If I had to summarize my personality in one word, I’d choose “tomboy” — in high school, I played competitive tennis. In college, I bought a motorcycle. No one taught me how to apply make-up and pink, sparkly clothes aren’t my thing. Despite this, I somehow ended up learning ballroom dance. Willingly!
Though far from Dancing with the Stars material, I dance in three collegiate competitions a year. This means make-up, pantyhose, high heels, and dresses with enough rhinestones to elicit jealousy from the makers of the BeDazzler. How the heck did I go from tomboy to the dance floor?
Some of my friends would suggest that my boyfriend had something to do with it; he introduced me to ballroom. Who wouldn’t want to share some of the more intimate dances — like the rumba — with their significant other? Or, these same friends might say, perhaps my competitive nature plays a role. As a lifelong athlete, I never lack the motivation to dance my absolute best when the judges are watching.
Both of these are right, but they’re also wrong. What they’re missing is this: ballroom dance allowed me to break out of my shell. It fostered confidence. Beyond that, and more importantly, it gave me the opportunity to experience femininity with a flair — with a bad-ass, kick-butt edge that speaks to me in a way that girls comparing purses and haircuts can’t (sorry!).
Growing up, I noticed two kinds of women: the delicate Sleeping Beauty and the no-holds-barred Fast and Furious Letty. Cool girls could handle any situation. The girly ones couldn’t deal with a hangnail — or the prick of a spinning wheel. Ballroom dance’s inherent male lead initially fit that old-fashioned gender role I despised, but as my steps became more confident, I noticed a blending of these two types of women. Even though I danced the follower’s part and performed girly spins on demand, those moves required precision, technique, and a whole lot of practice — all very reminiscent of my days as an athlete.
But wait, hang on. Sleeping Beauty’s tiny cut immobilized her; how could girly girls handle muscle aches or foot pain after a grueling practice session? Stubbornness and a little elbow grease were Letty’s department. I was confused. My extreme presumptions about female dancers’ femininity didn’t reconcile with reality.
I began to realize that the world isn’t black and white.
There are girly girls and there are tomboys. And then there’s a whole spectrum in between. Yes, those spins are feminine and graceful, but the kicks and that hip bump bleed awesomeness. I can be feminine and kick butt at the same time; those qualities aren’t mutually exclusive. It sounds simple, but for me, my awareness of the shades of gray between these two opposing images of women revolutionized how I saw other girls — and myself. Ballroom presented me the opportunity to explore femininity; imagining an alternate universe where I refused to dance conjures up the image of a girl applying stereotypes to herself: you’re either girly or a tomboy, no in-between. I don’t want to live in a world that simplistic and rigid.
Thankfully, our world features an exciting array of complexities and nuances: I’ve watched girls dancing lead with other girls and men following men. Ballroom competitions don’t discriminate against these same-sex couples. A number of competitive female dancers even sport short hair — time to edit my clichéd mental image of a girl’s perfectly curled locks springing as she dances. Good thing I’ve always liked editing.