Finding a Future in the Past
The future appears linked to the past.
Of course, there’s that well-known Churchill quote:
“Those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” – Sir Winston Churchill
and in practice we judge, or try to assess, one’s future behavior based on their past behavior (e.g., job interviews frequently look to prior work experience to indicate readiness for a new position, doctors ask us about our past diet/exercise regime prior to a physical, etc.).
But I’m not one who enjoys the past. In fact, though occasionally sentimental/nostalgic, I frequently try to out run my past in order to hurry-up-and-get-to-my-future-faster.
That running-as-fast-as-possible is not always the best approach, because as that initial quote mentions, if I run too fast and don’t take the time to learn from my past, I may repeat it (potentially to my doom or detriment). However, what if the past is exactly the kind of inspiration I need to piece together clues about my future?
Case in point – dancing.
Dan and I started partner dancing last Spring, sometime in the March/April timeframe. Initially we were just testing the waters and partner dancing became a fun thing to do on a date night, or to try and pick up from a series of YouTube How To videos. And then…slowly…it grew.
Dan now dances 5-6 nights a week, and I join him for at least 3 of those nights. We’ve taken classes in: Swing (West and East), Waltz, Rumba, ChaCha, Salsa, Merengue, Bachatta, Two Step, Triple Two Step, Night Club Two-Step, Hustle, Lindy Hop, and probably a couple more that I’ve since forgotten. Now we concentrate mostly on West Coast Swing and Two Step, though there are often others thrown in for good measure.
We attended Swing City Chicago (which I wrote about in a post back in October 2011), and are getting ready to attend America’s Classic in Houston. And I know there will be more dance events to come.
Here’s the thing though, I started dancing when I was just over age 3. Maybe you don’t consider a toddler bumping around the room to music as dancing, but I did lots of that, and then started as most little girls do, taking ballet.
I was in love with dancing as a girl. I had a jewelry box with a twinkling mirror and a tutu clad ballerina doing a perfect pirouette to a high pitched song, inside. I created mini-at-home dance routines with my brother, and I danced constantly (in the line at the grocery store, around the backyard, etc.).
And my dancing self was pure me. When I was dancing I felt at home in my own skin, free to move how the music pulled or pushed or glided me around the floor. I could also wear patent leather shoes (still a personal favorite), and express myself without words. A true mind to movement connection.
I danced ballet and tap up until the age of 11 or 12 and then switched to modern and jazz which I continued (with some tap mixed in) until I started college.
But truthfully, somewhere around the age of 13 I became engrossed (re: obsessed) with academics. I knew I didn’t have the athletic skill or form to compete in dance, and I didn’t have the training or conditioning to become a professional dancer, so I mentally diverted course and narrowed my focus on school. From then on, I was studying in some form or another, constantly. Dance classes became this regularly scheduled blip in my planner; merely an obligation to meet while charting the path to intellectual growth.
Once I entered college, I stopped dancing all-together telling myself that my litany of extracurriculars, rigorous course schedule, and desire to become a “career-woman” was more important. Sure a bunch of girls and I went to a downtown club once or twice, but the claustrophobic, dimly lit, alcohol-laden atmosphere wasn’t my style, and anyway – I was focused on my academic development. I had changed paths, I was going to be a scholar.
But then…while I was contently moving through my college years, then my Masters program…ticking off each box on the academic training spreadsheet for advancement, I was struck by a car.
Suddenly my next paper, exam, academic accolade became secondary to one of the most basic attributes of human existence: walking.
I don’t remember what it felt like when I learned to walk as a baby. In my earliest of memories (maybe age 4 or 5), I’m already mobile. So the experience of re-learning how to walk and shift my weight as an adult, was entirely new.
Knowing that I’d be able to walk again and getting fitted with a back brace to allow me mobility, were the first hurdles. Then moving from baby steps around the hospital bed, to walking short distances with a walker, to walking in/around my parents’ front yard while holding their hand, to walking short distances on my own, to finally going through physical therapy and removing the brace and moving unassisted, I walked again. The journey was eye-opening and educational (on a personal level).
And of course, the learning goes well beyond the physical, but for someone who had previously always taken walking for granted (I was dancing for goodness sake!), there’s nothing like acute physical trauma to remind you of not only the basics of existence, but also what makes you feel alive and human.
So, after I’d healed, finished school, and found a job, I did something I swore I’d never do – I took a tap dancing class.
And, you know what?
I fell in love with dance all over again.
Now that Dan and I spend so much time partner dancing, and due to some changes at the dance studio I was attending in town, I’m no longer tapping, but gradually dance is becoming more and more a part of my life . And to my delight, I’m starting to regain those parts of me that were happiest on the dance floor all those years ago. Those self-expressive parts that felt free, alive and excited to be moving and sharing through a simultaneous union of art and athleticism.
It’s harder now – my body is physically different from what it was when I was a kid, and my injury has impacted certain skills essential to dancing (i.e., balance), but wow, is it ever rewarding, and it just feels good.
So today, when I sit here writing and thinking about my future, my typical post-college disillusionment sets in and at first I want to cling to the vestiges of my former academic self. I want to do the familiar, I want to focus on my mind and neglect the harder, more challenging aspects of my day to day: my body.
But, here’s the thing I think I’m starting to realize- that my future, lies somewhat in my past.
As a kid, I got it. I inherently knew that dancing made me a whole(some) person from the inside out. I knew that it felt good, that it felt right, and I just did it.
In the transition to adulthood, my ego got in the way. I thought “I’ll never make it as a professional dancer,” “my skills are better put towards academia,” “my body just can’t do what it needs to”. And all those thoughts, while not necessarily wrong, allowed me to do many things – attend great schools, meet wonderful people, travel, learn new skills, create new projects and consider new ideas- but they ignored an essential part of me. An internal part of me that was crying out for self-expression, physical connection, and life.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with my ego, but…I’m dancing again.
Perhaps this future-self, the one I’ve been trying so hard to seek lately, has been there all along, waiting…for me to return to the past and bring it forward with a new found appreciation.