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Where Everyone Is Beautiful

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I just made hotel reservations for my daughter’s college graduation and realized as I was reviewing the hotel’s website that I had actually been to this hotel before…approximately 10 years ago with the same daughter for a very different experience—a ballroom dancing competition.

You see, I took ballroom dancing lessons for approximately five years, and my younger daughter took a break from the standard ballet-jazz-tap world to dance ballroom with me for two of those years.

Making these hotel reservations reminded me of some special moments and powerful lessons learned from my time in the ballroom. I thought I would share…

Having grown up watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, I thought there was nothing more romantic or beautiful than ballroom dancing. I loved the swing era music. The dancers were so smooth, the dresses gorgeous, and those men in tuxedos looked so elegant.

Years later, when my kids reached school age, I decided to take up ballroom dancing. I never thought I would become Ginger Rogers. I just needed a little time for me beyond work and mommy-land. Since I didn’t want to take time away from the girls, I would put them to bed and then go out to my lesson at 9 pm. Late night, but so worth it!

It was my vacation. When I was twirling around to beautiful music, being led by a professional dancer, the challenges of the day would vanish and I became immersed in the land of “smooth,” romantic dances—waltzes, lively quicksteps and sassy fox-trots—all performed in traditional ballroom hold to songs that I loved.

Most people actually prefer the rhythm dances like cha-cha, salsa and samba. They’re fun, lively and very sexy. I had three problems with those—I was uncomfortable being sexy with someone other than my husband, my hips just didn’t work the way Latin dances required, and while the music was fun, I found it irritating to listen to at that time of night. So it was lovely waltzes and fox-trots for me, with dance steps and music that helped me float away.

Even though this was my idea and I loved dance, I was actually out of my comfort zone in the ballroom, making the fatal mistake of dancing in my head, rather than just letting go and dancing from my heart. Fortunately, all of my teachers (I had several) were patient and supportive and made me feel beautiful, no matter how many times I stepped on their toes or had hands that looked like claws. Dancing became not only the memorization of steps and proper body positioning but also a spiritual journey in letting down my guard, feeling the music and allowing my artistic soul to be seen. It was a rare moment of vulnerability—not an easy feat for someone who prided herself on being strong and logical.

Several times a year, Fred Astaire Dance Studios, where I took lessons, had regional competitions. While I was not dancing for the sake of competition, I let my instructors convince me that this was part of the dance experience. And it truly was. Every man and woman who competed in that ballroom looked and felt beautiful, no matter what age or size. The competitions were like something out of a movie. If you have seen Shall We Dance with Richard Gere or Strictly Ballroom, then you will have seen the sparkles, glitter, glamour and over-the-top dresses, makeup and hair. Like the movies, ours was a surreal and spectacular experience. Fred and Ginger were alive and well.

Which leads me back to the hotel with my daughter. Like everyone there, we were all glammed up and ready to dance. It was like the entire hotel was a stage show and we were all cast members walking around “backstage.” The weekend was a swirl of one-and-a-half-minute dances, running for approximately eight hours straight each day. Each “heat” was a different competition based on dance style and level of expertise. And each dancer was given a sheet with his/her schedule of dances. Most people danced a minimum of 10 to 15 dances, though I have heard of people dancing more than 100 dances in the course of a weekend competition. Jackie, who was about 10 years old at the time, was amazingly grown up in her sparkles as she tracked both of our heats, making sure that we were ready and lined up, with lipstick on, at the proper time. This was a leap in her independence, a “little kid” surrounded by all these big people. Seeing her out on the floor in the midst of this mayhem, composed and confident, managing the chaos of the schedule and dancing beautifully was particularly emotional for me as a mom. Watching her easy confidence on the floor encouraged me to relax and simply enjoy the dance.

I hadn’t thought about those competitions for a very long time. But when I realized that more than a decade later, I would return to the same hotel with the same daughter, who has become a graceful and amazing young woman, the magic of the moment and the joy of the dance came back to me.

I don’t dance anymore, mostly because my life got busier and I took on some other “extra- curricular” activities. But with the girls grown and almost gone, I find myself missing the romance of the ballroom (sadly my husband, for as wonderful and romantic as he is, simply does not care for dancing) and the “Calgon take me away” experience of letting my day melt into the background as a lovely waltz plays. Ironically, my favorite song to dance to was called “Turn Around”, a lullaby from parent to child about how, in the blink of an eye, he/she grows up and leaves the nest. How quickly mine have grown up and left the nest.

Maybe I will return to the ballroom…that fantasyland of magical music where everyone is beautiful.

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