too stiff to dance

Jan 21, 2015

I love music. It penetrates the deepest recesses of my being and evokes emotions which only it can. It also stirs a physical response which I once knew as dancing until my sisters corrected me, saying that I am, indeed, too stiff to dance.

I was about seven years old. My sisters and I were home alone for a few hours. Naturally, we took the opportunity to do all the things that were off limits — like blaring music and dancing in our parents’ over-sized clothes.

For almost a decade since the day I first became aware of my rhythmic impairment, I never danced in public. Even when I was old enough to go out at night, I suppressed the urge to let loose. I would rhythmically nod my head, seeking to convey that only the drink in my hand, and nothing else, is holding me back from tearing up the dance floor.

I’d be at the periphery of the room on the verge of dancing, sipping my drink, and staring listfully at those who owned the dance floor. I’d take note of which hand movements went with which leg movements, seeking desperately to figure out what it takes to be a good dancer. Only later did I learn that it’s my neck, not my arms or feet, that’s to blame for my stiffness.

Although I’ve since shed most of my aversion to dancing, I still wonder whether people are secretly judging my technique whenever I venture onto a dance floor. Each time, I’m transported back to that moment when my sisters first poked fun at my dancing. Deflated as I’d been, I hadn’t shown it. I’d kept on dancing, draped in my father’s suit jacket, defiant, but broken.

And then, the incident with the shirt.

One of the first times I went shopping by myself, I bought a Hawaiian shirt. It was loud blue with a white pattern. I was so pleased with my find that I couldn’t wait to go home and show off. Later, when I sported my new threads for all to see, the reaction appalled me. My big sister threatened to disown me. My small one was in stitches on the floor. The message was unambiguous. I never wore that shirt in public.

To this day, I still admire people who wear Hawaiian shirts in public. It speaks volumes about their character (although some might argue that the shirts speak volumes, period)! Friends don’t let friends wear Hawaiian shirts, so either these brave souls have no friends, or they just choose to ignore them. My bet’s on the latter; such men are my heroes.

One of the greatest ironies of the human experience is that the subtlest actions of those who love us most, often, and without intention, cause us the greatest pain. So sensitive are we to the affirmation of those we love, that even a comment made in passing, no matter how trifling, can define our self-image for a lifetime.

Both moments, so trivial that my sisters probably don’t even remember them, were some of the most defining moments of my childhood. They shaped my life and actions for decades. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t my sisters’ fault. They were being good siblings; speaking their mind, without malice, as siblings do. After all, don’t siblings exist to ensure that someone has the inalienable right to put us back in our place now and then?

It helped that I had my own bedroom. My own world, with its own set of rules. As long as the door was closed locked, I was safe from judgement and did as I pleased (no, don’t go there)! I danced my heart out, stiff necks be damned! I’d pull Michael Jackson-esque moves like it was nothing, remixing the moonwalk, and rocking out in my blue Hawaiian shirt! I was king.

What a pity it is that we confine each other’s true selves to the privacy of their solitude. It’s a tragic reality that my four bedroom walls know me better than anyone else does. Only they know the free, unabridged version of me. The rest of the world only sees the parts of me that I’ve refined enough to survive public scrutiny.

Perhaps it’s better that way. But what if it isn’t?

The two stories can be tied together with a single moral. And no, my intention isn’t to reveal my sisters’ blame for all my emotional baggage. If you reached that conclusion, you have commendable deduction abilities. That, or clairvoyance. Or both. Although it’s open for debate, I didn’t intentionally seek to infer my sisters’ culpability.

The moral is that our words and actions have an incredible power to influence the lives of those we love. For their sake, let’s be mindful with their use. For our own sake, let’s strive to transcend the unintentional consequences of the actions (or inaction) of those we love. I’ll surely try. When I succeed, you’ll know it; I’ll be clad in a loud Hawaiian shirt, deaf to your protestations!

**20 days**


Originally published at afterchocolate.com.

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