Like many adult women, my former client/now friend Amy Hardison took dance lessons as a child. Unlike most adult women, Amy has continued to dance. Instead of toiling away in a gym or pounding the pavement running, Amy maintains her fitness in a creative, expressive fashion flying around the dance floor. I’ve always been a tremendous proponent of finding fitness by doing what you love. Read on for Amy’s story of rediscovering the joys of dancing.
As long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed dancing. Though I was not a huge fan of the ballet classes my mom enrolled me in when I was five, the experience sparked a lifelong interest in dancing. Over the years I continued taking tap and jazz classes, joined a dance team, and even helped teach younger kids as I got into high school. There was always some kind of performance coming up – the Christmas parade, or the talent show, or one of many recitals. And, of course, the costumes!
My first introduction to dance as an adult was through a friend from high school whose mom performed with a country western dance team. Watching her dance, I was hooked. The idea that I could learn partner dances and dance with other like-minded people was very appealing.
I started taking classes and learning about the local dance scene near my then-home in Washington, DC. I tried a little bit of everything – west coast swing, two-step, carolina shag, salsa & merengue – but I was really drawn to west coast swing. I attended local dances, travelled to competitions up and down the east coast, and even went on a swing dance cruise organized by a number of champion dancers. I found the dancing fun and the dance community engaging.
When the dot-com bubble burst in early 2001, I quit my job and decided to drive halfway across the country to move to Austin, Texas. I made new dance friends in Austin, traveled to competitions in Texas, and even joined a performance team for a short stint. I met my husband in late 2003, and given that he wasn’t terribly interested in the dance scene, I started dancing less frequently.
We got married in June of 2006, and I started focusing more and more on my career. I contented myself with being a dance spectator at local performances and fulfilling my dance cravings with any type of exercise class I could find that had some choreography. Although my husband agreed to (and participated in) a two-step class for a few months, his love of dance didn’t match mine. I admit it was partially my fault – I was pretty critical of him during the class.
A few months later, I found out I was pregnant with our first child. And so began our life as parents, and the familiar effect of all of said parents’ outside interests falling to the wayside. Add in the second child a few years later, and my dance card was now filled with playdates, birthday parties, and playgrounds.
As I settled into my new role as a mom of two, I decided that I needed something for myself, once a week. A friend was teaching dance classes on Tuesday nights, and after conferring with her about my background and rekindled interest, I headed out for what would become my new Tuesday night routine.
Though I don’t remember everything from that first night, I do remember being completely intimidated about going back after such a long hiatus. What a relief that everyone was so friendly! After the class there was also a dance, and a couple of advanced dancers asked me to dance and invited me to an upcoming event. I immediately felt welcome in the community. Not only was it a fun physical and creative outlet, it was (and is) great for me to socialize with people of different backgrounds and at various life stages.
At first, I was so grateful to have an outlet that I thought I’d be content to just stay in the same class and go out every Tuesday. But as time went on and there was more talk of competition, I wanted to improve. There’s a competition in Austin every January, and I decided to go. At that competition, I saw one of my classmates perform a dance routine with our teacher, and it blew my mind. All I could think was “I want to do that too!”
When my husband and I went out for our wedding anniversary that June, and he asked me what I wanted for my upcoming birthday, I told him that I wanted to do a routine with my teacher at the next year’s competition. Several weeks later, my teacher (who must have ESP) suggested that we enter a pro-am event together.
The process started with us meeting once a week for a lesson to polish my social dance skills. This was probably the hardest part, as there were so many technical things to fix that I wondered if I would ever be ready for a competition. At the same time, we chose a song for our routine, and my teachers started choreographing it. As I watched video of the pros performing the routine, I remember thinking, “Oh yeah, I can do that; that’s easy”.
But let me tell you: once I started learning the choreography, it was anything but easy!
About a month before the competition, we started practicing about eight hours a week. I would watch the videos of our practice and think about how terrible I looked. I was really scared about performing. As time went on and we practiced more, I got more comfortable with it. With diligent practice and feedback from other dance teachers–and despite schedule challenges– we kept our focus on the event.
I also kept reminding myself: why am I doing this? I wanted to have fun and challenge myself while rediscovering that I can still enjoy things from my younger life. Perfection was never the objective.
The 2 ½ minute performance was a total blur. I remember being very nervous and stiff at the beginning, but then someone hollered supportively in response to one of my moves, and that loosened me up for the rest of the routine. In the end, I made a few minor mistakes, but I couldn’t have been happier when we were done. And evidently the judges were impressed, too, as we placed second out of ten couples.
As it turns out, the end-point of the competition was really just the beginning! With the feedback we received about our performance, we’re making a few minor changes, and we’ll be performing our routine at several more competitions throughout the year. And so the process continues.
I have learned that making space in your life for something that you really enjoy is incredibly beneficial. I spent too much of my married and parenting life thinking about why something I wanted wouldn’t work, or why the next step was too arduous. But when I took the first step, I remembered how much fun it was to let loose and dance.