Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dancing (Dis)Abilitites

“I’m just a horrible dancer. Terrible. In fact, I’m so gad I even have a rule against it. No dancing unless I’m alone in my room or it’s pitch-black dark.”

- Catherine in Rules by Cynthia Lord.

I don’t know how to dance.


When I was in kindergarten, my best friend took ballet, so I asked if I could take ballet lessons too. My mother said it was too far to walk. We lived in New York City then. She only went out when she had to. It was hard for her to make room for other activities around “Ryan’s Hope”, “All My Children”, “One Life to Live”, “General Hospital”, and “The Edge of Night”. Besides, a nap followed.

When I turned nine, we moved to the suburbs. I asked again for dance lessons a couple of times, but my mother didn’t drive and my father came home too late after commuting in from Manhattan. By the time my sister, who is six years younger, wanted to dance, my mother knew how to drive and my father’s schedule was more flexible. On the upside, I was allowed to play soccer, which is pretty much mandatory on Long Island.

When I was in high school, for one quarter I took Dance as a gym elective. I’d been to a couple of dances in school and didn’t know what I was doing, more shuffling than dancing. Would this class help? Apparently not. Our teacher was in charge of the Tigerettes, who performed at every ball game. They were good. Most in my motley crew of beginning dancers were not.

I recall the teacher’s frosted hair and painted claw fingernails, frustration flooding her face as she called out dance moves in her thick Long Island accent, “Now the Madonna!”

Fumbling through Whitney Houston’s “How Do I Know?” spoke volumes.

At dances and weddings, I observed other people, trying to imitate their movements. I got better. But I never felt competent. I felt miles away from those who had flair, like my sister. I still felt self-conscious.

(This is why I write for children and teens. Not only do I recall the awkwardness and the angst, I still live it.)

My husband, who never took formal lessons either once quipped I dance like Elaine in “Seinfeld”. Harsh. That comment set my confidence level back YEARS.

I swear; I’m not that bad. But that is how my hair used to look.

Over the years, I’ve tried not to care. I’ve tried to just enjoy myself. A drink (or two) helps me ignore everyone else. I still peek at the moves of better dancers.

My daughter takes ballet lessons. She’s doing so well that she’s in a class with mostly older girls. My son took ballroom dancing in fifth-grade, so he knows seven different dances. They’ve had opportunities I was denied. My children aren’t self-conscious when they’re on a dance floor, and I hope it stays that way.

My daughter at her recital.

My son and his partner at ballroom dancing.

This spring at my husband’s cousin’s wedding, all four of us danced and had a wonderful time. This summer at my cousin’s wedding, all four of us danced again. I watched my sister dance, and she really knew what she’s doing, though she made light of it when the spotlight was on her instead of basking in the moment. But each year I get older; I care less about comparing myself to others and less about my abilities. Who’s wasting their time watching me anyway? I’m not on “Dancing with the Stars” – I’m supposed to be having fun. (And burning off calories from all the food I just devoured.)

My husband, daughter, and I at the wedding, not dancing.

“Dancing like

nobody can see,


- Sophia Bush in More Six-Word Memoirs

What has made you self-conscious?

Were you able to overcome it?

If so, how?

About my daughter and dance:

About my son and ballroom dancing:


  1. Aw, I love the quote from six word memoirs. I love those books!!

    I am not a good dancer, either. Like, at all. But that doesn't stop me from being a complete nerd on a dance floor! Also, a drink (or two) helps me, too.

    Keep dancin'!

    Your kids are too cute.

  2. Great post and love the quote.
    I'm getting better. For a while i compared myself to everyone about everything. My self esteem is not the best but I'm slowing learning that it doesn't matter what people think you must do what you love and that is what will show through.
    When I started on my writing journey, I was horrible with this but like I said I'm learning to just accept who I am and how I write. I'm learning the craft and practicing. If nothing happens, I can at least tell my kids I tried and loved every minute of it.

  3. I have anxiety attacks, largely because of my childhood. One thing in particular was my fourth grade teacher. Twice, she humiliated me in front of the whole class. To this day, I turn red from the neck down when I have to be the center of attention.

