West Coast Swing Saved My Life
New Years Eve 2015.
I just turned 36.
I didn’t have any exes. I had never been in a relationship. In fact, I had never even been kissed, let alone doing the deed.
Growing up as a tomboy who hated ballet, I was raised by an independent, near single Chinese mother who wanted a princess. With Dad bringing home the bacon from the other side of the planet, she had to rely on me and my brother to get things done in a country where she barely spoke the language. Seeing her depend on multiple people whether she wanted to or not frustrated me, so I set the course to become an independent career woman who could take care of herself ever since.
I don’t need a man.
That changed around the holidays of 2013.
Despite multiple college degrees from reputable schools, my career had yet to take off. Existing friends were nowhere nearby. And the love life I intended to have did not even blip.
I had to finally admit to myself that I was drowning in severe depression.
I also had to admit I didn’t want to die without experiencing the one thing that can only be offered by life.
There’s just one problem. I never liked touching people.
What the heck?! How was I going to develop an intimate relationship without touching him?
Then came that night.
As the clock ticked down to 2016, I decided to splurge on a fine tapas dinner. Table for one.
To my surprise, the restaurant was scheduled to close two hours before the clock would strike. So I dragged my butt to a stool at an All-American bar-and-grill around the corner and order myself an orange malibu.
Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve played over head. Top 40 blasted through the speakers.
And next to me towered a hot, attractive hunk of a man. Total GQ.
He, along with his group of friends, dressed to the nine for holiday and must have noticed I was all-alone. It’s the only explanation I can think of for him to start talking to me.
The nerves spilled out and all I could really do was smile.
Being the reserved introvert, I pretty much kept to myself with my drink the whole night, except for a handful of occasions when he came knocking. The clock rung in the new year when the most memorable yet regretful occasion happened. GQ asked me if I wanted a new years kiss…and I declined!
I consoled myself, musing the fact that I didn’t want my first kiss to be with some rowdy player at a raucous party. It’s not my dream anyway.
However, he made more two gestures that likely changed my life.
He asked me to dance. Twice.
Now, I know this is nothing special to most of you. American schools encourage kids to participate in school dances all the time. For me, I practically lived at my American schools. Understand that the only dance I ever attended throughout my wonder years was senior prom…without a date. In fact, the only time any guy asked me to dance was at an end-of-event party at a high school math competition. By inconsiderately invaded my personal space, he effectively drove me to swear off social dancing for life…until that New Years night.
I turned GQ down the first time he asked me, then I felt guilty and hesitantly surrendered the second time. I mean, how could I reject a gorgeous smile on a gorgeous face with a gorgeous body who had been nice and talking to me the whole night?
So I gingerly approached the dance floor, letting him know I don’t know how to dance. He claimed he didn’t know either like a gentleman would.
He offered me his hand, and we started dancing to some club mix.
Immediately from our first steps, I thought, “Huh?”
Frolicking to the beat, arm’s-length apart felt nothing like the way I remembered. It was stratospherically better than I remembered.
If I were ever going to have a relationship, I need to get comfortable touching people. Hell, my urges required this of me.
I retreated home that early morning after the clock struck — not before thanking him and grabbing his business card. YouTube beckoned me.
I looked up salsa. Way too much spinning.
I checked out tango. Tantalizing but too close for comfort.
I searched east coast swing. How often to people actually hear jazz from the 1920’s?
Finally, I came across west coast swing.
Partners dance arm’s-length apart. Check. West coast dances to a wide spectrum of music including today’s top 40. Check. The moves can be as platonic or as seductive as I want. Check.
Next thing I knew, I even invested on a pair of $70 dancing shoes for West Coast Swing 101.
Within six weeks, I was practicing all over town every chance I could get. And during these six week, west coast swing proved itself as a force to be reckoned with like I never expected.
Yes, I learned the steps. Yes, I eventually got comfortable gripping people’s hands. And yes, my personal space shrunk. But it woke me up like nothing else ever did before.
I felt freer, bolder, flirtier.
West coast swing cultivated a vulnerable kind of confidence that I never experienced. A confidence that spilled over to every single part of my life. I felt I could stand up to judgment from employers, from naysayers, from myself. I felt I was well on my way to finally speaking my truth.
I wouldn’t say it completely cured me of depression or gave me a jumpstart to an intimate relationship. The dance floor still terrifies me, so I still have major barriers to conquer. As long as my mind views rolling my hips as taboo and prevents my body from doing it, my dance will continue to look more like a march, and I will still be out of touch with my sensual side. But at a time when neither an intimate love life nor a successful career seems possible, west coast swing has undoubtedly made living more joyful and has given me hope.