Here’s the truth: most of us sing our best when we know there’s nobody listening. When we’re at home. In the shower. In our bedrooms with a hairbrush when we’re still twelve years old and we know that we’re the next best, the next biggest, the next Brittney, so long as nobody ever hears us. We dance, too, tossing our hair like no tomorrow, like we ARE the best in the room. Which, of course, when we’re on our own in our bedrooms with only a hairbrush and a mirror and the song in our head for company, we are.
I don’t know when it happens, that self-consciousness that we all seem to come up against. I don’t know when we stop dancing, or stop singing, or really even why, except that we become for ourselves the people we fear the most. We become our own worst critics.
When I was a kid there were underage discos every Saturday night at the Sports Centre just across from my house. They were called Sock Dances, because they were held on the basketball courts and everybody needed to take their shoes off. They were part of the structure of our town, of our school, of mythic culture, of lore and legend and hours and hours of gossip of who-got-off-with-who-at-the-sock-dance-on-Saturday* and although they were literally just across the street from my house and I loved pop music with an undeniable passion I only went once in my life. The memory is still fresh, and still makes me cringe a little if I let it.
I danced. I didn’t know any better.
I didn’t know anybody, really. My best friend wasn’t there, and although I knew who most of the kids were from school or from just around, there was nobody there to just hang with, to dance with. I hung around and tried to act cool, like I didn’t mind being there on my own, like I knew my clothes actually were cool even though the other kids might not have recognized it. I forced myself to smile and pretend like I was really enjoying myself, even when the geeky kid’s friends came up to me and said that that-guy-over-there wants to get off with you and when I looked over at him he had this geeky leer behind his glasses and all the boys laughed because I looked.
I think that’s why I did it. Danced, that is. Because of the boys and the laughing and the geeky kid and the not-wanting-to-get-off.
I danced like nobody was watching.
One of the girls there who was vaguely a friend (as opposed to being a downright enemy) was dancing alone up in front right next to the DJ, so I asked if I could dance with her and she said sure, so we did it. We danced alone together like nobody, not even ourselves were watching, like our own tiny spaces were our bedrooms and we sang our lungs out over the sound of the distorting PA system just like we were still holding our hairbrushes in front of the mirror. I loved it, and I went home happy.
I loved dancing. I loved the memory of that night right up until the following week when I overheard two girls at school talking about the sock dance, and they were making nasty remarks, not about me, but about my vaguely-friend and the way she danced how she did, right up in front of the DJ, like nobody else was watching.
Here’s the truth: I haven’t danced in public since.
I do know this is kind of silly. I still dance like a mad thing (yes, to One Direction) in my kitchen. But I’m thinking of this today because of something else that’s happened.
My Dad told me that he read my blog.
He didn’t make disparaging remarks about it. He didn’t say anything bad at all, in fact he liked it. But the fact that he read it, that he suddenly had access to my deepest thoughts, made me self-conscious, and threatened to silence me. And then something else happened: it made me strong. I’m dancing like a lunatic to One Direction in my kitchen, and suddenly people are looking in the window. People that I know. People who have never seen me dance before, but now I know that I CAN’T care about how well I’m doing it, or whether I’m doing it right, I just have to do it. And I have to open the door for them, and invite them to come inside too so we can all dance together, and instead of letting their fear become my fear, I need to let my freedom become their freedom too. I need to keep dancing like nobody’s watching. I need to write like there’s no tomorrow, and I need to lift up my voice with a shout.
Care to join me?
*“Got off with” means kissing. As opposed to “had it off with”, which means sex. Although, according, to mythic culture, lore and legend and hours and hours of gossip, there was a lot of that going on as well.