Monday, May 19, 2014

Why I Tap Dance. (That's Me - The Pregnant One Up on Stage)

I had one pathetic experience as a dancer in the first 38 years of my life: as a five year old ballerina at the YMCA.

I have two vague memories of that experience. One was the feeling of the recital: being on the big stage in the bright lights in my glittery green costume and make-up. That is a good memory. The other memory is of how I was not very good at dancing. I know- I was five. But compared to the other five year olds in my class, I remember not being able to do certain things that other girls could do. I was not very coordinated. I was not flexible.(Still not!)

Little ballerina-me, with my mom.

My dance career ended after that one season, and I was ok with that. I moved on to other important things like attempting to roller skate in the driveway. The best thing about being a ballerina that year was getting to wear the tutu for my halloween costume - a top priority for a five year old.

The best thing about this pic to me is the
reminder that my mom always took pictures off-center.

Fast forward through my non-dancing life to now, where I am a stay at home mom with three children. Our daughter Chloe started dance when she was five. The main reason behind this activity was because Chloe needed to get out and do something that was just for her. Her older sister who has special needs takes up a lot of time and attention with all of her therapies, appointments, and the physical help she needs all day long. I felt like Chloe just needed an escape from that every once in awhile.
Chloe. Kind of resembles me as a kid! Only she
is more flexible and coordinated.

Last spring, I wrote about Chloe's dance recital, from the perspective of being Lilli's mom. If you are new to this blog, you may want to check that post out because it explains a lot about our lives with a special needs child:

  Lilli cannot attend the recitals. She would not be able to sit quietly in a dark auditorium. Maybe one day we might try it again, but for now I am still confident from a previous show experience - and all of our experiences in large group settings, that she is not quite ready to sit quietly for a dance recital.

The actual getting to the recital last year was a crazy time, because Lilli had just had a bad seizure beforehand. Maybe it was partly because I had been so stressed from all of that, or maybe it was because I desperately needed something for me. Perhaps I was just so frazzled and tired that I was even slightly loony. Whatever the reason, I was perfectly ripe to fall in love with adult tap dancing that very day.

At the beginning of the 2013 recital, the owner of the dance studio came on stage and introduced a new tap dance teacher. They were going to offer tap classes by him in the fall. Even for adults. Then the music started, and they began to tap dance. I was instantly mesmerized by their incredible tapping. I was absolutely riveted and amazed. By the time they were done, they were out of breath and smiling. I was a little out of breath myself, just from watching. (Also, it doesn't take much for me to be out of breath.) It looked like the most incredibly fun workout I'd ever seen.

I leaned over to my husband and whispered ecstatically, "I want to learn to do that!"

He must have thought I was joking. It was pretty funny that I would say that. They were professionals, with decades of practicing and shows. I am klutzy. I am not a dancer. I am a stay at home mom who counts housework and chasing a rambunctious four year old boy as exercise. I was 38 years old, and learning to tap dance at my age seemed... laughable. Ridiculous.

Still, I thought about it all summer long. In the fall, I started Chloe in her seven year old ballet class, but I got busy with the kids and their school schedules and therapies. I did not sign up for tap class myself. Then one day in October, I decided to finally ask about the tap class. Even though it had already started, they said I could come one time and try it for free, to see if I liked it. It was not too late to join. I began to have second thoughts.

But I don't have any tap shoes....

That was ok, they said I could just wear my sneakers and if I decided to take the class, I could go get tap shoes later.

But I have never, ever tap danced before, and I might be awful...

That was fine too. There were beginners in the class. Even some who had never danced before.

But I am seriously out of shape. And totally uncoordinated. And completely mentally distracted. And old. And I don't have any cool workout clothes. And......

Just try it. Just come to one class.

I arrived to the class that first night, feeling completely silly and out of place. But all the other women in the class were plain old moms, just like me. They were not decked out in sparkly outfits. They were not professionals, they were just regular moms, wearing t-shirts and yoga pants, wanting to do something different and fun.

The tap teacher patiently (slowly) explained the steps to me, demonstrated them multiple times, and included me right away. I tried my darnedest to tap dance in my sneakers and keep up with the others. It is ridiculously hard for a beginner to try and tap dance in sneakers. Fortunately, I can laugh at myself. This is how I get through most things in life that make me feel completely stupid. This image of my badly dancing-self in the big mirror was just hilarious to me.

As I pathetically attempted to "tap dance," I concentrated with all my might.

And something happened to me that had not happened in ten years.

In my determination to make my clumsy feet move in the steps he was demonstrating, and my focus on my body in the mirrored wall, I completely forgot about everything else in my entire life for those moments.


I was concentrating so hard, I forgot all about the rest of my life.

I forgot about Lilli's overwhelming special needs, her seizures, and medicine, and therapy, and planning and preparing her special meals. I forgot about IEP goals and therapy goals and what time I was supposed to take Lilli somewhere tomorrow. My brain was completely incapable of thinking about anything else while I was tap dancing.

It was glorious.

It was honestly the first time that had happened since Lilli was born. And hands-down, it was seriously the best mental break I had experienced in a decade. I felt like I had used a completely new part of my brain and shut the rest of it off for an hour. Any other type of "break" I had experienced in ten years had not been like this. I might have had breaks away from the kids to have coffee with a friend, take walks, or go on a shopping trip. But it's not a complete mental break when you can still think about your life, talk about it, and listen for your cell phone in case someone needs you. Because of Lilli's seizures, Jasen and I are connected by our cell phones and constantly check in with each other all day long. We do not even get a break at night, when Lilli sleeps in our room with the oxygen tank in the corner and emergency medicine on the nightstand. We monitor her for seizures every night because she has bad seizures when she sleeps. There is never, ever a break from our awareness of her, her safety, and her health.

