“I don’t dance.”

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Perched on a large flip-down cushioned seat in a darkened school auditorium the strains of the prelude rolled over me.  When the huge burgundy curtain parted and the Alps appeared I fell heart-first into of The Sound of Music. That night my six-year-old self knew with certainty: I must grow up to be Maria. Not Maria the convent nun, but Maria the plucky governess who teaches sad children to sing and dance.

I played the vinyl LP recording of the sound track over and over and over. From the top of my lungs I sang of the hills and the songs they have sung for a thousand years. I dashed across the mountain meadow, aka our living room, to snatch up a forgotten hat or something. Then, as the chimes for evening prayers sounded, I raced to the abbey. With faithful practice I knew I’d be perfect as the next Maria.

Except for one tiny detail. Until Julie Andrews, no one I knew personally danced. The closest I came to dancing was spinning round until I fell over. But I knew that getting dizzy wasn’t dancing. I also knew from earliest memory that in my family, and the group my family identified with, dancing wasn’t done.

Why no dancing? Think Footloose, except without a dance-related tragedy starting it all. In my version no one remembered dancing. Ever. No one pined for moving with the music. I understood that based on the Bible good-guys, except for the dicey fellow David, dancing was bad.

It was a truth universally accepted: dancing was for people who didn’t know better and I could pray for them.

Eye’s wide I took it all in with tipsy delight. The seven lively von Trapp’s sang, cycled, stepped and struck poses to music (choreography!). And a happy grown-up with a guitar led them.

Imagine how all that messed with my head.

My dance-less community had schools that I attended from first grade through college. Naturally my peers and I honored the No Dancing tradition. Yeah, right. In eighth grade I seized the opportunity for rebellion when a classmate hosted a party featuring low-lights and music. Sweaty-giddy with my own stunning cool rebel-ness, I danced.  I wondered why the heat was on. I kept swaying. People gawked at me in the dim light. I felt singled out. Two songs later I needed air. The awkward, conscious-smitten memory still makes me uncomfortably warm.

I’m not absolutely sure, but I think my efforts at defiance were over when, for the first time, I heard The Hokey Pokey.

“That’s what it’s all about!”


It’s tough having such wisdom foisted on you while trying to stay upright on roller skates.

In the end I conformed for my hyper-sensitive conscience. Saying, “I don’t dance,” just felt righteous.

More truthfully, however, saying, “I don’t dance,” felt safe. Dancing means letting external forces guide you. Dancing means stepping out of self-consciousness and letting music flow through and free your body.

That kind of putting yourself out there did not resonate with my teen-aged-need-to-stay-in-control-body-conscious-self.

Later I heard and often retold one of the community’s inside joke:

Why don’t ________________s make love standing up?

Because someone might think they were dancing.

Ha. Ha.

After college I lived in Sudan. Ken and I attended a wedding celebration. Outside, mostly  men danced to the blaring music. But in their own private party, the women swayed and moved through poses passed down through generations. I watched.

We moved to Kenya. I traveled with Ken to a remote high school. The students chanted, clapped, and stamped their feet until the dust rose around us. They expressed their gratitude and joy for the school’s new well. I stamped my feet. A bit.

Our daughter was born in Nairobi. As she grew she moved effortlessly to music. While Little Richard ripped up The Itsy Bitsy Spider, I held my girlie close and we gyrated through the house together.

When we returned to life in the U.S., Ken and I discovered a small group of recovering non-dancers. In an ordinary carpeted room at the public library I learned the steps and intricate movements for the timeless classic “The Chicken”.  The instructor taught us folk dances from Hungary, a line-dance or two, contra dances, and the Virginia Reel. Sometime my flailing efforts made me laugh so hard I cried; not that right — the other right! I grinned at Ken and our small son who peered over Ken’s shoulder from his perch in the backpack.

Remembering y tipsy delight in that small group takes me back to my six-year-old self.  A lot has changed.  I no longer want to be Maria. In claiming my creativity and expression

I know the only person I want to be is me.

But like Maria I’m out to woo, win and cheer for anyone who longs to sing and dance, to own and honor their voice, vision and individual creativity.

You may not relate to my dancing taboo tale. But you have a story. A funny, tearful, silly, shocking, wise, mundane, painful, happy story. Reflect on your story for a bit. I’ll wait.

Good. For better or worse, many messages influence your expressive, flailing creative expression. Did something block a creative pathway in your life? If so, what’s your equivalent for saying,”I don’t dance”?

“Oh, I’m not creative.”  “I’m not a real artist.”

Pick up those two words: creative and artist. Roll them around in your heart for a while.

I’d be honored if you share what bubbles up in the comments below.

15 Responses to “I don’t dance.”

  1. LF October 6, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Having spent a great deal of time in the same community as you growing up, your description of what it felt and looked like then, and even now we’ve worn the old message of religious/cultural “no” on the life a less restricted adult – is SO spot on!
    In thinking about what I message I am learning to neutralize that has inhibited my creative expression – I would say it has everything to do with $MONEY$.

