Stop looking in the mirror

Posted on September 18, 2009


When I was very young, enrolled in dance, the best part of class always seemed to occur in front of a wall of mirrors. Each wall, covered in mirrors, held the reflection of tiny little dancers, moving about ever so awkwardly on toes, and fumbling turns and leaps. These walls had watched young dancers such as myself turn from silly children who can’t make their left and right feet agree to graceful ballerinas that glide over the ground like mist over the San Francisco hills. The kids in the mirrors probably didn’t see the growth until it was too late, until they were on their way out, or looking with such a critical eye that one easily forgets all the work and effort placed in the craft leading to that point. Very rarely are we proud of ourselves for our accomplishments while we are accomplishing them. It’s only after the fact, after reaping the joys of success, or being devastated by failure that we see how far (or how little) we’ve travelled. I was a little different.

When I told my mom I started taking classes again, she laughed. She said “That’s great Jen! You were always such a beautiful dancer. Your teachers used to joke about you because the only time you’d fuck up is when you’d catch glimpses of yourself in the mirror. They said ‘As long as she doesn’t watch herself, she is great.’ Make sure you don’t watch yourself too much and I’m sure you’ll be great again.” I brushed the thought away, of course I watched myself, I was a little kid in a tutu with pretty pink tights and nothing is better for a young girl (especially a young girl such as myself obsessed with the idea of perfection and being a pretty pretty princess), and to see that revealed in a room filled with mirrors was the absolute height of my young existence. In fact, at home, my little sister’s room had mirrors all over the walls and I would dress in my sunday best some days and go in there and dance around. Just for myself. Usually I ended up standing in the mirror, so stunned that I had freckles, or brown hair, shocked to be viewing my own existence.

Tonight’s class was interesting. I went back into the beginners class, as I had intended upon doing, and found myself a beginner. In front of the dreadful wall of mirrors. And so the obsession began. In other classes there were just too many people to get a good glimpse of myself in the mirror, and anytime that we split into groups I always made sure to stand behind someone so I could mimic their movements and forget about my own. I don’t feel confident enough in my bodies ability to do as my brain instructs, so I follow. Tonight, there was plenty of room, and plenty of mirror time. I couldn’t take my eyes from the damn thing. And that’s how everything got all fucked up.

When I watch myself, too closely, my brain says “wrong” and my body reacts by slowing down. By stopping. My heart hurts because my brain screams “FAIL” and hope flies out the window with the awesome moves brought on by cool new Nikes. I step left, mirror reflects right, brains says “fuck up” and I am at odds with myself and my surroundings. Confused. Alone. Lost. Instead of relaxing and telling myself “just do it again” I go straight to “what’s different this class than last time. Well you did quit smoking. It’s probably that. You probably can’t dance if you don’t smoke cigarettes. perhaps that would help.” So then instead of doing the moves, I find myself in outer space, rubbing the patch concealed under my rasta colored sweat band, holding the stupid little sticker in place on my upper arm. The class was taught a lot slower as well, so I had plenty of time to over think the moves, instead of just move. As long as I am in motion, I am fine, I can learn and it sticks with me, keeps the brain quiet. But the second we slow down and go movement by movement, arm here, leg there, breathe here, beat there, all I hear is babble, incessant chatter repeating the moves. My brain won’t talk as quickly as the music makes me dance, so I end up off beat, staring at myself in the mirror, touching the patch on my arm. All in all, class was terrible today.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going back though. I did some “homework” last night, took a long hard look in the mirror, and upon reviewing certain things come to realize that a large portion of my life is motivated by fear. I sleep around because I’m afraid nobody will love me. I run away because I’m afraid to face consequences and the people I’ve hurt. I shut down emotionally because I’m afraid to be hurt. I quit doing things I love because I’m afraid to fail. And I’ve used a different name because I’ve been afraid to be myself. Now is the time for change. Living in fear is silly, especially if all these fears are imaginary, like drop dead fred or Bloo from that new/old cartoon, and it has served no purpose. I will never be loved if I keep being afraid of not being loved. I will never stop hurting people if I am not willing to face the pain I’ve caused and do something to change it. I will never succeed at anything if I quit because I’m afraid to fail. And I will never be myself if I keep being afraid of who I am, or who I can be.

So while it’s good to check out the mirror once in awhile, to see where I’m at, it isn’t necessary to always focus on it to move forward. Last night was a big eye opener as far as seeing myself. Now it’s time to just close my eyes and dance.

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