Dancing · fitness · Guest Post

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.
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.

family · fitness · Guest Post

A Pattern Emerges (Guest Post)

Two weeks ago, I went lane swimming for the first time in a long time. In my last blog post, “All Lanes are Open,” I commented on how I often let my excuses overtake my need for physical exercise. I left the pool that day hoping that I would have better self-discipline going forward. While I did think about swimming more, I found that fitting another session into my schedule was still difficult. In fact, I haven’t fit another one in yet.

However, this is not a self-deprecating post. I may not have succeeded in getting to the pool, but I still got a workout in. Only, it wasn’t in a gym, on a track, or in a studio. It was in a house. And no—it wasn’t an at-home fitness program.

Last week, my mom and I set out towards the small Albertan town where my sister had moved. Our goal? To help her clean her new place so she could begin settling in. When we arrived and saw the little two-bedroom bungalow nestled on the large property, we were giddy with excitement. It was a house with character. Inside, wood paneling and mismatched trim adorned the walls. Vinyl flooring ran throughout the house with some newly replaced planks poking up in attestation.

The door on the floor leading to the storm cellar.

The highlight of the mid-century home was the proper storm cellar situated in the floor of the laundry room. The heavy floor-door revealed a series of six-inch-deep stairs that led to a surprisingly high-ceilinged cellar. Here housed the furnace, a work bench, some smaller pieces of furniture, and, of course, cobwebs. Thankfully, there was a sliver of a window to ease claustrophobia.

What does this have to do with fitness? We had to clean the house. All of it. I’m talking dusting the walls, washing the walls, scrubbing the baseboards, doing all-the-above to the floors, disinfecting the bathroom, degreasing the kitchen, and deodorizing everything. Then there was dodging flies while vacuuming up their deceased friends from windowsills. It was an intense workout!

To tackle it all, we decided to divide and conquer. I declared myself in charge of the bathroom, doors, and windowsills. My mom and sister tackled the main bedroom and living rooms.

Have you noticed the abdominal workout that cleaning a bathtub provides? If you’re like me and refuse to stand in the bathtub while cleaning the surroundings (because—gross), then you’ll understand the shoulder stretch you get from reaching across the tub. It is a must to engage the core muscles to avoid back injury. Then there’s the up, down, side-to-side motions. Thankfully, cleaning the basin portion offered a relieving stretch along the lower back as my glutes lowered me into a squat.

Then there are the mystery group of muscles that are featured in cleaning toilets that are situated close to walls. I had to be deliberate in my movements, keeping my muscles obedient to ensure I didn’t bend carelessly around the bowl. I certainly did not want to pull a muscle on my first task!

Cleaning the vanity and mopping the floor—and re-mopping it after my sister’s boyfriend walked through with boots to change the light fixture—concluded my bathroom workout. Next were the doors. Now, that is a good squat routine!

Our trio reconvened to tackle the kitchen which, fortunately or unfortunately for me, provided a similar full-body workout as the bathroom and doors did. Arms were favoured in scrubbing out cupboards. Legs and core were the primary targets of the lower cupboards and the space behind the appliances. Even with all three of us tackling it, breaking a sweat was easy come by. We happily took advantage of water breaks.

The three of us in front of the house post-clean.

Amid the scrubbing and polishing, us girls got to talk. We’d laugh over cloths, asking each other which one was for soaping and which one was for rinsing, and asking ourselves why they were all the same colour when there were other colour options. Even though we were too busy and too tired to talk about deep things, we all felt content just being around each other.

Doing life together is a value that I hold dearly. If I had it my way, I would do everything with at least one person present, even if it’s reading in silence. Having this extroverted viewpoint does often stifle my ability to self-start my fitness routines, but it’s a part of my personality. Companionship ignites my spirit.

I did feel more sore in the days following the cleaning than I did after swimming, but I still experienced the same gleeful energy as I did at the pool. The joy from working out alongside two of my favourite people made me realize that hard workouts can be completed without mental burnout. I can leave tired and wake up sore and still want to do it all over again. I thought that feeling was reserved for passionate fitness gurus.

I seem to have a pattern emerging. My fitness journey finds success most frequently when I execute it alongside something my soul loves. In the pool, my love for the water propelled me forward. At this house, it was my love for my mom and sister.

While I wait for my next lane swim or deep-clean day at a friend’s place, I’ve decided to come up with a list of things my soul loves and see if I can pair them with a physical activity. Maybe I’ll try hopping on my stationary bike and watch train-wreck reality TV. Maybe I’ll go for a long walk-and-talk with a friend. Unfortunately, I have yet to come up with an idea where I can read or write while exercising.

