/8/13 UPDATE: I realized that the original video (which wound up getting over 32 million views) was pulled b/c of copyright violations. The original poster re-uploaded the video, so I’ve since updated the embedded video above.

Lunchtime “Raves”? Sweden is Awesome

The first rule? You have to dance. #Lunchbeat

Living in the U.S. – and working a corporate job – it’s easy to get detached from music, dance or any kind of physical movement.

Each day is basically the same for many of us: drive to work, sit at computer, talk on phone, sit at computer more, eat lunch at desk, more computer, a meeting, go home in car, watch TV.

We try to fit in joy, color and exercise where we can. I take walk breaks with my officemate, stretch some mornings, and take dance classes as often as possible in the evenings and on weekends.

But when I heard about this new trend in Sweden, I wanted to pack up my bags and move! Sick of being tied to their desks, office workers have created Lunch Beat – an hourlong lunchtime dance party. It started in Stockholm in 2010 and has now spread to other European cities.

First of all (Americans, listen up) – Swedes apparently TAKE their lunch breaks, which last one whole hour! Now they can head to Lunch Beat for one hour of sweaty, sober dancing. There are box lunches available to eat or take away.

From a USA Today article on the trend [emphasis mine]:

“It is absolutely fantastic!” exclaimed Asa Andersson, 33, who broke away from her job at a coffee shop to dance last week. “It is the first time I’m here. I’m totally happy and ecstatic, totally covered in sweat, and I’m full of energy. It does not get any better than this.”

The organizers have created a manifesto that starts with one simple rule: At Lunch Beat, you have to dance!

Imagine if this were a standard lunch activity everywhere! We all need to time to recharge – and that certainly helps our productivity. Remember naptime in kindergarten?

Here’s how they explain the benefits:

“By promoting 1 hour of day time dancing we make it possible to fully embody the buzzwords of playfulness, participation & community. A physical knowledge that will make you create magic during the rest of your day too, and so will make Lunch Beat your week’s most important business lunch.”

Take a look at videos of Lunch Beats all over the world, including this quick peek into a recent Stockholm gathering:

What do you think? If someone organized Lunch Beat near your workplace – would you go? Tell me in the comments!

 

Horse and Rider as Dance Partners

Kathryn is a rider and dancer.

I love this webisode that my friend Kathryn did as part of her journey gentling wild Mustangs called “To the Heart of the Mustang“.

In this episode, she departs from her typical exploration of riding and gentling technique to delve into the similarities between dance (specifically West Coast Swing) and horseback riding.

Most dancers can relate to having an epiphany while dancing, along the lines of, “This is JUST like ______!”

Partner dances such as salsa and tango frequently remind me of the give and take, the love and surrender, and the shared conversation of a romantic relationship. As we learn new dance techniques, there are so many embedded lessons about how we live in our bodies, how we navigate our emotions and how we interact with others.

Kathryn does a terrific job of breaking down the similarities between her experience learning swing and her experience gentling and riding horses. As a dancer who’s terrified of riding horses, I found this fascinating.

  • Leading and following – in both West Coast Swing and riding, the leader “asks for the step” by leading the follower in where to put their feet, but both have input into the process.
  • Connection – the body is used to communicate the steps and the hands establish another point of connection (novice dancers – and riders too, I suspect – usually think the hands control the lead, but it is the body).
  • Tempo – in dance, music creates the tempo; in riding, the horse creates the tempo through its stride, breathing and heartbeat.
  • Balance – both partners must be able to hold their own and stay connected. (I’ve seen this in dance – if your partner is gripping, pulling, or flailing, one or both of you are not strongly balanced on your own.)

Take a look at the video to see Kathryn’s dancing and riding and hear her excellent analysis of the connection between the two. She’s even thinking of setting up some kind of class or workshop to explore both passions together!

I’m wondering if my comfort with and love for dance could help me get over my fear of riding horses (I had a bad “runaway” horse experience many years ago).  Hmmm….could make for a good episode of Follow My Lead 🙂

And talk with me in the comments – what connections have you experienced between dance and another life activity?

Super Speedy Swing Dancers!

You know how when you watch old-timey movies, everything looks a little sped up? Like they’re on fast forward?

Well, when you watch this video of the top swing couples performing at the Ultimate Lindy Showdown, you might think that the video is being sped up (especially the first couple).

BUT, that’s really them dancing. And flipping. And jumping. And landing in splits. So much energy and enthusiasm! Plus, some of the moves are so fun and comical, I was laughing out loud.

I want to learn how to do this!! Do you?