Sometimes in life, you really do have to “Be the change you wish to see in the world."
Sometimes in life, you really do have to, as Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Take me, for example. For over two decades I struggled with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a teenager, I survived a rare, life-threatening illness and then, got stuck in a mindset that just couldn’t let go of trauma. Eventually, nightmares, insomnia, emotional numbing, avoidance, fear and anxiety took their toll on my health. Twenty-five years later, after years sitting in therapy waiting for my psychologist to heal me, I realized the truth: I would only heal when I decided to take responsibility for my recovery process. I had to actually do something.
I decided I needed to figure out what would make me feel better. My thinking went like this: I feel depressed and full of despair every day. What would I rather feel? The answer: ‘joy’. I wanted to feel joy so desperately that I would have done just about anything, including going out of my comfort zone to find it.
Once I decided the feeling I wanted to have, I set about finding it. Looking back over my life I realized that whenever I danced I felt an enormous, incredible feeling of freedom, transcendence and joy. So, I decided to dance, a lot. The only problem was, I only knew how to freestyle, which is what I’d grown up doing in nightclubs. In the small beach town in which I now live, however, clubbing every night of the week isn’t an option. I decided to learn to partner dance at a local ballroom studio.
Not having any formal dance background – and never having danced with a partner before – I walked into my first Argentine tango class not knowing what to expect and only knowing I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I took a deep breath, summoned all my courage, and stepped onto the dance floor. John, a man about my age, was the assistant teacher in the class. Since I was new, he was assigned to work with me privately during the class to bring me up to speed.
With brown hair hanging into cheerful brown eyes with lashes so long they curl up at the end, John’s eyes are set in a broad, round face with a perfectly straight nose. He has the sort of flat cheekbones that hint at some small degree of Native American heritage and skin that is smooth and tan. John’s about four inches taller than I; he leaned his head down until our faces were level and separated by only an inch. His eyes were so intense and impish and merry and full of happy life, I was completely distracted looking into them. I pitched my head a little toward him and returned his smile. When we settled into the tango embrace, John led me into the basic pattern. We danced holding each other’s gaze.
Forward, to the side, glide back, cross the ankles, we flowed around and around the rectangle of the tango basic step. John’s lead was gentle yet solid. He neither pushed nor pulled me around the floor, but lightly suggested where he wanted me to go. My body followed instinctively, not following because my head knew the steps, but because my body was inexplicably drawn toward this body leading it. We practiced over and over, each step bringing me deeper into the feeling of terrific happiness that I always found when I moved my body to music. By the end of the class I had gotten good enough at the basic step to join the group. I had also gotten very curious about who this John person was.
It turns out, John was curious about me, too. At the end of the class he asked to take me salsa dancing, which I didn’t really know how to do but was all too happy to have him teach me. A few weeks of spending time together on the dance floor built up a chemistry that led to spending time off the dance floor as well.
That was all five years ago. With John by my side, I’ve learned eleven different partner dances, accessed and thrived in my capacity for joy, performed and taught dance and in the process: developed a love and relationship better than any I’ve ever had. With a little help from a fabulous hypnotherapist coupled with a lot more work on my part (and support from John), I kicked the PTSD once and for all, too. Now, we still dance constantly and are choreographing and teaching my brother and his fiancé a tango for the first dance at their wedding this summer. Joy and love are so much more bountiful when we share and pass them on.