For that one hour tap class, I turned the ringer on my cell phone off and left it in my purse, knowing that Jasen had everything under control at home. And I tapped and thought of nothing else but my feet and my balance.

As I walked out into the parking lot after that very first class, I realized that my brain felt...refreshed. Like it had been able to shut part of itself down for a little while. A break from remembering, planning, worrying, and being alert at all times for Lilli having a seizure, choking, tripping, needing to use the bathroom, needing to have her pull-up changed, needing help, needing to be fed, bathed, dressed...a break from Lilli pulling on me, getting into trouble, wandering off....a break from any of my children crying, fighting, whining, or getting boo boos.

It was that feeling that absolutely compelled me to take Lilli and Josh shopping for my first pair of tap shoes. Yes, I was really going to DO this tap dancing thing.

I called the dance supply store and explained that, ("Sorry"), I would be bringing my children when I came to try on my first pair of tap shoes, that I was a beginner, and that I had no idea what I was looking for. I needed to prepare the employees for the craziness that was about to descend upon them.

At the dance shop, a soft-spoken woman patiently brought me several pairs to try, while Lilli, who absolutely hates shopping and most public places, tore away from me, ran to the front door and instantly yanked off the pretty handmade "Open!" sign and threw it onto the floor while whining. Meanwhile, Josh ran straight to the back of the store, into the "employee only" section and towards the private back entrance. I was frazzled within seconds, and the poor woman did not know how to help me. I needed to run in two opposite directions at once and have four arms.

When Lilli collapsed into a loud, sobbing heap in the middle of the open tap shoe boxes surrounding me on the floor, and Josh started yanking on the hanging sequined tutus, I gave up and we were out of there.

No tap shoes that day.

I went back another day by myself while my husband was on his lunchbreak and could watch the kids - and bought my very first pair of tap shoes, feeling nervous and kind of silly. But not as nervous and silly as I felt when I tied them on my feet at the next tap class.

I laughed a lot at myself, in my embarrassing attempts to tap dance badly in public. But I kept going back for every class. Each week, I felt dumb and exhilarated at the same time. But I actually began to learn the steps. And it was real exercise! I was getting my heart rate up and even sweating a little. I was thrilled that this fun activity counted as exercise. On tap dance night, Jasen would walk in the door from work and I would already be ready to bolt. I would get in the car, ecstatic to be leaving all by myself. I knew my brain would get that break, I would get a work out, and I would come home feeling refreshed.

After three months of tapping at class, in my kitchen, and on my cement porch, (with traffic occasionally driving by and curious neighbors looking at me) I figured I was getting to be pretty "OK."

And then... I found out we were expecting our fourth baby.

Can a pregnant woman tap dance? Heck yeah! I decided to keep on tapping. I felt awful with morning sickness, and would drag myself to class. If nothing else, I was escaping the dinnertime/bathtime insanity for an hour while my husband took over. Who cared if I felt like I was about to get sick while I tap danced? Many nights before class, I complained to my husband that I was nauseous and exhausted, but he would encourage me to go anyway.

And I discovered that tap dancing actually made me feel better. Guess it's those endorphins that are released when you exercise or whatever. Maybe it was all the laughing at myself. Whatever it was, it helped. So I did not miss a class. My belly increased in size, but so did my confidence. My morning sickness dwindled, and I continued to laugh at myself. Now it was funny to see a pregnant woman tap dancing in the big mirror, with my belly bouncing around. I loved the dance we were learning. I wasn't great, but I could kind of keep up.

And then it came time for the big recital.

Yes, we learned a dance to actually do on stage. In front of real people. A lot of real people.

See, this recital was for all the dozens of little girl dance classes at this studio. Chloe was going to perform ballet with her class. I was in the only "adult" class, at the very end of the recital. I was kind of excited, but I was also kind of concerned that I might lose my balance and trip, or get off step in front of hundreds of people. I was halfway through my pregnancy, but I had definitely felt subtle changes in my balance and coordination after gaining some weight out front. I felt like I had peaked a little in my skill, and now the exhaustion and weight gain was beginning to affect me. But there was no way I was quitting now.

Despite my trepidation, I readied my now 39 year old pregnant self for the big night on stage, where we would tap dance to a remix of the 70's disco song, "Let's Groove." I stretched the recital t-shirt over my protruding belly and put on my getting-a-little-too-small black yoga pants. At least I didn't have to wear a tutu.

Chloe and me before the recital.
I only had to run to the bathroom four times before we had to go out on stage. I told the others, "I'm not nervous, I'm just pregnant." That was true.

The lights came up, the music began, and I could not have wiped the huge smile off of my face even if you'd bribed me with a hot fudge sundae. It was a blast. I did not trip, I did not forget the steps, and it was the silliest, most fun experience I've ever had in any pregnancy. The others in the class made jokes about this tap dancing baby who performed in the recital with us.

I will never forget this pregnancy. And somehow, despite having a baby on the way, three children, and a very busy life, I plan to keep on tap dancing. (Whether it's in class, or in my kitchen.) It's just too funny, and fun, to ever stop now. I was not going to post the video. I was going to be chicken and just post pictures. But I just sat here and watched it, and I have tears squirting out of my eyes. Whether they are from laughter, or just pregnant wacky hormones and the emotion of accomplishing something I never thought I would do, I am not sure. So I will share it with the few that read about my experience. Enjoy. You are allowed to laugh. :) I did!

(It's important that I note here in the video that the four really good dancers in the middle are professional dance teachers. The mom dancers are the ones on either ends. I'm on the left end. Also, you get to hear commentary by my husband, daughter, and mother in law.)

1 comment:

  1. You go Jennie! Wow! Exciting baby #4. You definitely have more energy than I ever did! Keep us posted.