Life’s most important lessons are sometimes learned in unexpected places, including on the dance floor. Here, writer Kristin Lajeunesse shares her personal story on how dancing a deux led to personal transformation and surprising insights into her own feminine powers.
Life can be crazy. Overwhelm is common among the masses. We all have unique ways of coping, exercising, and finding balance.
Here are five ways dance has changed my life, made me a stronger, more independent woman, and given me a few unexpected gifts along the way.
Sensitivity is a Strength, Not a Weakness
Growing up, I viewed being sensitive as something negative; that I was “too emotional,” too open, too quick to react. I’ve encountered the “you’re so sensitive” accusation in romantic partnerships, from family, and from friends.
As a 32-year-old, self-employed entrepreneur who has quite successfully carved her own life path over the course of the last four-plus years, you’d think I’d learn that part of what got me here is my sensitivity—to those around me, and to my intuition.
However, it was partner dancing that finally taught me how spectacular it is to be “sensitive.”
One of the most intrinsic elements of pair-dancing is being able to feel the subtle movement of your partner; to not anticipate, but to move in motion with them. With anyone who might lead or follow you through a dance.
You’ve got to be fully focused, fully open, and ready to twist, turn, pivot, step, and leap at any given moment.
Though outwardly one might say that the physicality of dance—and being sensitive in that way—is different than emotional sensitivity, they are actually tied quite closely together.
By viewing my emotional sensitivity as a strength, it enabled me to extend that truth physically through my body and to my dance partners, as well; to become more well-rounded in the pursuit of seamless paired motion.
Being sensitive has made me an adaptable and emotionally strong performer, partner, and dancer.
Takeaway: Embrace your sensitivity and allow yourself time to understand just how strong being sensitive truly makes you.
Perceptions About Personal Compatibility Fly out the Window
Be it my current dance studio, or random group-dance classes at events here and there, or other studios from around the country, I’ve learned that those with a passion for dance cannot be defined by personality types or physical traits.
I’ve never before met a more eclectic group of people than at dance-related events and activities. All shapes, sizes, ages, backgrounds, and professions.
These are people I never in a million years would have thought I would have connected with. Certainly, none of us run in the same social circles outside of dance.
I’ve learned that regardless of where we come from, true friendships, bonds, and support can be found in most--if not all--of the people I’ve met within the dance community.
On the surface we share just one commonality: A love for dance. But on a deeper level, we share respect for one another, without judgment.
It's OK to Feel Sexy
One of my favorite things about the studio where I take ballroom lessons--Arthur Murray in Chicago—is that they host performance type of events so the students may share what they’ve been working on, celebrate moving up in levels, and meet teachers and students from other studios around the country.
In one of my first events of theirs I performed a dance that lent itself to an outfit that felt slightly riske to me.
Looking around the room at the tall, slender, professional dancers and then down at my short 5’2” self, in black fishnets, short shorts, and a flowy top that revealed some tattoos no one knew I had, it was all I could do to not run into the dressing room and throw on some pants and a hoodie (my daily at-home ware).
But I wanted to be there. I wanted to perform the routine my instructor put together for us. And I wanted to at least appear confident.
Once the music started and the butterflies were overtaken by auto-performance-pilot, I felt sexier than ever. I wore the heck out of those fishnets, lifted my head, and pushed my shoulders back. It was now or never, and the pressure was on. I wanted to do well not only for myself, but for my instructor, who had worked hard to put together a routine he felt best showcased my strengths.
Spin, spin, DIP! And the music stopped in synch with our last move at the end of the routine. I stood up and the crowd screamed and clapped more enthusiastically than I could have imagined.
As I walked off the floor arm-in-arm with my instructor I thought, “Yes, Kristin. You are sexy. Own it. Love it. Be it.”
Filling a Void in a Compassionate Way
There have only ever been two things in my life that enabled me to escape the ‘real world,’ to come down from the daily hustle and bustle, to be fully present and in the moment. They are 1) working with horses and 2) dance.
I started working with horses when I was about eight years old. I went on to major in equestrian studies in college, and thought training and showing horses would become a lifelong career path. However, shortly after college I began learning more about animal rights and how they’ve been exploited for entertainment over the years.
I became extremely conflicted as to what my past, in having grown up with and took joy in performing with these amazing creatures, really meant.
Absolutely nothing filled the void of how inspired and happy I felt when being around horses. Until I began taking partner dance lessons.
The focus required, attention to detail, sensitivity to the other involved, showmanship, everything about dance began filling me up in the ways I’d long loved and lost from choosing to no longer have horses in my life.
Being a Strong Follower is Just as Valuable as Being a Strong Leader
In a time where women continue to challenge the masculine status quo, push for equal rights in the workforce, in politics, and in life it can be easy to want to always show up as a confident, self-sufficient leader. “We don’t need no men!”
Traditionally, partner dancing equates to a male leader and a female follower. Initially I thought this was only perpetuating the male dominated role in our society, as it’s still the most common dynamic in the dance community.
However, it’s not really an issue nowadays. There are many dance studios that have zero qualms with ladies who’d like to lead and men who’d like to follow—rightly so.
That aside, I’ve learned that it requires just as much strength to be a quality follower as it does leader.
Being a strong follow means standing on your own two feet (pun intended), being responsible for your own movement and footwork, having patience, and being just as comfortable giving instruction and input as you are taking it.
To be clear, the follower isn’t the only one in charge of the dance. It requires incredible balance and openness between both parties.
Being confident in your ability to both lead and follow is what makes you a strong all-around partner, in dance and in life.
Be it dance or another form of art or creativity that pulls you, you’re allowed to view perceived challenges as growth exercises; as ways to grow; and as invaluable lessons.
For me, that’s been dance. It’s taught me to embrace and be proud of being a sensitive being, to be open to friendship even among the most unlikely characters, that it’s OK to feel sexy, that there will always be something to fill the void, and that strength is grown within both leaders and followers; if you allow it to be so.
Has dance changed your life? How so? If not dance, what does it for you?
((( twirls about )))
Kristin Lajeunesse is the author of Will Travel for Vegan Food: A Young Woman’s Solo Mission to Break Free, Find Food, and Make Love. She is also the founder and manager of the award-winning website: Will Travel for Vegan Food. Kristin is a Business Clarity Coach and Creative Marketing Strategist currently immersing herself in the Chicago, IL, foodie scene. Keep up with Kristin’s adventures on wtfveganfood.com.