Struggling with anxiety and sometimes agoraphobia can make for a lonely world. It is obviously isolating in a self-constructed way, but unlike what many people might think, it isn’t self-constructed by choice. Deciding to do things all on my own is something I rarely do. Especially if I know I am going into a situation that is completely foreign and I won’t have anyone with me I already know.
Imagine the surprise to myself, then, when I decided to enroll in a belly dancing class hosted by the university’s continuing education program. I first tried to promote friends to attend with me, but nobody took me seriously. It seems there aren’t many around here who are willing to shake their hips. I actually enjoy hip-shaking and wanted to learn how to do it “responsibly” — as my teacher says. And so, I took a deep breath and enrolled in the class. I thought I could quickly identify where the exits were and leave if anything went wrong. Nobody can find an exit faster than I can.
Except, when I went to my first class, with my typical distanced-from-people aloofness that many people mistake for arrogance, I found two other women who were just as panicky as I was. One was a sweet lady from Japan who had never heard of belly dancing before and thought the class was for exercise. The other lady was also nervous, but for different reasons.
This woman was socially and physically awkward. She worked with computers all day and a person could probably say she fit the stereotype of someone who worked with computers all day. She told me she had never worn make up in her life and wouldn’t know what to do in high heels. She laughed at her inability to soften her curves in belly dancing. Instead of moving her hips, her torso would move. When her upper body was supposed to move, her arms would do the movement.
Our teacher would constantly encourage her and tell her her dance position was perfect, and her neck was beautiful. Our Japanese friend laughed at herself because she thought she looked like a hula girl. Her whole body would just sway and she couldn’t isolate movements. At all. What a sweet person, she tried her hardest.
My new awkward friend constantly tripped on herself stumbled up the stairs next to me as we left class. And yet, somehow she guessed my anxiety disorder. Before class began she’d meet me outside the door and ask if I had done my breathing exercises yet or if I needed help with my self-talk. She learned my name, and though there were only four of us in that dance room, there is always magic in hearing your name.
The six weeks flew by and though my friend was never able to soften her movements or get her body to move in just the right way, it didn’t really matter. She was enjoying herself. While I was learning the dance movements and discarding the anxiety I first felt in being with strangers, I watched something different in her. Our views of women are so wrong in the world. What is feminine or “womanly” is not necessarily in a woman’s shape or curve or movement. It’s not her ability to move her hips or keep the beat in time. It’s her graciousness to others. It’s intuitiveness. It’s these things that don’t come in a dress, job empowerment, or a make up brush.
I was sick the last day of class and so I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my friends. Our Japanese friend returned to Japan and my awkward friend returned to her job, refusing to participate in the performance. I had already enrolled in another belly dancing class taught by our teacher and when I came to our first class together she told me she had a gift from my awkward friend. When she pulled it from her bag, I smiled and laughed. It was just so her… a red pom-pom Elmo she had made herself.
She had told me once these were the only “crafts” she could made. It is perfect. I love it for the kindness it represents, the graciousness it stands for, and the sacrifice it took her. I can picture her fumbling with the Elmer’s Glue (she is not to be trusted with glue guns, she said) and the googly eyes. If only she knew I was another craft of hers — hot glue free.