    I'm so glad you're moving past all the insecurities and lack of support. I think we may be related!

    Even though I can't really see them, your family is beautiful. At least from behind, lol!

    You are really a strong person and I really admire your determination. Good for you!!!!!

  4. hi miss theresa! i feel bad for everyone whose scared to do stuff mostly cause of being afraid of getting laughed at or what people are gonna say and think. miss jackee just did a post a little like this. you just gotta be who you are and believe youre a good person. for me im just me and i dont ever worry about what people could think about me. i sang miss jackee a song and im gonna sing it for you. im popeye the sailor man. im popeye the sailor man. i am what i am and that all what i am. im popeye the sailor man. it ok to be you and have fun and do stuff and laugh at youself sometimes.
    ...hugs from lenny

  5. I really love that quote from Sophia Bush. Amazing what can be conveyed in six words. Also, I love that picture of you guys "not dancing." Funny.

  6. Hi Theresa .. I cannot dance and could not dance at school .. even though given the chance - at least I had some idea of the 'holds' etc .. but sense of rhythm - "na" someone left that out of my body repertoire.

    Glad your kids are getting their opportunity .. and glad you're just you now .. especially on the dance floor ..

    Have a good week .. Hilary

  7. Lovely quotes and photos of you all, what an elegant family you are.
    I think it is a writer thing, we make better observers. But it is fun to join in the dance.

  8. Love that photo of the three of you.

    I am a horrible dancer, too. Maybe not that I'm horrible - I'm just quite self-conscious, so I don't enjoy it that much unless I'm in a big crowd of people where peopel can't see me! My husband cna go for hours, though - he loves dancing!

  9. Dancing classes never even passed my radar at all as a child. I did go to a great Drama Class but dancing - nah. That said I love dancing.

    I was at a party recently (a 50th - so most of us were of a certain age) and there was this woman giving it hell on the dancefloor. She was having a ball but she wasnt a dancer. I am sure she looked just how I look when I really get going! But who cares - as long as there are no mirrors I'm delighted!

  10. It's great that your two younguns got an early start on actual dancing, basic ballet skills especially... Ballet training is a life changer. Done to any significant level, it leaves long lasting patterns on how people relate to and use their bodies. I've observed this repeatedly in adults whilst teaching physical activities.

    And basic ball room skills will definitely prove an advantage on a social level. : j
    On a side note, I'm no wonder dancer but I now a few basic steps, but most weddings I've been to, there wasn't any actual dancing music to dance to. Just overloud pop/rock stuff that people vaguely writhe and bop to. They seem to have be having while they do it... I reckon that's the main thing. Sounds like there's where you're at on your dancing journey. : j

  11. Circumstance and, perhaps, innate personal tendencies made it so that I was always the outsider as a child.
    Perhaps very early on I may have desired to conform, but I quickly learned that being anything other than myself made me unhappy, so I learned to walk my own path and to do things my way.
    Sometimes, some peoples' paths overlap mine and we walk together for a while, those are people I share love with.
    I suppose we learn to be ourselves by living, learning, and trial/error (three facets of the same thing perhaps?)... At least, that was the case for me.

  12. @ Tiffany, I like the quotes too. I just read More Six-Word Memoirs. Now I want to read others.

    It's good to know I'm not the only spaz on the dance floor!

    @ Christine, the book had so many good dance quotes, it was hard to choose.

    I guess my self-esteem issues creep up in other aspects of my life too. Maybe if I'm conquering my dancing demons, it means I'm making progress in other areas as well.

    @ The Words Crafter, I suffer from anxiety attacks too, but they're caused by internal stress rather than situational.

    I've thought we were related too.

    I'm sorry you had a teacher who humiliated you. I just hate knowing there are teachers like that.

    @ Lenny, thanks for the pep talk and the laugh. I think it's way better to go through life not worrying what other people think. Don't lost that, Lenny!

    @ Missed Periods, I thought it might be fun to do something with six words on this blog. Do you ever do six-word memoirs in your class?