    The message of money and this nonstop demand for humans to march to the drumbeat of economic validity is like a wet woolen blanket on any light of creativity in my book. I mean individual creativity it is what has been squandered into a commodity by those that would (maybe) employ us. And clearly it is a commodity our job markets are less and less willing to pay (hence they are often off to search and find that commodity in a cheaper-priced population of individual creators.)

    I understand there has to be balance yada yada…but really…I mean REALLY. How can this civilization really think generating more jobs of making more stuff for people to throw money at is the answer to the assured survival of the human race? Couldn’t the whole idea of technology be to free humans up to creatively express themselves in whatever way they are inspired?

    Well here’s my message: Humans are here on our Earth because each brings a gift that serves as a basic building block to the future of everything.

    My creativity is not just a commodity for sale to the lowest bidder, and neither should anyone anyone else’s be.

    What if we could gather up every unemployed person in the U.S. now – give them a naturally lit space, a nurturing presence? What if with that space came the tools (guitar, crayons, cooking ingredients, Photoshop, MicrosoftWord, mathematical equations, technology, stones and dirt, even dried macaroni and acorns – whatever it is they prefer to explore their own creativity?

    I KNOW this strange crazy wild idea of an approach would in even just a year yield a segment of population well ahead of ALL those who didn’t have such an opportunity. And here’s how that population would be ahead: they are the people who would be animatedly creating, innovating, collaborating and revealing the creative ideas and solutions humanity needs to EMPLOY to help us thrive on our hyper-changing landscape.

    Now that there, THAT’S the new message. Humanity needs to employ themselves in the discovery of their particular brand of creativity – and then bring it to the big circle where everyone plays with putting their various blocks together, creating something new, something necessary…the future of everything.

    • Rebecca Waring-Crane October 6, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      oy, LF. money. the sad truth of what inhibited your creativity sounds painfully familiar to me. whether implied or stated, the message that poured into me for much of my life was similar: oh that’s nice does it pay? is it worth investing time, energy, money? meaning can you prove it’s valid, pragmatic, utilitarian?

      moving away from this sort of accounting takes intention. and i find again and again that i must choose to pursue intuition, creativity, exploration in spite of old questioning critical tapes.

      your wild crazy idea sounds wonderful. it makes me think of how monastic life once worked. no worries about food and shelter. time to pursue sacred work that didn’t produce any marketable product. hm.

  2. ken crane October 6, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    Let’s dance…

  3. Heather Novak October 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    I just auditioned for and SO DID NOT MAKE Sound of Music! I think most people “own” that movie/play/musical in their hearts. I sang it from the top of my dresser my whole childhood, but didn’t dance (too self conscious) until high school when 42nd Street finally got my toes tapping! But overcoming ourselves, and our past, is part of what makes your lives an adventure,yes? Dance on! P.S. I LOVE your hubby’s comment!

    • Rebecca Waring-Crane October 6, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

      oh heather, i’m sad you didn’t get a part. that production is poorer for the loss. when i finally had the chance to audition for it – of course i wanted to be cast as maria – i was vexed to tears when the director asked me to play the mother superior! (like i should be surprised at 40-something!) i know what you mean about the musical. yes! overcoming ourselves and our past IS a big part of life’s adventure.

      p.s. i love ken’s comment too. my biggest fan lives in the same house and i’m SO thankful.

  4. Tracy October 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    My ‘I don’t dance’ saga is about denying that I am a writer. Because I was not published, because people didn’t pay for my work, because being a writer is too hard/scary/personal/crazy, I did not consider myself a writer.

    Somehow, I managed to overlook the fact that I write, every day, and have done so for more than 30 years. I’ve kept a journal since I was 12. I am almost 50 now. I write poetry and songs all the time. But somehow, I was not a writer?

    The turning point for me came in 2000, when I first read the book ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron. As I read, I wept with relief as I realized that others feel like I do. As I did the exercises, which are designed to help people push through creative blocks, I
    conquered the negative voices that have been in my life since birth.

    Since then, I have kept writing for myself, but I’ve also freelanced for five years, read at poetry readings, written more songs that I’ve sung with a band, and taught classes on journaling. Nothing has changed except that I acknowledge and accept my gift. And having done that, felt more comfortable sharing it with the world. And as I’ve shared it, yes, I’ve gotten paid a little bit. So not only am I a writer and musician, I am a professional writer and musician! 😀

    • Rebecca Waring-Crane October 6, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

      HURRAH for conquering the negative voices of a lifetime! and isn’t it a relief to know others wrestle with the same issues? it makes the world a much less lonely place. again and again i realize that knowing the flaws, fears, and struggles of another person is the thing that makes them more dear, more real to me. it means we are more alike than different. you make an important point: how we see ourselves changes everything. owning the birthright to say “i’m a writer/artist/musician/singer/dancer” often involves hard work and time. lots of time. but finally uttering the identity is wonderful beyond words.

