by Leah Patterson
I’ve always loved to dance. But I’ve not always thought I had a *right* to dance.
In my childhood, I remember being in afterschool programs and feeling like I was not one of the chosen ones that had permission to dance.
Those people were the pretty ones, the slender ones, the ones with the best hair, the ones that were the most flexible and the most naturally talented.
If I wanted to dance, I could, but I definitely could not take up too much space and cause a distraction from the ones people wanted to see.
I couldn’t expect to be taken too seriously and I’d better be ok with the back of the lineup.
Those were years of lots of emotional angst, as I grew from a young girl into a teenager.
The message of non-permission was always reinforced, but luckily it was never quite able to completely silence my innate desire to dance.
You could still find me at school parties dancing my heart out and in my own mirror at home, creating choreographies for no purpose other than the fun of it.
But dancing with real permission and real ownership didn’t happen until my early twenties, when I discovered salsa.
Within that dance world, the true beauty and healing power of dance revealed itself. Almost instantaneously, dancing returned me to myself in ways that nothing else had.
Dance gives this gift over and over.
Below are just three ways, dance has liberated me.
1. Dance gave me permission to move
I was not physically gifted as a child. I was not very comfortable in my own skin and taking up space wasn’t easy.
I always felt awkward and afraid to try anything that required physical effort, mostly for fear of messing up.
I instead learned to be as small and invisible as possible and in turn, safe.
That included learning to move as little as possible so as not to disturb or illicit a reaction from anything.
Dancing was the only place where I dared to venture outside of that safe shell.
Dancing gave me the permission to be in my body and own it.
When I was dancing, I was not outside of myself, looking at myself and trying to censor everything I did.
I was inside of me, completely connected and experiencing through my body in the moment.
It was my direct pipeline to existential bliss and in my first years as a salsa dancer especially, my first experience of mindfulness.
2. Dance gave me permission to feel
As a child, I had a very difficult time expressing my emotions.
From what I remember, I was mostly silent and moody or faking in an attempt to please everyone and not make waves.
Deep emotions and feelings were rarely discussed and, like most families, not a lot of time was spent talking about or processing them.
Because of this my emotions often weren’t expressed outwardly. The only place they were processed was through my writing in my personal journal.
I didn’t have another outlet until dance came along. Dance grounded me.
Within that world, I was finally able to express emotions within an easy, safe container. I could ‘leave it all on the dancefloor’.
I could dance fast or slow, hard or soft, with passion or with aloofness, having it mirror my mood exactly and lend itself to transforming and dissipating whatever feelings were there.
It would almost always leave me relieved, renewed, and rejuvenated.
3. Dance gave me permission to participate
Dancing taught me that it’s safe to not only just take up space, but to also take the chance to participate with others in that space as well.
This helped me to overcome fears of participating in life in general and helped me realize my own power and safety within that.
I learned this specifically through partner dancing.
In partner dancing, you must touch the other person. You must interact with them, focus on them and invite them into your energy, thereby inviting their opinion, scrutiny and even possible judgement.
It’s an incredibly vulnerable place.
Within the world of dance however, it felt a lot safer to test this out than in the real world.
In the real world, I had to do all these very same things and the stakes felt much higher.
As I learned that I could trust myself with how I interacted with another person on the dancefloor, I learned to become comfortable with the insecurities and awkwardness that would inevitably arise.
I learned that I could adapt easily and even in the moment to create a more congruent flow between us and I learned that the risk overall to create with someone was well worth the reward.
Dance is beautiful, not just from the outside looking in, but in how it can be a powerful vehicle for personal transformation from the inside expanding out.
I invite you to allow your dance experience to be that big and see where it takes you.
If you find that you have a hard time “loosening up” and dancing “like no one is watching”, there are definitely ways to help you get over that.
As a transformation coach and dancer that works specifically with dancers, I know several techniques that work wonders. Check my bio below for more info.
If this essay resonates with you, please join our WITCH email list by using the forms on this website so we can stay in touch.
About the Author:
Leah Patterson is a transformation coach, holistic beauty and wellness mentor, and salsa dance instructor that provides women who identify (sometimes secretly) as living with high functioning depression and/or anxiety with the guidance they need to create an overall lifestyle of mind, body and spirit balance. She works primarily with dancers – professional, amateur and hobbyists – using holistic beauty, wellness, movement, and mindset as her tools of transformation, facilitating major breakthroughs and rock-solid self-empowerment for her clients. Visit her website to find out more about her and the Dancer’s Bliss Academy and follow her on Instagram for self-empowering inspiration. If you’d like to chat about how she can help you get more free in your body, just reach out to her here to schedule a free session on my calendar.
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