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Let's Dance

I'm going off-piste a little with my feminist breakdowns of popular culture today. So far I've been sticking to books and films that I adored when I was a little girl, that I've been able to understand on a deeper level as a grown-up.

Today we're going for something a bit bigger - dance.

So I *really* wanted to be a dancer when I was a child; I have very vivid memories of pretending to dance ballet to Strauss' Blue Danube waltz in the living room, as well as several extremely questionable forays into untrained disco dancing; one of which led to an unforgettable appearance at my High School talent contest with two *actual* disco-dancers.

This did not go well.

Inner me contemplating 11 year old me ^^

Between a lack of encouragement for my interest in dance, zero training, and the obligatory body-shaming that came with being a round-ish child in the 1990s, I ended up forming some pretty strong beliefs about myself - along the lines of generally being too fat and too rubbish to be a dancer. But I have always hung on to an extremely deep, physical connection to music. If I'm out walking the dog with earphones in, I find myself almost *needing* to walk in time to whatever's playing - it actually feels wrong not to match my footsteps to the beat of the music.

This childish love of dance found its way into The Silver Moon Storybook via ​​The Little Witch who finds joy and fulfilment as a child, dancing outdoors in muddy puddles. But as with so many things in which we find joy as children, she suppresses that part of her true nature in response to the disapproval of an adult.

And this is where the feminist breakdown comes in: under capitalist patriarchy, we are trained to devalue arts and creativity as "hobbies" that we get to indulge in, only as long as all the bills are paid. For a few of the super-gifted the arts can be a career, but only if you're exceptional. There is generally no room for those run-of-the-mill, untrained people who just do it for the sheer joy of it.

Dance is also a particularly feminist issue; it's about as gendered an activity as they come - they made a whole film about the chaos that ensues when a wee boy decides he wants to become a ballet dancer. We have a word for women who are ballet dancers - "ballerina"; this made its way into our language from the Italian, where the male equivalent is "ballerino", but there is no such male equivalent in English - you would literally have to say "male ballet dancer" which in itself reinforces ballerinas as the norm.

There is a subtle (and often not subtle at all) social shaming of males who​​ show an interest in dance, and for those of us who grew up in strongly patriarchal environments, this can extend to females too. It's as if this traditionally female activity, dance, is devalued in the same way that anything traditionally female is devalued - see caring, teaching, nursing for examples.

The patriarchy is, indeed, a wiener.

But children instinctively dance. All three of my children (all boys) would bop along to music when they were babies - my youngest was a singer when he was tiny, and before he was even conversational he was warbling along to whatever I had playing on the radio. They do it for the joy of it, because their survival needs are being met by us - the parents, and that means they can afford to have fun. Sadly we then go on to teach them that getting a "proper job" is more important than doing things simply for the joy of it, and these early instinctive interests can wither and die out for lack of attention and validation.

Back when I wrote Silver Moon, I hadn't realised just how much of my early interest in dancing had been ignored or shamed out of me. I tried a jazz dancing class in my very early twenties, but found it so difficult that I assumed I was indeed too fat and too rubbish to be any good at dancing, and abandoned it accordingly. I reserved dancing for when I was drunk in clubs (alcohol being a nice healthy coping mechanism of choice for social anxiety) and absolutely filled my boots with ceilidh dancing at every wedding I was ever invited to.

Now I'm forty and finally realising that it's me who gets to decide what I include in my life; for the first time I am coming to understand that the stuff I adored when I was a child were all just parts of who I am - or who I was before I formed all the "too fat, too rubbish, not good enough" beliefs that growing up in a fundamentally patriarchal and misogynist society will give you.

No I'm not a fabulous, professional dancer - but then again I have missed out on a good 30 years of training through not really realising that dance was a passion for me. I am, however, happily blessed with decent natural rhythm and a strong emotional connection to music, which is probably as good a place as any to start.

With that in mind, I am now 8 weeks into my first term of Argentine Tango classes, and absolutely LOVING it! I think it helps a lot that the teachers are really excellent, but the main highlight for me is that I am finally getting out of my own way. I've stopped listening to the internal critic who tries to insist that learning to dance at 40 is a ridiculous mid-life crisis of a thing to do, and anyway I'm still too fat and too rubbish, and I should be getting a proper job instead of fannying about on a dance floor.

I'm reclaiming a big chunk of who I was before society got its hands on me, and it feels bloody marvellous!

So I will leave you with this - that thing you always wanted to do, but never got round to, or weren't allowed to, or didn't feel good enough to do?

Do it.

ps: I just want to use this space to acknowledge how massively privileged I am to have the leisure, the health and the cash to pursue my dancing dreams at this time; I know that's not going to be the case for everybody.




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