One year of ‘dance class.’ I had forgotten until I started learning ballet basics again as a way to exercise and have fun about four months past.
Just today someone asked me a question that spawned a childish insecurity to raise up and leave me tongue tied. It kept me from staying present in the moment and I ended up not acting when I wanted to act. So, here’s some stuff about kid fears, that I’ll be embarassed for posting. But sometimes the willingness to embarrass yourself is what releases you from yourself. I’m a fool, though. I like it about me. Worst case: you have something to laugh at. There are far worse things than being known as someone who can make others laugh and smile.
I wanted to do it. Pretty sure I suggested it to my parents. Which is odd given how insecure I was at this period of my life. Body image drama lesson: That dance class felt like pure, biweekly hell. Turned out, the fear was all in my head.
It also was the first thing that showed me that, as a gal or lady or a woman, I was a bad ramma jamma not to be messed with. Kind of bitch who ends sentences in prepositions because her game is tight.
Big picture speaking: it revealed the strangeness of assumption and the influence that comes with culture: how much we forget to see things another way and how we hurt ourselves and others with this ignorance.
I had hit the start of puberty on the short end of the stick, and was not overweight but had some grown-lady bits come in on me that other gals did not have until 2 years later. I had the thighs of a woman at 11, not even a husky lady, but they were not kiddo thighs. I was so concerned because they were larger in diameter than my upper arms were; and, my friend’s thighs were the same diameter as their upper arms. How did I even make that observation? Did I actually do that much math? Experience says that’s unlikely, but I am still confident that I did to this day. Who knows?
Honest to Court, this was my reasoning for thinking I was fat. So ignorant, and insensitive and judgemental of others and myself, I realize now as I compose this. But, as a kid, I hurt but I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. So I hurt myself mentally to deal with it. Now, I stand on my toes. Gives me charley horse knots in my calves. They hurt like shit but the result is bitching legs, and the knowledge that I’m doing something healthful in the moment.
Further evidence I presented as a child: I have two big dimples when I smile. What are dimples but cellulite of the face?
My mom laughed when I told her that. Which is the appropriate reaction. I was super serious. She said not to say that because people like dimples, and I’d sound ungrateful. She was not wrong.
My mom called my body ‘developed’ which is equally if not even more horrific than ‘fat’. She tried to explain the difference.
I was already 5’2″ and I hated being tall. Joke was on me though: I’m still 5 ft 2 in. (apologies rest of the world, they teach us metric one time in 1st grade but tell us we’ll be shot on site if seen using it) but five feet, two inches is no longer tall.
I heard: compared with other kids like you, you are bigger. She also never directly denied the “fat” fear, which was a powerful choice. Southern moms of her generation are mean and cold as fuck. The world got to ’em and if that world were the one I grew up in, I’d have probably turned out similarly, but mine was kinder to women than hers had been.
Regardless, when you slap tights on thighs that you’ve deemed fat, it turns out you feel even fatter in ’em. And then go stand beside the other 12 year olds in leotards…one of these things is not like the others. People notice. Pubing-out girls freak the eff out when noticed.
I got looks. I did NOT get stares, or oggles or leers. No one glared and shook their head. Nobody’s mouth went agape at seeing me. I was the most akward looking gal at 12 with a kid haircut that was uncombed, I didn’t get fashion yet, and had so much acne which no one else had at that time.
God, I hated the acne. It is funny now, as an adult. It’s funny because everyone had it and experienced embarrassment, a fact my parents totally tried to impart to me. “Everyone’s going to have it in less than 2 years, Casey.”
Response: Likely story, filthy liars. You can’t tell the future. You’re just saying that to make me feel better.
You can see l was a true delight to be around at this stage.
But, remember, no one was going through it with me at school. Not a pity statement but an observation on how perspective works: the kids could not relate to having acne because they hadn’t been alive long enough to get it; I could not relate to the idea that everybody would eventually go through it because I had not lived it yet. Felt like one of those Santa-type “true” stories. Hogwash.
