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Middle-Aged Moves

Facing Fluffy Full On

By Rochelle Lockridge

Last month, my private instructor showed me more than a proper tango corté. "Here," he said. "Look in the mirror."

A surprised, "Is that really me?"

"Yes. See what I mean? See that nice line?"

Tears welling with a gentle awe, "I'm beautiful."

I am simply amazed how my teacher can show me what a line is, make a minor (or not-so-minor) adjustment to the way I am holding myself, and this beautiful, elegant woman emerges. It's as if my body falls into place the way it was designed to. Where did she come from? Has she really been here all along? Yes, she has … just hidden, afraid to express her full, fluffy self to the world.

With a body mass index of twenty-nine, I'd need to lose thirty pounds to move out of the overweight category and into the normal, healthy weight range. I'd like to say my weight and body shape don't matter, but that would be a lie. I struggle with body image, and the majority of the dance community doesn't look like me.

You've got to be kidding. You think I can squeeze into that? We're gonna need two size eights to fit this full-figured gal.

I'm slowly coming to terms with the body I have to work with today. With group classes, dance parties, lessons, practicing, and an exercise regime recommended by my instructors (I keep a twelve-pound dumbbell on my bathroom counter to remind me to get in my thirty reps during the day), people are surprised when I say I've only lost maybe a pound or two. What they are really noticing is that my body shape, how I hold myself, and how I move in the world are all changing.

I'm sure I'm not alone in confessing how uncomfortable it is to see our bodies in the mirror or on video. But lately I've come to understand and appreciate why dancers are always looking at themselves. It's not because they're vain; it's because we want to see what we're doing. (Did you catch the pronoun switch there? I've been recently reminded, "You're a dancer now.")

It was quite a shocker when I watched my reflection dancing west coast swing in my living room window for the first time.

Is that really me? Oh, my, I don't like how that looks. I wonder if I can adjust the way I'm moving so that I like what I see? There, you go. That's better. Hey, just for fun, let's take a look from the side now. Oh, no, what happened? I looked just fine facing forward …. You mean I have to look at myself from all angles? Okay, then, if that's what it takes …. Let's try it again.

But there are also practical, scientific principles when one is facing Fluffy full on that can't be dismissed lightly. As a new dancer and a scientist by training, Newton's laws of motion are not lost on me, especially when it comes to successfully executing spins.

Law #1: A body at rest stays at rest, and a body in motion stays in motion, unless acted on by an external force.

Law #2: Force = Mass x Acceleration

Or in layman's terms: it's going to take more force to get my mass moving and more force to get me to stop once I'm in motion. So spins continue to be difficult.

When I first started out, I actually thought I was going to have to give up on my country two-step class unless there was a flailing figure that Troy just hadn't taught us yet. Practicing didn't seem to be making much of a difference. As a last resort, I decided to see if real dancing shoes (as opposed to my rubber-soled running shoes) would make things easier.

I hypothesized that if I could reduce the friction between Fluffy and the floor, it would reduce the force needed to at least start and control a spin. It worked! Much to my classmates' and teacher's delight, there was no containing my joy when I was finally able to complete a three-hundred-sixty-degree traveling turn without falling off balance, which was soon followed by the successful execution of a double outside turn from closed position to a side-by-side promenade. Yippee!

I joined the ballroom dance community looking for a way to exercise that I could stick with. I've found that and so much more. But coming to terms with my body and witnessing a butterfly emerge from her cocoon was something I wasn't expecting at all. What a lovely gift.