“Now come on Tom, go dance and be with the girls”, was the ordered barked at me by my elementary school teachers. The blare of sixties music couldn’t cover up the fear I felt and the anger raging in me while attempting to appear invisible. School dances scared most teenage boys, but they terrified me!
I get so embarrassed, particularly as a gay man, because I’m just not a good dancer. That stereotype of having great rhythm, just because I’m gay, isn’t true for me. If my former partners had a dollar for every lie I told about why I didn’t feel like dancing, they’d be rich.
Recently a coaching client of mine was sharing a story about listening to a keynote speaker whose message was about forcing yourself into doing things you didn’t want to do. We both laughed, uncomfortably, about the notion of using force to accomplish anything in life. Like the “fight” against Cancer – shouldn’t it be the “healing” towards a cure?
The story reminded me about what I learned in order to better understand my discomfort with dancing. There were times when I did force myself on to the dance floor and it was always painful. Less so if I was drunk, but it took liquid courage to get me there.
This dynamic was even more challenging since it seemed like every gay man I partnered with had this love affair with dancing. I couldn’t help wondering if the law of attraction was somehow at play in my life. What I resisted, persisted.
I would come to realize that it was not so much that I did not want to dance, but the feeling that lay underneath – shame, embarrassment, and fear – that was really difficult to share with anyone. Why did I have those emerge because of dancing?
The fear and anger connecting to the idea of dancing with girls in elementary school was clearly connected to being a little gay boy. Hating my teachers made sense too! Avoiding dances all together was actually a brilliant strategy. What backfired on me, was stuffing all the feelings present for me and pretending as if they didn’t exist. Thank God for great therapists, inspiring authors and coaches.
I remember reading John Bradshaw’s powerful book called, “Healing the Shame That Binds You”, and bursting into tears realizing at times I never really stood a chance.
John taught me that shame is the motivator behind my toxic behavior, my compulsion, my not telling the truth about many things in my life. In this case, not wanting to dance. You see the little gay boy was shamed for not dancing with girls and then the adult man, without realizing the presence of shame in his life, was shamed for not being able to or wanting to dance with his partners. .
Shame has been such a limitation in the development of my self-esteem, and can cause, when not acknowledged, enormous anxiety. Its greatest limitation affects my ability to feel connected in relationships. Not wanting to dance triggered my ability to identify my personal shame, understand the underlying reasons for it, address the root causes, and release myself from the shame that was binding me to my past.
The wisdom of the Universe continues to have me in awe of how perfectly every element of my life aligns, when I allow it to. This dancing story of mine is really old, yet it can rear its ugly head if I don’t work consciously to keep it in check.
I sat quietly just a short while ago on a lazy Saturday afternoon and suddenly burst into laughter. I had conjured up the memory yet again, of another opportunity to feel shame around the energy of dance in my life.
In a former relationship, my partner was very clear and did everything he could to support never dancing with me. I had totally duped him and myself into believing my “this girl doesn’t twirl” story. I experienced such shame and created enormous anxiety for both of us. In the fashion befitting the divinity of how life unfolds, the Universe wasn’t quite finished with this lingering story of mine.
I am blessed to have fallen in love, nearly four years ago, with a beautiful soul. His zest for life is infectious; his smile luminescent, his commitment to growing as a human being contagious and his love of dance is outrageous. Damn! I am so busted!
There exists a part of me that thinks I’ve got it all figured out. I like to call this shadow aspect of myself, in words of my teacher, mentor and coach Debbie Ford, “holier than thou”, “too cool” or “Mr. Know It All”. This new love in my life inspired me to heal this old story.
Instead of lying to him upon the first invitation to join him and his amazing friends at Blazing Saddles Country Western Dance Club, in Honolulu, I chose to tell him my truth. Dancing triggers an old wound around being forced to dance with girls, it’s embarrassing because I think I have no rhythm as a gay man and I’m scared to let anyone know I even have these feelings.
Being the drama queen that I am, I really expected some large commotion, from him, based on my revealing this truth to him. Instead, with deep love and respect, he thanked me for telling him. I remember thinking “Is it really that simple?”
The following Tuesday I chose to join him at Blazing Saddles, carrying all of my dance baggage with me. I had asked him to stick close by just in case I needed to bolt and requested he give me time to get comfortable with actually getting on the dance floor with him, if that was something that actually worked for me. With grace and love he made room for all my issues.
Being able to embrace our stories instead of allowing them to have us is very empowering. The moment I walked into the dance hall I was grabbed by the founder of the Club as he asked, “Can you walk?” to which I quickly replied, “Of course!” He then abruptly stated, “Then you can two step!” My story was gone. This girl could twirl.