Dance as Therapy

Dance Therapy

Dance has always been a part of me but it wasn’t until recently that I really understood how important it was in my life.

The Early Years

I’ve danced for as long as I can remember. As a kid I would move to the sounds of Enya and Abba when they played at home. I fell in love with artists like Shania Twain, Cher and Madonna at a young age. I even danced and lip-synched for the full six minutes of “Just Like A Prayer” for my grade three talent show. That song choice shocked a lot of parents and my music teacher, but for the rest of the class it just assured them that I was weird.

It wasn’t just dancing that brought me joy, I also loved to perform. This started at home when I would force my grandmother to sit and watch me dance to an entire Jennifer Lopez album and I would make my dad record my choreographed “Oops I Did It Again” routines.

In high school I quickly found a dance team to join. Then in grade 11 I transferred to an arts school and for the first time in my life I was taking jazz, ballet and modern dance classes every single day. Though I was inflexible and untrained I adored the feeling of moving my body in these new ways and learning new movements. Class was first thing in the morning and I was never late, I looked forward to it more than any other subject in school.

A New Routine

When I got out of high school, I moved in with my boyfriend at the time and I tried to look for classes to continue my dance training. I felt a cold and unfriendly atmosphere within the dance studios in Toronto that I went to. It was a very competitive environment which was not something that I was used to. I was shy and wouldn’t ask questions in class and always walked out feeling defeated. It wasn’t the same experience that it was in high school. 

Often the classes were expensive and I couldn’t afford to keep going. Eventually I stopped going all together.

Love and Dance

I was in my first serious relationship and he was a dancer. At first I was thrilled, I was finally with someone who I could share my passion for dance and performance with. But he never took my love for dance seriously and would tell me repeatedly that I was not a real dancer. He claimed it was because I had no real training in any style. To him dance was not moving freely to music, it was steps and technique.

I was crushed. The person who I loved and admired as a partner and a dancer was telling me that I was not a dancer. He didn’t value my dance ability, it was a joke to him. And of course, I started to believe him. I would go on to tell myself that I was not a dancer and I would begin to hide my love for dance.

He formed dance crews with his friends and put on shows and I would always be there cheering them on. But I never let on how much it killed me to not even be considered to be a part of their team. 

It was a real low point in my dance life. I found myself freestyle dancing to songs while I was alone at home and taping them just for fun. I had so much dance in me, I had to get it out. It was necessary for my mental health.

Finding Myself

Another way I could incorporate dance into my life was when I went to clubs with my friends. They were usually there to to get dressed up, drink and meet boys but I went for the music. I always drank less than all my friends but they loved to bring me along because I would end up dancing for the entire club to watch, getting them free drinks in the process. But I didn’t mind, I just wanted to dance.

I never tolerated dancing with boys even when I was single. My moves were never meant as an invitation for someone to approach me or think that they could buy me a drink, touch me or take me home. They were an expression of myself.

When my relationship with the dancer ended, it didn’t take long for me to discover go-go dancing. It was during a time when I needed some extra cash when I was told about a company that might hire me. My eyes widened. I couldn’t believe that there was a job that was going to pay me to dance in sexy outfits and perform for the entire club where no one was allowed to touch or even approach me. It was literally my dream job. I got hired and danced for three years straight. Unfortunately the company I danced for ended up dissolving and between that and clubs shutting down I couldn’t find any more work.

The New Me

Then one day almost two years later I picked up a newspaper and read about a class for women where they wear heels and learn choreography to Beyonce songs. When I read that all the feelings that I had for dance came rushing back to me. This new “heels” class was being offered at a new studio that had just opened up and I decided to go right away.

When I left that first class, I felt like a part of me had been rediscovered. My body had been pushed in ways it hadn’t been pushed for years. I had terrible balance and I struggled learning the choreography but I was hooked. Soon I would be back there taking classes religiously (sometimes three nights a week).

It was amazing to not only find a style of dance that really suited me and my way of movement but also to find a studio that was friendly and inviting and to find teachers that were empowering and uplifting. Soon I was there making friends and taking dance workshops. All of a sudden I was a part of a community and I was getting better at something that I had always loved to do but never had any real, formal training in.

And of course, I began to improve. I got into a heels dance company that prepared me for a live performance scheduled for the end of the six month training period. It felt amazing to be back on stage with a powerful group of women, dancing. I felt at home.

Loss and Dance

In 2017 my father was hospitalized and then passed away from cancer. It was a rough year for me but I would go to dance class as often as I could. I needed a way to release the pain that I felt and let my emotions flow through me instead of keeping them bottled up. I needed a place where I could be free and where I could forget everything that was going on in my life that I had no control over. It was very important for me to be there. I truly needed dance to keep me sane. Sometimes I think that if I didn’t have dance, I would have suffered a lot more during this time in my life. I have come to realize that dance is my therapy.

 

I am grateful for not being put into ballet classes at a young age by my parents. My dad used to tell me the reason he wouldn’t enrol me was so that I never grew to hate dance. And I believe that he made the right decision. I have met so many women along this journey who have told me that they stopped dancing for years due to the competitiveness of the industry and that their initial love for dance was gone.

Though my path with dance has never been clear and straight I have never lost my love for it and I truly consider myself lucky.

 

Watch a short video of me dancing through my life. From age eight to present day.

 

Xoxo,

Shaka

 

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