If you have an idea for me, please let me know in the comment section below. While you’re at it, let me know if you are a solo-fitness person, or an extrovert like me who prefers having someone else’s energy come alongside.

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.

family · fitness · Guest Post · swimming

All Lanes are Open (Guest Post)

Would you rather be able to fly or be able to breathe under water? My seven-year-old daughter has been entertaining our family the past few suppers with “Would you rather” questions. This one, between flying or breathing under water, comes at a time when my choice is clear. However, if she had asked it two days ago, that clarity may not have been there.

Two days ago, I found myself spiraling towards depression. The current economic climate paired with my four-year-old son’s exercises in emotional regulation had been agitating my anxious mind. The stress had begun to cling to my arms, threatening to squeeze me into suffocation. By the time I sat down at the supper table, I was detached from conversation and desperate for solitude, a state of being that is contrary to my extroverted nature. I felt on the verge of a mental breakdown when, suddenly, I was hit with an undeniable desire: I wanted to go lane swimming.

Lane swimming

Swimming is my preferred fitness activity, though, admittedly, I don’t often engage in it. My fitness journey has been one of ideas more than one of action. When I am thinking about fitness it is in the context of “When I have some free time, I’ll get to it.” The problem is that I am the mom of two busy kids, a responsible pet owner to an active dog, a socialite who desires to stay connected, and an aspiring entrepreneur about to jump into a new career—free time evades me. These identities of mine are used as my primary excuses for scarcely devoting time to exercise.

However, that evening at the supper table, I chose to listen to my desire, and I declared to my husband that I was going lane swimming. We had already made plans for him to complete the children’s bedtime routine while I got some work done, but I told him that I needed to go swimming instead. Being the knowledgeable and supportive husband that he is, he heard my desperation and encouraged me to go.

Yet, even after mentally committing to going, I found myself putzing about, slowly gathering my aquatic attire, waiting for the excuses or distractions to come. A small voice trickled in bringing guilt over leaving the family and household responsibilities to my husband. Isn’t that often the case, that women feel guilty about taking time to take care of themselves? I am thankful that my husband doesn’t support that mindset. Seeing my hesitation, he told me again to go. No other excuses came.

So I went. I drove the one kilometer to the pool, navigated the newly renovated changeroom, and walked awkwardly towards the lanes. Feeling out of place and slightly embarrassed by my existence, I paused to confirm with the lifeguard that all lanes were open. They were. Then, after more than five years, I snapped on my goggles and dove in.

What a glorious experience! The salty basin welcomed me freely, extending the kindness of washing the tensions and stresses from my body. Giving way to my strokes, the water let me rise and fall with the movements of my limbs. My muscles propelled me forward in a pattern understood by my lungs, which held air for me until my mouth broke the surface. I swam two lengths, rested for a minute, and then repeated, cycling between the front crawl, breaststroke, and backstroke.

For 30 minutes I resisted the urge to push myself in favour of allowing myself to enjoy my time in the water. That proved to be difficult as two swimmers in the lane next to me had performed their butterfly strokes at twice the speed of my breaststroke. To tame my competitiveness, I allowed myself to admire the strength of these women. Though their skills surpassed mine, I knew that it was a result of ambition, perseverance, and conditioning.

These women were working hard, and I knew that they had reached their level of athleticism by choosing to engage in that hard work regularly. I felt inspired by these women by their mere existence in the pool, so I chose to allow myself to think of myself in that light too. I left the pool with a confidence and a knowledge about myself that I had silenced. I learned that in the water I am powerful, graceful, capable. In the water I feel hopeful, patient, and at peace.

Two days later, these feelings linger. The minute tension that remains in my glutes and hamstrings brings me pride. It took more effort to get myself to the pool than the act of swimming did. The only barricade between a lifestyle that heals my anxieties and nourishes my body is me.

My priorities, while focused on good things—like my children, pets, and wanting to contribute to the household in duties and in finances—have needed this awakening to consider the exponential benefits of physical activity.

My fitness journey is alive. When I am not physically moving, I am growing. My life leads me to places that challenge my priorities, my patience, and my fears. Fitness has a place in that growth, and I see it attract me back to it in my most desperate states of being. This time, I am certain that I won’t be waiting five years before visiting the lanes again. In fact, I find myself thinking that next time I’ll ride my bike the one kilometer to the pool.

I couldn’t have imagined that one lane session would be so transformative. So, when I am asked if I would rather be able to fly or breathe under water, my answer is quick and easy: I would rather breathe under water. It takes me to new heights anyway.

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.