Sunday, July 18, 2010

Clearing the Gunk Out

Nothing like a hometown dance with a wonderful band to clear all the gunk out of your heart, soul, and mind.

I posted the above on my Facebook page last Wednesday night following a particularly fun dance in Charlotte with the band Nor’Easter. It was a magical night where it seemed every partner and I were in sync with each other, the music, and the rest of the dancers. It truly is special to have a connection with your dance partner that goes beyond the dance and spoken word. That human connection has given me life experiences that I’ve never had before as a woman which is a special gift.

My growth as a dancer recently has been in that connection with others. You start out very wobbly learning the steps and then how to work those steps to the music. Like learning anything new, those initial dances are a bit of a stumbling process. Fortunately the contra dance community is very forgiving which gives new dancers room to develop. I was so tight and nervous the first several months of dancing as I wanted to be perfect. My friend Holley told me it’s not about being perfect. I credit her with dragging me out of beginner’s stage by helping me to relax. The moves will come. The understanding of the music will come. Don’t worry about the mistakes, and enjoy the dance. It’s supposed to be fun after all.

In all of the above, I have not even mentioned being a transgender woman. At my regular dances, it’s just not that much of an issue anymore. One of the most rewarding experiences was my full dance weekend in June in Asheville, NC. A dance weekend is just that. Dancers from all over the country descend on one spot for a weekend of dancing. From Friday night through Sunday afternoon, you are immersed in the contra dance world. I had my own dorm room at the site, Warren Wilson College. Except for breakfast, I presented as Stephanie the entire time. The acceptance and welcoming attitude was beyond anything I have ever experienced. I think being a transgender woman was an issue for maybe two dances. After that, I was part of the group. What was important was I there to dance and expand my horizons. The biggest issue was one of stamina. I fizzled out late Saturday night and had to recharge for the next day. I’ll be in better shape next year.

What the dance weekend showed me was the true spirit of contra dancing. While we choose our partners, we have little control over who is in our dance lines. It forces you to appreciate all different kinds of people, smaller, bigger, men, women, older, younger, black, white, brown, etc. The one commonality is all the smiles from dancing, laughing, dipping, and giggling. The happiness for me comes from the human touch and warmth of others. I have been shown kindness, friendship, love, even affection and intimacy… all things that I have not had in great quantities as a woman. It’s all part of the socialization process for me as Stephanie. I constantly have doubts whether I can make it in this world as a woman. My friends give me the strength and courage to carry on and embrace who I am. They accept and even celebrate my uniqueness and gifts. I can’t think of a better gift.

So why the need to clear the gunk? Besides life’s usual struggles, there are a few dances that require a bit more work. Normally it is at a new dance venue, and that was the case a week ago at Valle Crucis (near Boone, NC). Unlike the first visit to River Falls, people were not openly critical of me. However I had to work a bit harder to find dance partners as I was being turned down early and often. In talking to other dancers, I have learned that every dance community has a different culture that may not be welcoming to outsiders. That’s true in so many different activities. Add to that me being a transgender woman, and the result is predictable. I did not connect well with my partners as I’m sure my anxiety showed. Halfway home, I pulled over in the dark for a good cry. It was that frustrating. I’ll be back though as it is a beautiful setting, and the dancers are good if not completely welcoming.

That is why Wednesday night was so magical. It was a complete turnaround from Valle Crucis and made me drop the sadness I had been carrying around like a dark cloud over my head. All the negativity disappeared and was replaced with a calmness and brighter outlook. It reminded me of one of the points that we make at our transgender support group meetings. You never know the kind of day each person has had. A listening ear, a friendly shoulder, an extra hug, even asking a person for a dance can brighten their day. You may never know the positive effect you have by showing you care.

Thank you to all my dance partners both on and off the floor. You have made my life richer and fuller beyond measure. I hope I can give some of that back.

1 comment:

Jo said...

Stephanie, I'm always so amazed at your ability to share your experience with such grace, warmth, and wisdom. Thank you for being so open and honest about who you are.


PS So glad to hear you had fun at Warren Wilson! I went to school there and was the housing assistant for dance week one year. That's also the campus where Rebecca and I got married, so it's a really special place for me for a number of reasons. Glad you got to enjoy it!