    I was lucky to have a picture from behind. My sister must've taken it. Too bad (the back of) my son wasn't in it too.

  13. @ Hilary, it's nice to know I'm not the only one who feels less than competent on the dance floor. If we all feel that way, maybe nobody really is looking!

    You take care too.

    @ Brigid, your'e right - writers are observers. But living helps us have more to write about.

    Thanks for calling my family elegant. We'll have to take more shots dressed up, from the back, viewing The Capitol.

    @ Talli, it's nice to hear about another person who isn't confident about dancing. I'm not alone!

    I think my husband doesn't like to dance as much as I do.

    @ Barbara, I see people who just enjoy dancing, without worrying what they look like. I try to share their confidence now. Yes, no mirrors help!

    @ Alesa, I think every child should take ballet, though most boys don't want to. If my son had wanted to, I would've signed him up. Ballet was on a long list of things he didn't want to do. He was excellent at gymnastics, but didn't love it. Now he gets balance and strength in Taekwondo.

    Maybe TKD even helped him when he took ballroom dancing.

    I've definitely noticed an improvement in grace with my daughter.

    As for me, the writhing and bopping even makes me self-conscious.

    Your attitude always impresses me.

  14. I can't dance either, and while I never asked for dance lessons when I was a kid (no way would I have gotten them even if I had), I often wish I had been able to take them. I would love to be able to dance. I love watching dance shows, dance movies, dance competitions, etc. And I would take dance classes now in a heartbeat if my husband would take them with me. I'd love to learn ballroom dancing and the Shag. *sighs longingly*

  15. I love to dance and hate that I no longer do. When I was young I didn't feel self conscious but overweight, I do now. I still dance when no one's looking, when I'm alone in the house. My daughter has spied me a couple of times and said I look like Elaine too! Haha!

    I feel bad for my daughter because she doesn't dance. When she was young she wanted to be a ballerina but then she was diagnosed with a medical condition that made that dream disappear. She says the only dances they do nowadays are "ghetto grinds" which she wants no part of. It was sooooo different when I was her age.

  16. Great post Theresa!! Glad to hear you're dancing! That Seinfeld clip was too funny! I love dancing, I do it about 3x a week in my kitchen and my nickname is SpAz for a reason :)....Dance. On.

  17. @ Surfie, I'm sorry you never got to dance. Would you take lessons now?

    I'm not interested in this point in time. Though I was dumb not to pay better attention when my fifth-graders took ballroom dancing. I'd at least know how to ballroom dance by now!

    @ Elena, I'm sorry your daughter is unable to dance.

    I have this six-word memoir for you:

    "Dancing naked in my empty nest." - Tammy Raye Wilson

    @ Slushpile Slut, spaz on. Here's a memoir for you:

    "Dancing alone; pleased while others grimace." - Natasha J. Reed

  18. That's so great both of your children have taken dancing lessons! I took ballet for 9 years. It's such a great activity for kids.


    Don't worry about not dancing at the wedding! Dancing isn't the only way to enjoy yourself.

  19. I am with you Theresa. I remember well the Elaine dancing episode, and my own painful practicing alone every night in preparation for our wedding dance.

    I did not embarrass myself that wedding night, but I don't think I have danced since--and the world is a much better place because of it.

  20. Good for you for giving your children an opportunity for something so cathartic and enjoyable :) I have two left feet myself, but have been known on occasion - with lots of poking and bullying, particularly at weddings - to get on that dance floor. I always have a great time!

  21. I don't dance well. I don't sing well. I do both at school, in front of my students. They say I'm good, but I think it's just because they like me. And I'm not self-conscious about it, so they think I think I'm good. It's funny.

  22. Well, I hear you on that bad dancer part :) I too wanted to take ballet when I was little, and instead, I played softball and soccer. My daughter is almost 2 and I plan on putting her in ballet when she gets old enough. In the meantime, i've enrolled myself in adult ballet classes once a week, and I LOVE it, though I am terrible :)

  23. @ Aubrie, 9 years? You must be nice and graceful.

    I did dance, I'm just not very good at it. But then it seems like more than 90% of my comments don't feel confidence dancing either.

