Dance Like You’re Watching

On a March evening in 2020, I stood in front of a mirror and inspected my outfit. The shiny faux leather pants and ruby red, sequin-covered asymmetrical top was not part of my usual wardrobe, but I had to admit that I loved the spicy vibe of my reflection. My hair was slicked back in a half-updo, and my makeup was begging for a night out. While I wasn’t about to go out to the club, I was going to satisfy my efforts by taking my ruby lips to the dance studio for some professional photos.

My outfit from the 2020 dance class.
A red sequined sleeveless top is draped over a folded pair of black faux leather pants. A pair of black jazz shoes are crossed and are positioned on top of the draped top.

Six months earlier, my sister and I had enrolled in an adult jazz dance class. Both of us had danced when we were younger, and, even though I was 12 the last time that I performed a jazz routine, at 29 I found myself anxiously excited to be hitting the dance floor again. Thankfully, the other ladies, all of whom were wives and mothers, were of similar expertise. And, thankfully, my jazz shoes from 17 years prior still fit.  

The photography session signified the beginning of dance festival season. Our group was working hard at getting our routine down for our first performance. We were slotted for Saturday, March 21 at 7:40 PM—the last slot of the evening. This is notable because this meant that the only people left in the audience to watch us would be the dance teams that made it to the Showcase. If you are a stranger to the dance world, the Showcase is the portion of the show where high-ranking dance teams get to perform an extra time. Our slot was right before the Showcase, so the theatre would be filled with the most passionate and skilled dancers of the festival.

For a group of adult ladies whose days were filled with prioritizing the well-being and success of our family members, being the center of attention on a stage in front of a passionate audience was a daunting concept. It would have been easy for one of us, or even all of us, to back down from the opportunity. We didn’t need to be on display or to prove our worth to a crowd of strangers. We could keep our private dance class as our escape-from-domestic-duties success story.

I don’t know what it was that drove us all to accept the festival invitation. Perhaps it was an internal desire to be more than what our lives as moms and wives were dictating for us. Perhaps it was the song that our dance instructor chose for us. Perhaps it was both.

The song? Jennifer Lopez’s “Ain’t Your Mama.” I don’t think our instructor knew the significance of her song choice, though perhaps she was more perceptive than what I gave her credit for. The lyrics portray a woman expressing to her spouse that she will no longer be the sole-carrier of their domestic and relational responsibilities—she would no longer act as his mother.

It was relatable subject matter. Even if our husbands weren’t helpless like the man in the lyrics, we could all relate to the mental exhaustion that comes from mothering. Not only do women have the societal pressure to be the perfect wife and mother, but they also have the pressure of bearing it all without complaining. The perfect wife and mother is someone who absorbs the mental load of her family and carries the responsibilities of being a household manager with the ease of a business woman carrying a briefcase into a high-rise. Unfortunately, as we mamas frequently discussed at dance class, reality makes this perfection unattainable.

And that’s okay. The writers of J-Lo’s song offer another option for women. We don’t have to carry the weight ourselves. We can carry the briefcase while our husbands carry the grocery bags and our children carry their own backpacks. Perhaps performing at the festival meant that we could normalize that type of reality for ourselves and the audience, most of whom were bound to be mothers.

But it was not to be.

Based on the date mentioned at the beginning, you can conjecture what happened to our festival plans.

“Effective immediately The Arden Theatre is postponing and/or cancelling all shows and events in the theatre until April 29…Thank you for your patience and cooperation as we all navigate this unexpected and unfortunate situation.”

Facebook post by the Arden Theatre, March 13, 2020.

That was it. The show would not go on.

While part of me was relieved to not perform in front of a dance-loving audience, another part of me mourned. The months of learning choreography and honing each dance move with countless across-the-floor exercises had been enjoyable. There was delight in knowing us women chose to spend our precious time with each other among mirrored walls and ballet bars. At the end of every class, we stretched in silence, feeling too exhausted to talk. Yet, when it was time to leave, we all departed with notes of assurance that we would see each other the following week. Performing with these ladies to “Ain’t Your Mama” would have been a empowering experience. I would have loved envisioning myself as a spectator watching a group of women own their independence and worth. I would have danced like I was proudly watching myself.

While my short time in that dance class had ended in a less-than-ideal way, I don’t regret it. I am proud of myself for taking the time to step out of my day-to-day, spend time with my sister, and participate in a group activity that offered fitness and fellowship.

So, if the opportunity to join an adult dance class presents itself, may I encourage you to extend a jazz hand and seize it. Even if you don’t end up performing or dancing to J-Lo, it can be a richly rewarding experience.

Stephanie Morris is a transcriptionist and writer based in Alberta, Canada. She is a wife, a mom of two, and a newcomer to the career-writing world. As a fancier of history and literature, she aspires to blend the two in fiction and nonfiction pieces. To follow Stephanie’s writing adventures, find her at @words.and.smores on Instagram.

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