I Lost Myself as a Mom and Reclaimed Myself Through Dance
I’m no professional dancer but, over the years, dance has had a potent impact on my life. It has offered me lessons and epiphanies, some more helpful than others. But somehow, all these epiphanies died down when I became a mom nine years ago.
All of a sudden, I became most useful as pieces of furniture for my babies (thankfully one at a time) — a cradle, a bed, and a bus. I had to constantly sit on the floor while they played, and intense fatigue doomed me to not leave the comfort of my bed as much as possible. I gained weight with all the inactivity, yet feeling overworked as a stay-home mom to my three sons. I became dull and lifeless, living a life of constant obligation, and trying to have self-care through staying glued to my smartphone. I left dance behind and with it, myself.
Here’s my story of how I found dance as a child, lost it as a new mom, and slowly reclaimed myself through dancing again.
Dance Is Beautiful
When I was around five years old, I took ballet lessons for a very short while. I still remember my parents gushing over me when I wore my first ballet bodysuit, tutu skirt, and ballet shoes. I loved doing stretches at the barre and being so graceful with my arms. Dance is beautiful and made me feel beautiful. It opened me to a whole new magical world that was never boring at all!
Then one fine day, after taking only a few classes, my mom told me because I couldn’t quite understand and follow my dance instructor’s instructions properly, I couldn’t continue anymore. Something heavy dropped into my heart, and I wasn’t sure what it was.
“Fat Girls Can’t Dance.”
Two years later, when I was just beginning a new phase of life entering Primary School, the dreaded Chicken Pox took over my body, covering me with itchy sores. I got stuck at home with my paternal grandma whose idea of babysitting me was simply to keep feeding me all day long. Nobody could recognize me in class after those two weeks of gorging myself all day at home while recovering. All of a sudden, I became known as a fat girl.
Somehow I knew then that fat girls can’t dance. We get ridiculed when we dance in public. Once, I gushed at the way my Indian classmate radiated her magic onstage with the most intricate classical Indian dance I ever saw. Even though my heart wanted me back in the magical world of dance, I felt I had sinned by being fat. I only deserved to exercise as a punishment to lose all that extra weight. I didn’t deserve to have fun dancing with my body at all.
As a young and chubby girl, I would only dance in the privacy of my living room, following how the backup dancers on TV did amazing partner lifts. My younger sister would wait for me while standing on the armrest of our sofa. Then I would whisk her away and twirl her in the air for a few seconds before she came down in delight! Those moments continue to be joyous and magical memories for me.
Dance Makes Me Sparky
Blossoming into an adult and still feeling passionate about dance, I finally started taking funk and hip hop classes alongside other working adults! I figured that fellow adults would be much more mature and less cruel about making fat jokes, and I was right! It was so much fun learning to dance in a low-pressure environment. These women just wanted to de-stress and exercise. Being both the youngest and shortest in class, I proudly stood right in front of the instructor and worked on being the best student, which was easy given that I had a few months to spare before taking my degree course in Mechanical Engineering.
There was nothing short of a miracle when I had to quit these classes to focus on my degree course, and yet got to meet the same dance instructor, Patrick, in my University’s dance club again. It was also his very first year teaching at the University. What a beautiful coincidence!
Dance became my BFF. She filled up the gaping void left in me after my grandma passed away just a month before I started my degree studies. She made me feel confident whenever I danced for that few precious minutes, just like how Superman sparkles whenever he shed off his shy Clark Kent identity. She helped match make me with my boyfriend who became my husband and father of our three sons.
There was no denying that she was extra bitchy too. I was constantly ranking myself and putting myself on an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes I was haughty, and sometimes my self-esteem suffered a harsh blow.
Dance Is Energy and She Heals
Life as a full-time working adult after graduation was tough. I was blessed to have found job security in a major aerospace company, yet my work felt so meaningless to me. How can I find more fulfillment in my life?
The answer came as a one-way ticket to another magical world filled with energy healing modalities, oracle card readings, past lives, and the concept that I’m a soul having a human experience.
At the same time, Dance matured spiritually too. She invited me to a one-year part-time dance exploration course taught by two senior dance pioneers. They encouraged me to stop pushing for perfection and become more curious as a dance explorer. I explored and played with ballet, jazz, contemporary dance, dance gymnastics, and movement improvisation. It all built up to these epiphanies that I yearn to shout from the rooftops — Dance is energy! I’m moving energy when I dance! Dance can be healing!
“Moms Don’t Dance.”
Then the next milestone in my life hit — I became a mom to three boys — and the lessons I’d learned from dance disappeared. I felt tired, drained, and lifeless.
When our first two boys were four and six years old, we enrolled them in kids’ hip hop classes. I had to ferry them to and fro these dance classes, often while taking care of our third baby. Dance came again in the form of a dance friend who was also sending her son to the same class! Gradually, I saw her joining K-Pop MTV classes and posting her class videos on social media. A pang of jealousy hit me, followed by a jubilant Eureka moment — I need to dance to get my life back again. My jealousy is pointing me to what I secretly want to do!
I finally asked for my husband’s help to take care of our baby while I learned to move my body with joyful rhythm again. The thrill of performing breathed some passion back in me as I hugged Dance back into my life again. She brought back sparkles and joy to all my roles in life, especially as a mom.
“When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important: A stodgy parent is not fun at all! What a child wants — and DESERVES — is a parent who is SPARKY!” ~Roald Dahl
Our kids need us to be SPARKY, instead of living simply to fulfill our parental obligations and feeling heavy with regrets and resentment.
We, as new moms, even when we’re so utterly overwhelmed and exhausted by the time our kids sleep, we’d still take out our phones or laptops to binge-scroll social media or watch our favorite Netflix shows. Why? Because underneath this sheer exhaustion is this deeper pain of losing who we once were before we had kids. We’ve lost ourselves as moms, and we need to reconnect back to ourselves to feel alive and well again. Getting addicted to social media is definitely not the way back to ourselves. We need to do more of what lights us up.
What lights you up? What helps you feel your conflicting feelings as you step more fully into motherhood? What creative language do you use to be more you?
Dance is the language of my soul. What’s yours?