    @ Slamdunk, it's good you practiced. My husband and I only did the obligatory dances and the last obligatory New York song "New York, New York". I spend more time on the dance floor now.

    @ Julie, I try to ignore my self-consciousness and have a great time too.

    @ Elana, I'll sing and dance for my students (well, not as a sub) to make them laugh. Your students must love you more than mine loved me because nobody has ever called me good!

    @ You can call me Ant, I think it's great you're taking dance lessons. I've tried yoga, martial arts, and soon I'll take cooking classes, but I haven't wanted to take dance lessons. Those ones in gym were enough!

  24. Theresa - I LOVE the quote at the end! I can only really express myself dancing when I feel like no one's watching & I'm in the moment; once I'm aware of being watched, I act goofy because I feel self conscious (plus it's fun to be silly).

    I'm so impressed by your writing & that you're confident enough to share it. Writing isn't something I'm good at & I'm not motivated enough to try! I'd love to take a cooking class, though - something you also just somehow know how to do exceedingly well :)

  25. That video was soooo funny. I hope I never looked like that, but can't be positive since I've never seen a video of me dancing.

    The pictures of your kids are very sweet.

  26. I used to be shy about everything, including dancing. Now, my friends tell me that I am a "social butterfly" and that I dance well. It's funny how much can change in a few years.

    I never thought I would be able to get out of that turtle shell, but I finally did. What was it that made me step outside? The question, "Why not?" and the idea that no one really cares! I am here, on this planet we call Earth, to enjoy my life and have fun!

    Write on and dance like no one's watching!

  27. Beautiful photos Theresa! Glad you found your inner dancer - what made me self conscious?! My freckles..oh yes, and my cows lick, and my buck teeth...then came pimples. Oh! but before them, came industrial strength glasses... of course there was also the added bonus of puppy fat to wrap it all up in! I fixed one with braces...the rest with a thick coating of panstick !!(then, not now!) I suppose I just got used to myself really! (And got contact lens!)

  28. @ Kathleen, you shouldn't act goofy. The person you were dancing with was serious, and you both danced great.

    Glad you liked the quote.

    @ Helen, NOBODY dances that bad! My husband watched the video on this post, and told me I didn't dance that bad either. Umm... thanks?

    @ Vatche, I like your attitude. Yes, why not? I'll try to write like no one is reading and dance like no one is watching.

    @ Words A Day, you sound like a girl in those makeover movies. I guess you got over all your awkwardness evidenced by your blog and Facebook profile pictures.

  29. You have a great attitude towards dancing. I think it could be applied to several other aspects of life too.
    I used to be self-conscious about dancing, but then I started taking classes. It's fun when I'm not the only one making mistakes.

  30. @ Neurotic Workaholic, your'e right - our dancing attitudes could be applied to other part of life.

    That's great your'e taking classes. I used to feel self-conscious in martial arts classes, but then I realized I wasn't the only one who struggled.

  31. Oh lovely post Theresa, great pics too.

    Dancing is such a great release from everything. At the moment, I love watching my little 4yr old dance, no inhibitions and I have to join him. Its alot of fun!

  32. @ Talei, my youngest is 8 and still has no inhibitions when it comes to dancing. I can't remember ever feeling like that. I must've.

    I've loved dancing with my kids too.

  33. Oh Theresa Milstein!! Big big hugs to you!! I'm still laughing at the Seinfeld clip - LOL!!!! But ya know - it's not that Elaine's dancing is quirky - it's more she didn't care, was the first to go on the dancefloor, didn't look for a partner and just did her own thang!!!! Well good for her!! :-) I'd be very proud to be compared to her here! :-) Ok, maybe not the hair. LOL!

    I love that your beautiful children are given the opportunity to experience dance! Maybe they could teach their mum and dad a new step or two!

    Take care

  34. @ Old Kitty, your'e right - she didn't care. But that was because she didn't know. Did you ever see the whole show? A clip of her gets around. Later, when she's walking down the street, people behind her mock her dance behind her back.

    At the wedding in August, my son did one of his easier ballroom dances with me. He was good.