I started in my stocking feet, so I could feel the floor beneath me; it was the only thing I could be sure of.
I had acted on impulse when I’d called the studio–an impulse born of years of waiting, but for all their advertising about this class and that, I was pretty sure they’d offer no “Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Into Your New Life” class, so what had I hoped to accomplish? The last time I’d been in a dance studio, I was twenty-four years old. Now, twenty-seven years, seven children, and one empty marriage later, I wasn’t sure if I was up to this challenge. My confidence had become as weak as my atrophied muscles, and I could no more locate my body’s center of gravity than I could pinpoint the core of my distress.
“What are you interested in learning?” the woman on the other end of the phone had asked.
I’d had to resist the urge to blurt out, “I’m interested in learning what the hell happened to my life!” I figured that was probably too much information, so I’d replied with a gentler truth. “I’d like to be able to dance at my children’s weddings.”
“Do you have a partner?”
“No, no I don’t.” I would spare her the explanation that, in fact, yes I did, but only in the way that a lost sock has a partner, and even if we were to find each other again, life had worn us too differently to ever be a good match.
“Not a problem,” she’d assured me. “When would you like to come for your first lesson?”
“Oh, as soon as possible,” I told her. “I can’t wait too long or I’ll change my mind.”
So, there I was, in my stocking feet, too self-conscious to look at my own reflection in the wall-length mirror. I had come alone, but I’d made sure my socks were a matching pair that day.
My only goal had been to remain tear-free for the hour-long lesson with my private instructor – a nice young man no older than my eldest son, but within minutes, I knew that dance had the power to restore me. My legs still remembered how to move to the rhythm of the music and so did my heart. I happily scheduled my next lesson and two more each week for the next year.
By month’s end, I’d bought my first pair of ballroom shoes, sturdy and stable with safe one-inch heels. They weren’t unattractive, mind you, just a pair of functional, black shoes with suede on the soles that enabled me to pivot and glide across the floor with ease.
I was determined to learn first one dance, then another, to check off every box on the steps chart, and to perform moves that my instructor did by muscle memory, so I practiced whenever and wherever I could: on the hardwood floor in a corner of my dining room, while watching my reflection in my double-oven doors, and in my mind as I drifted off to sleep, and as I improved, my heart’s ache began to subside, replaced with anticipation, joy, and hope.
And I bought more shoes; transforming shoes. I quickly grew accustomed to my tan nubucks with two-inch heels. With their narrow straps wound stylishly around my slender ankles, showing off my newly toned legs, I could whirl, I could dip, I could practically fly.
A year later, I wore my shiny gold and silver shoes with two and a half inch heels for my first waltz exhibition…1 2 3, 1 2 3…and followed that experience with a competition that involved choreographing and teaching a cha-cha-cha to the novice partner I’d been paired with. By the end of my third year, I had earned the confidence of my accomplished dance instructor, prompting him to invite me to help him choreograph and teach a routine to a couple competing in our local Sparrows’ Club “Dancing with the Stars” fundraiser. A few months later, wearing my black three-inch heels, I participated in a similar event for dancers with disabilities.
One shoe at a time, my confidence measured in inches, I have regained my footing, stepped out of the shadows and back into life. And now, when I dance in my stocking feet, it’s not because I’m fearful, but instead because I’m free.