Sometimes, it’s easy to forget the ratio of soul to the ratio of precision with steps that is involved in dancing. It’s just as easy as forgetting about how much of soul should be involved in your daily routine, as you pirouette into familiar circles around the aspects of your life.
Anyone can learn the steps, even you. You can learn how to point your toes and how to stretch your arms and how to crane your neck backwards so far as though the bones you have don’t limit you. And there’s nothing easier than repeating those steps until they’re carved into your limbs, into your trunk that sways to the subtle beats, and into your toes that withstand tremendous pressure as you rotate.
You count the steps carefully and follow every rule. The instructions you’ve been taught run through your head on loop with voices that aren’t yours. They tell you to hold your head up in pride, to look at others as though they were dancing on a whole different platform that was beneath you. Your hair is laced with French silk, and your strong shoulders are held like a warrior’s in the face of every defiant opponent.
You know all the moves, and you know all the words that you’re supposed to dance to, and you know the only people that you can dance with. You are following the routine you’ve seen your sisters perfect to the very last twirl.
But then you look in the mirror and realise that you look nothing like them. Where they were a pair of feathers floating, submissive to the direction of the wind and the music, one black and one golden, you were only hovering in one spot, brown and lackluster.
You never understand the reason. You were taught the same way by the same parents. It didn’t make sense. But you go through the motions anyway, detached as you are. Was there another choice? This dance becomes your familiar ground, your cage. And this music acts as gravity, keeping you in the same place, preventing you from exploring beyond the moves that your body has memorised.
One day you see him with all his imperfections, dancing to music that you’ve never heard before. You maintain your composed face, your detached, unaffected facade, as his glows with a grin while he looked in another direction. It scares you how much energy he puts into everything: in the smile on his face, in the playful shove at his friend’s shoulder, in his conversations. He is the stark opposite of everything you know.
You can hear his breath with every faulty move, while you danced with bated breath, counting the steps in your head. You can see his slumped shoulders, his loose ankles, and the ever so slightly bent leg that you would never get away with. And despite all of that, you can’t help but see grace in the spontaneity in the sequence of movement, and you wonder if he even knows what the next step is. You can breathe in the freedom as he spins around in your direction, and you turn on your heels with what you believe is swiftness. You walk back to the place you’re used to where nothing as bizarre and unsettling could be in sight.
You lie next to him under a dizzying amount of stars. You look at them instead of him. If you don’t look at him, you can almost pretend that you are still doing your same dance, that you weren’t putting that many steps out of line.
“I used to cry a lot as kid. I’m not sure why. I just did.” He says, reminding you of everything wrong that you’ve been doing lately.
You bite your lip down in consideration. Were you really doing this dance? “We had a rule: grin and bear it. I think we might even have a gene for the perfect poker face.”
“But what do you do when someone upsets you?” He asks, and you can tell that he’s looking at you now since you can feel his breath on your neck.
“You’re not supposed to get upset. You act like it doesn’t affect you, not one bit, until you find the perfect opportunity for payback,” you respond with a gentle shrug against the moist grass.
You can feel him moving next you, but you don’t dare to look in his direction. If you do, you might let him sweep you off your feet and away from everything you’ve built around you to make your cage as hospitable and as cozy as possible.
“And what do you do when someone makes you happy?” You still avoid his gaze as he runs his hand through your hair.
“You smile, thank them, and wait for the perfect opportunity to return the favour,” you answer, wondering if your voice is trembling.
You’re intimidated by the new music, and you don’t know if you should tread any further from what’s familiar. You can feel your muscles tense up in anticipation of learning new steps. You can hear your heartbeat in your ears as though it’s trying to tell you that you have already been dancing in a way that your body isn’t adapted to.
“And what do you do if… If someone tells you they love you?” He is sitting now and looking down at you, blocking the view that has been keeping you composed. You find no way out of facing him and you hold a breath in, coming to a standstill.
You sit up and put a hand on his shoulder, letting your actions betray your words. “I can’t. We can’t. I don’t…”
You say the words and it reminds you of your routine. The words don’t sound sincere. Your entire existent was not sincere.
Your heart that is pounding underneath your ribs brings you to an epiphany: your heart was never into any of it. You never fully believed in any of these things that have been passed on to you as habits, as family heirlooms.
You were dancing to music you didn’t connect to, stiff as a stick because there was no soul to it, no basis for the movement, no clear intention. Where dancing was supposed to reflect what you were feeling, what you were thinking, you only reflected what your family had in store for you. You were a soldier fighting someone else’s war, not a dancer.
“I can’t,” you breathe out, tears welling into your eyes and you try to hold them back. You square your shoulders and straighten your back. You had to stay strong; you had to conceal your fear and doubt.
But then he touches your face and the tears stream onto your cheeks, spontaneous, sincere. Your heart starts to slow down and he gently brings your head to his shoulder so you can cry some more. He anticipated what you needed and did it before you even asked.
You feel your souls dance together to a bittersweet tune. It’s like nothing you had ever felt before and it makes you cry even more. You had never known such comfort, such freedom. And although there’s nothing elegant about sobbing into the shoulder of the person you love, but you feel for once as though you are flying past everything that shackled you. You are twirling your way between the bars that once were the pillars that held your world together. You are holding onto the person you love in the tightest embrace, yet it felt like a cure.
He says nothing as you let your fight against yourself come to an end, and you wonder if he can see the metamorphosis taking place underneath the surface. You finally stop crying and he pulls you to your feet, his eyes searching your face as though he is wondering if this dance is over, if this is the final embrace.
“I do love you,” he tells you with firmness and you fumble with your hands, no longer as conscious of your movements since every single move now is foreign.
And so you decide to leap. You know he will catch you. You know he will hold you up if you falter. You know he will lead you through the new steps and will notice if it causes you discomfort. So you leap.
“And I love you.”
Despite and for everything that he is. Despite and for everything it will do to your life. You love him and it’s time that you danced for yourself.
And now, you have to prepare yourself for a whole different sort of fight. You have to prepare for a rebellion.
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