Healing in the Ballroom
I arrived at Arthur Murray in Manhattan for my first ballroom dancing lesson with excitement and anticipation. My instructor, Mircea, and I greeted each other with grins as he cajoled me for wearing heels when I was already so much taller than him. I strutted proudly as he led me to the dance floor, asking me which dances interested me the most.
“I’d like to learn the waltz, the swing, and the salsa,” I said definitively.
Mircea jotted down my requests and quickly began modeling the box step. I imitated him solo and picked up the steps easily, drawing from my previous dance experience. The movements were simple and graceful, and I became lost in one of my classic daydreams – gracefully gliding across the floor in perfect “Disney Princess” synchronicity with my partner.
Finally, we were ready to try the box step in tandem. He took my right hand in his left, put his other hand on the small of my back, and I placed my left hand behind his shoulder. He was strong and secure, but to my surprise, I was instantly apprehensive and unsure.
We were so close. I felt stiff and uncomfortable. My steps were rigid, and I began fumbling. He gently corrected my steps and affirmed my progress, but my hands felt clammy and I wasn’t sure which way to turn my head to exhale.
For those first few minutes, ballroom dancing was not fun. Instead, it challenged me to do something incredibly difficult as a victim of sexual trauma: I had to respond to a man’s body with my own. I had to trust him enough to follow. I had to surrender control. I had to be vulnerable.
I was uncovering a deep, physiological wound that had not yet healed. The years of therapy couldn’t prepare my body for this automatic response. I was triggered, and in a moment of fight or flight, I froze.
Thankfully, my intuitive and kind ballroom instructor picked up on it. He said, “You learn the steps fast and have good rhythm, but you seem to be having trouble responding to the movement of my body with your body.”
Mircea’s candid, non-judgemental observation was all it took to diffuse my stress response, and I deliberately began tuning into his movements. It wasn’t easy, especially when we worked on hip movements in the salsa, but my comfort level increased throughout the lesson. I began to trust, relax, and really enjoyed myself.
Little did I know when I arrived at the studio that day, that I would begin to heal a small wound still left open from my teenage sexual trauma. Those who have experienced trauma know that triggers often come when we least expect them, yet if we respond with self-love and vulnerability, we can heal.
That first lesson was just the beginning for me, and I continue to heal with repeat exposure. My apprehensions sometimes return with new partners, but they’re quickly extinguished as I quite literally get “swept” up in the rhythm of the music and fun.
Ballroom dancing was another gentle reminder that healing is beautiful. It is transformative. But it is also deliberate. I chose to allow myself to surrender, trust, and follow his lead. I chose to lean into the fear and conquer it with experience.
It is in the choosing that we overcome the trauma and empower ourselves. It is in the choosing that we find our freedom.
Do not be a wallflower. Do not allow your past experiences to dictate your present.
Do you have a #BeautifulShame Story that you want to share? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org that outlines: 1). Your struggle 2). How you’ve used creativity as an outlet to deal with it 3). How you feel now. — Feel free to include photos, videos, music, poetry, or anything else!