  5. Leilani October 6, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    I think I would have been an excellent dancer, if not for that denominational repression. I got to jig around in college choral choreography (Disney, always Disney) and felt that I was a bit of a natural. Yoga has met a lot of that area, but sometimes I wish I did tai chi’, too, where you get to flow more. Like dancing. I love holding poses, but there’s something about movement… As a child I leaned towards desiring ballet and ice skating with intense longing. Nowadays it’s flamenco that has my eye. Foot stomping, intensity, passion, red swirly dresses. Yes, please. It’s on my must do list.

    I loved the story of you and Ken at dance class with a baby in the backpack.

    Anyhow, my real voice is my voice. That part of me has been on the back burner (or off the stove altogether) through these baby years. I’m really looking forward to getting back into singing, maybe even this fall. But there are lots of fears and uncertainties going back to something you were once very good at. In some places I’m going to have to start all over again and I expect it will be uncomfortable. “But you used to…” needs to give way to “Now I am…”

    • Rebecca Waring-Crane October 7, 2012 at 9:20 am #

      leilani, thank you! the image of you stomping your feet to flamenco rhythm as you twirl a red swirly dress has me grinning. wow.

      the rhythm of life during the “baby years” — the pause for some dreams while we nurture others — creates its own melody. having said that i admit that i wasn’t so gracious during my early parenting passage. i often wondered aloud “when will it be my turn? when will my life be about me?” not my favorite thing about myself, but there it is.

      now that i know about your love of singing, i’ll be cheering for you. starting over. being uncomfortable. i love your bravery. now you are … and it is enough.

  6. Diane October 8, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    I bow to you {deep, from the waist, with arms flailing forward, fingers waggling and a tense, tentative smile growing stronger}.

    If you can overcome the fear and angst, then share your story and in a subtle, generous way challenge me to do the same, well then …..

    Off to throw myself out there!

    Thanks, Rebecca … I think

    • Rebecca Waring-Crane October 8, 2012 at 10:15 am #

      diane, i bow to you, darlin’. sharing my journey from fear to freedom is one of the plot lines for my blog. your request to be subtle & generous is a lovely challenge to me. thank you.

      my weakness is often my greatest strength and vulnerability trumps perfection; as i told tracy in an earlier comment, the flaws and fears of others are what win me over. with a bit of faith i put myself out there believing i’m not the only one won over in this way. i’m glad you’re there to let me know if it’s working.

      off to stumble along. dancing, doubting, dreaming, and then writing/talking about it.

      i’m so happy that you’re my companion today.
      let’s dance.

  7. Nelly October 10, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    I still don’t dance.
    It’s good to read your story (and most of those above) of liberation and all of that, but I’m sure that’s still up the road somewhere for me. Just like Tracy, I’ve always kept a journal (since I was 7), but somehow I’m not good enough. Or so I think.
    I’ve been wanting to paint a Van-Gogh inspired mural in my apartment, and I even know what I want it to look like, but I’m scared to do it.
    I write songs that are unique and unlike what I hear others doing (in Spanish at least) and I want to put them on YouTube..but I’m afraid.
    A few days ago, in class, we thought about the question: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

    I would dance like no one was watching. Literally.
    I would post my songs out for everyone to hear.
    I would paint that mural.
    I would say the honest truth in my journal every time, instead of sometimes keeping things in for fear of what they might confirm about me.
    I would pursue a career in something that allows me to use my creative skills…something that will make me feel alive.

    …if I wasn’t afraid.

    My friend Letty passed away yesterday morning. She was optimism, courage, and beauty. Fearless. I cried and cried and cried when I found out. She lived like I’ve been afraid to.

    Things need to change.

    • Rebecca Waring-Crane October 10, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

      dear nelly the brave one,

      thank you for opening your heart. i honor your hesitancy over choosing and believing in yourself, your desire for fearlessness, your sorrow over losing a dazzling, fearless friend. so much poured out. thank you for your trust. and what insight to see Letty’s legacy to you as a calling to fearlessness. the certainty of your last line “things need to change” sounds inspired.

      i LOVE your fearless list. i’m super tempted to start coaching you on realizing each thing on the list, but i will simply say that now i know what you long for, i’m holding you in the light (((nelly))) as you welcome all that goodness into your life. you’ve named some of your heart’s desires and now have me and a few strangers cheering for you. you are NOT alone, darlin.

      i’m eager to know where you start, which small, doable step you take first as you begin realizing your fearless life. dancing? honest-every-time journaling? (btw, i totally relate to that one; the first year i was married i kept a journal that reflected more of what i wanted life to look like than how life really was.)

      we are meant to live for so much more than ordinary. i’ve heard you read your writing — powerful. i KNOW you can paint a mural. and i bet you can dance the rug off the floor when you let the music take you!

      lifting you up to experience all the extraordinary that is meant for you <3

      • Nelly October 10, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

        Ahhh! You make me smile! Thank you so much for the kind words, the encouragement, the inspiration. It’s a lot to take in…

        I would love you to coach me, but I’m scared of that too! Hahaha…

        I finish classes mid-November. I think I will paint then. 🙂

        So good to know I’m not alone. Looking forward to more of this goodness. Thank you for opening up this valuable discussion. Love you. 🙂

0 Flares Facebook 0 Google+ 0 Email -- 0 Flares ×