When I say I’d get looks in class: They went something just like this:
“I forgot to get milk. Shit. Huh, wonder how old that girl is? She looks older than the age cap. Weird. Anyways —” and then I probably never crossed their mind again.
That’s it. It was over in like 3 seconds.
My subjective experience of the looks, at the time they occurred, corresponds exactly to the list of looks people were NOT giving me, per list above.
These are good folks, everyday “how are you – that’s great” folks. They worked and cared for families, could tell you why they got out of bed everyday, and generally did their best at life, which is hard and really all you can ask of someone. I’m jealous of those people. Only on occasion, though.
But this was an elephant in the room.
Figuratively speaking, but also, literally, there was a girl that was overweight for her height and age. Her teasing for being overweight was on the caliber of that I took for the zits and early lady bits at school.
Ms. Terry, the dance instructor (not teacher), was from Russia, see. (Where in Russia? Dunno, in Alabama there’s just Russia, so no one asked) So, bless her heart, sometimes she says things that ‘we’ might not like. But, ‘we’ know that it is different where she grew up, so “we” don’t take it personally and ‘we’ love her anyway. That’s how my mom explained it. She owns the word “we”. Chills just thinking about it. You mean you, Mom, not we, and you know it! My Mom did not get Ms. Terry. I didn’t either.
Good medicine being able to not take things personally. In my mid-thirties I feel like I’m getting the hang of it, but every once in a while it still happens and I gotta check myself. Plus, so many idiots take so much personally these days, I look great by comparison, but that’s not a valid metric. So, I still forget and get my feelers hurt or get effing snippy or turn all precious about some idea.
But, yeah, as a kid, I took everything personally. That’s what kids do.
So when Ms. Terry shouted with ecstacy (which she always was doing. “Russia, right?!”), “Mitsy, you are gorgeous elephant. You dancing now like elegant elephant.”
My effing jaw hit the ground. And no one said shit. The pianist kept playing the time for us, but that was it. The parents said nothing but their faces showed they had heard.
You know that one boy on the soccer (European football) team? Usually goalie…
Hang on football in the US is better, as an example. In each league, or often each team, there is “the ringer.” He’s like 6 feet tall at 10 years old. He’s as tall as two of his teammates combined. The kid that actually has to show his birth certificate to play because he tall, yo! He could hurt someone.
I was that kid in dance class. But these features gave me no edge, because I had no clue how to maneouver in them yet. I had the natural grace of a billy goat at this point.
Billy goats, while not clumsy (which I am in certain ways), do not move in ways required to be successful at dance. I did have a real good center of gravity, making it (to this day) rather difficult to knock me over. I am very hard headed, easily knocking folks out with my head butts (that was when I drank more, so a little fuzzy on if that’s real or not). I also enjoy climbing to high places that look awful weird to be atop and then just standing there. Great animal the billy goat: yet, I am glad that I no longer move like one. It has been a decade in this body. I’m much better at driving this suit around the block. Time and practice. Same fundamentals as ballet. Carry wood. When you think you are done, go and carry more wood. Rinse and repeat as necessary. I still carry wood.
So, if the afore mentioned elephant girl left class, I was next in line to be Elegant Elephant, but Elegant Elephant with heinous acne.
What I only this year understood is that, if Mitsy had left, I would not have been Elegant Elephant because I was terrible at dancing because I was all in my head about a fear of being fat. Mitsy was not. Mitsy could dance. She probably would not be a professional, but whatever that quintessence is that elevates ballet to Artform was moving in Mitsy at that moment. Music was speaking to her and she was talking back with her movement.
Mitsy was dancing Impeccably.
I don’t think anyone saw but Ms. Terry. And our ignorant asses could not understand her words, because we were so judgemental.
It was no snarky remark. It was no diabolical plan to publicly shame the girl about how much she weighed. It was a yell from a fan at a music show, or a clap of a theatre audience. Ms. Terry was digging the hell out of Mitsy’s jam. But Mitsy was a dancer’s dancer like Leonard Cohen and John Prine are musician’s musicians. They are not for most people. To quote Wayne’s World: not everyone can be the Bee Gees.