By watching my mom and aunts at family cookouts, I learned the freedom and expression of movement. We used to have these dance competitions where the kids gathered around hoping someone would give them the $1 prize.
Somewhere during the innocence of a song I was dancing to, the women began to talk amongst themselves. I could hear, “Oh, she’s fresh”, “Now, that’s the one you’re going to have to watch out for”. Warnings that meant I’d be the next teenage mother because I was probably already running around with boys. Within earshot, they took that moment to assign to my fragile shoulders, the load of their sexual histories and fears. That dance competition wasn’t all I lost that day and it cost way more than $1. At 11 years old, I had made a vow to stop dancing.
This realization the women in my family came to, set off an in-house series of events, physical and emotional abuse, and restrictions from my mother that would last throughout the remainder of my childhood. A path that later landed me in youth shelters and foster care equipped with nothing but a level of psychological imprisonment I’d carry into adulthood.
In high school, I majored in Creative and Performing Arts and instead of Gym, students in this program were required to take Dance. By 16, I had lost all sense of rhythm and had gotten used to firmly telling everyone “I can’t dance.” I effectively escaped their expectations but our dance instructor, Ms. R, for sure, wasn’t having any of it. This tall woman had many stories of her own experiences of rejection and judgment due to her height and she’d say as she scanned the room ultimately landing on me, “Like Fatima’s. That is the kind of body they expected from a ballet dancer.” So I don’t know whether it was to free me or herself, but she was very hard on me and she’d undeservingly position me with the best dancers in the class. Whenever I struggled freeing myself within a movement, she’d scream out, “Do it, Fatima! Your mom’s not here!”
So while I’m writing this, I’m stiff, I’m rigid and afraid of exposing the very best sides of me. I hold back a lot, both in business and in personal affairs and I’ve missed out on and sabotaged many great opportunities due to this fear. However, today, I hear Ms. R’s persistence loud and clear, “Your mom’s not here, Fatima!” and I realize that I can no longer use the baggage of my childhood as an excuse not to reach purpose.
I look back on everything I’ve overcome, the generational cages, I’ve already been freed from and I have the feeling that I can regain my rhythm. I have the feeling that with practice, I will eventually, without hesitation, have the courage to leap gracefully into the unknown. Ms. R’s right, she’s not here but I am and it’s time for me to become an active participant in the unfolding of my destiny. It’s time to dance.