A close friend of mine said he stopped to watch me teach my Zumba class one Saturday morning, and he called something interesting to my attention.
Yes, I have great energy and I’m a very capable instructor, but he told me I needed to break my habit of periodically looking towards the ceiling. Interesting observation — one I had to think about, because I was aware of it, but not really why I do it.
Here are a couple of my practical reasons, and then what’s really at the heart of the matter:
- Sometimes teaching group exercise is still like walking and chewing gum to me. I’ve been doing it for two years, but until I know the music, choreography or a series of moves with my body and my mind, I’m thinking and I’m thinking hard. When I do that, I look up. Up is empty space without mirrors and moving bodies where I can take a couple of seconds to glue the loose parts of my brain together.
- I’m catching my breath. No, really — I am. In that hour, I’m non-stop teaching, talking, dancing, laughing and hollering and sometimes I just look up and take in some breath.
And then I thought about this some more. Because it is for those reasons, but that’s really the only class I teach where I do that, and I think it’s the most vulnerable class I teach. I think it’s because it’s about playfulness, showing off and being sexy.
I teach a lot of different classes now, but dancing has always been my great love. And really, four years ago when I was dropping some serious weight, Zumba changed my life.
I’m good at it. I like being good at it. I like being that girl — that woman who looks like it comes as naturally to her as breathing. Because if you tell me not to move when there’s a beat, it is kind of like telling me to hold my breath : )
But here’s the thing about being that girl. That woman. It can take some getting used to. That’s especially true if you’re like me and there’s been this internal push and pull your whole life between wanting to be a light and a star and wanting to blend and hide.
Or look up at the ceiling.
It’s not just me; I know a lot of women who do this. Almost every woman who hires me tells me at the onset that our work is about a career change, what’s next for them now that their kids are grown or wanting to enjoy life more and stop feeling so anxious.
And yes, it is about those things, but it’s really about being a star in their lives. It’s about becoming a light so bright that they can no longer ignore or hide from life. A light that is so bright, they stop hiding from themselves.
And you know what? That’s fucking scary. And it’s also the most exciting and colossal work a woman can do. It’s work that can dismantle, brick by brick, the bullshit stories and beliefs a woman has about herself and who she can be in the world, whether she created them or others told her that was who she was (or who she wasn’t in life).
My dear and beautiful friend, Susan Hyatt, is also coaching me this year as I grow into my life and the work I’m creating. We were talking in our last session about me staring at the ceiling when I teach, playing bigger in the world and a story about me as a little girl that she said didn’t know about me from our friendship and past work together.
I thought about that story — that part of who I am — and how the pieces of our lives inform us about how to be in the world, even when we’re very young.
These things can define us in a way that holds us back or we can transcend those stories and become something bigger and brighter than we or anyone else ever gave us permission to be.
For me, one of those stories was that I spent the first full year of school — 1st grade — being physically and emotionally abused by my teacher, a nun. I wasn’t the only one; there were at least 20 of us and some of the other children were more vulnerable targets than others.
That was the year was when I learned the practice of diminishment. Disappearing. And if I wasn’t doing one of those two things, then I was developing my practice of trying to do everything so well — so perfectly — that I might hope to be exempt from being backhanded, jerked out of a chair or verbally humiliated.
I told Susan about this. I told her about how I always remember very vividly the day after the class Christmas play. I had to borrow a dress from another little girl for the part I played. I was fretful — petrified, really — about what would come to pass if I didn’t return with it the very next day.
And because life gets in the way and because most people might need a couple of days to remove the rows of garland stitched to the dress and then wash it properly for the owner — I didn’t have the dress. I just didn’t.
And my worst fear came true. There was no way I could hide or avert my eyes, and I’d failed at perfection by not having the damn dress, so I got hurt. My beautiful little six year old body got hurt and my spirit surely did, too.
I never forgot that day or a lot of other things that happened to me or that I saw that year.
But here’s something else to know — the root of the root and the bud of the bud, as a great poet once wrote: I would not let diminishment and perfectionism guide my life. And not just related to that time in my life, but any time in life:
where I’ve been shushed for laughing too loud;
Or felt like I asked or answered too many questions in class.
Or being told as a teenager that I was too thin and must certainly be anorexic.
A teacher grabbing my arm when I was 14 and telling me that I looked like a whore when I danced like Madonna at a school field day outing.
Quieting my aching need to get home and feed my baby daughter while sitting across from a tenured professor who scoffed at my application and told me I had no business pursuing an advanced degree in psychology.
For not wearing enough.
Here’s what I choose to know about myself from the Christmas play dress incident. I remember my role in that play — it was an important one. In fact, it’s so apropos that you might think I made it up, but it’s all true.
I wore a long, icy blue dress completely trimmed in rows of silver garland because in that play, I was the Star of David. I was a star — a beautiful, shining star. And no matter what happened the next morning at school or any other time in my life where my light has been challenged, I just won’t hide.
And I love surrounding myself with life-lovers who refuse to hide, shut up, shut down, stand down or sit down in a world as beautiful as this.
And if we’re in a coaching session where you’re telling me how you beat the shit out of cancer and want to show up differently in your life from now on or you show up and move your body in one of my classes, I will champion you at every turn.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
Old habits and stories die hard, but I’m about fucking done with looking up at the ceiling.