Saturday, November 7, 2009

Oprah, Boxes, A Red Dress, and A Lightbulb Moment!

I watched a very moving show on Oprah about women stepping out of their boxes. First was Ali Wentworth, the comedian, who dressed up and performed as a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. When Oprah commented about the guts that took, Ali responded that she had been nervous, "But when I let go of my ego, I was empowered."

Then four women who felt they were in ruts with divorces, job losses and other challenges, were invited to step out of their boxes. They became roller derby queens, sky-dived, and went skinny dipping on national television! And by the end, you could see they had taken a quantum leap in their self-confidence. When one of the women was struggling with the roller skating, Ali reminded her, "This is not about being good at it, it's about doing it!"

Several of the women worried about whether they were being the role models they wanted to be to their children. They wanted their children to take risks, not let fear hold them back, to go out and take life on, but prior to stepping out of the box themselves, they weren't "walking the walk".

And by the end, one of the women declared with tears, "That voice in my head that I'm not good enough, that I can't do it, it's just gone!"

As I watched, I had one of those light bulb moments. I had stepped out of the box at a wedding reception in San Juan in 2007.

To put this in context, I never went to my prom or homecoming in high school, nor a single dance in college, because I was absolutely petrified of dancing. The very thought of "shaking it loose" on a dance floor gave me the hives. This came from two sources. First I have the proverbial two left feet. My husband and I have taken no fewer than three ballroom dancing classes to no avail. At the last, the instructor kept walking over to us and saying, "Just listen! Just listen to the beat." But that beat person wasn't talking to us....

Second, I'm simply inhibited. I could get through the ballroom dance class, though not with any grace, because I didn't mind following a teacher's instructions, left foot here, right foot there. And if I'd lived in the 1800's, I probably could have gotten through a country ball since you were taught where to put your hand and how many steps to take. But just go out there and trip the light fantastic...NOT.

In a college speech class, we were asked to do something difficult for us and report back. I went to a pet store and touched a live snake, after about an hour of false attempts and an impatient staff. But in class, when the girl after me announced she was going to demonstrate how it was hard to dance with a drink in one hand, then nodded to another student to hit the boom box as she free styled it up in front of the room, fake beer in one hand, I squirmed to even watch. I think I'd finally glimpsed what purgatory might be for me, and yet she seemed unfazed.

When a friend last year begged me to take a NIA class with her, I thought it was an exercise class. I have no problem with a step instructor yelling for you to hop on the step, hop off, wave your hands, you name it. You just follow instructions. When the NIA instructor had led us through a few exercises then started playing new music and the twenty or so of us in the room were to "let go and let our inner goddesses free" and women started swaying their bodies or lifting their arms and then moving around the room to stand in front of others in a free dance exchange, I thought I might pass out. I dodged the last ten minutes hiding in the bathroom and came out when the music ended and needless to say, never went back.

But for one brief moment, a little over a year ago, I was shaking my booty in my red dress, fearless.

Greg and I had been invited to a wedding in Puerto Rico and as I wrote earlier, arrived via the private jet of his clients. The night of the reception, the bride's family, who are from Puerto Rico were all out on the dance floor doing amazing things to Latin music. Sitting at a table in my Gap bargain $15 red dress, I was drinking my rare cocktail (I've never liked the taste of alcohol). It occurred to me that much of this music was like what we did in my new Zumba exercise class. After I'd finished my gin and tonic, Greg dared me if I'd drink one more, to the last drop, he'd go with me to the botanical gardens the next day. An offer not to be refused.

Before I'd completely finished my second glass, my toes were tapping and I felt like I could show these people some of the wonderful moves my teacher had us do each week. For the first time since the day we met in the law school library over a decade ago, I turned to Greg and asked if he wanted to dance. He looked out at the gyrating crowd of Latin salsa dancers and declined.

To his right was the client who had flown us down and I asked him. He said he didn't dance period. In fact, he said the reason he'd asked his wife to marry him (they've been married ten years) is that she also hated to dance. So I turned to his brother, who had also flown down with us and he said sure.

I got out on the dance floor and started doing my exercise routine with a flair even I didn't know I had. Not long after, the singer announced in her luscious accent, "We have some VERY brave people on the dance floor tonight."

I started rounding up other dead beats that were sitting at their tables. What's to fear? Get up! Dance!

At some hazy point the night ended and we retired to our room and the next day we visited the botanical gardens and a week later were home. When the pictures came back, I realized my dress had been a wee bit too tight, my hair flat as a pancake in the humidity, my eyeliner slightly smudged, my face flushed and my visions of how I looked out there dancing were just that - visions. I strongly suspect I wasn't quite the female Fred Astaire I thought I'd been;-).

But for that one brief moment, aided by a few glasses of brew, I was the fearless one all wrapped up in one red dress. And it was nice, for those few moments to be free of inhibitions.

Short of pouring gin over my granola cereal each morning, I wasn't quite sure how to get that free spirit back each day. But I kept the red dress just in case....And now, as I think back to that Oprah show, I think I get it. It's not just courage, liquid or otherwise. It's more about stepping out of my box and not letting my ego dictate who I can be. It's being okay with looking foolish and realizing that my ego's need to protect some created persona is not worth the costs.

I just did a google search for improvisation classes at a nearby theater. The current ones are done November 11, and I emailed to ask for the schedule of the next set of classes. Give some thought to how you could step out of your own box - and let that inner goddess free! Best Wishes! Eileen


  1. I also have a terrible fear of dancing and yet would LOVE to be able to dance. Hubs and I keep talking about taking dance classes. I think we'd really like it and, truth be told, something tells me we'd actually be good! One of these days...

  2. Daryl,

    Good wishes. Usually the classes are only five weeks, once a week and how fun to be able to twirl around the dance floor at the next wedding you're invited to. Next step....dancing with the stars??? Eileen

  3. I think that we are more able to "step out of the box" as we get older. I was very afraid of public speaking and now I have no problem with presenting in front of audiences or teaching classes. It was hard at first but teaching classes helped me enormously. But as you get older the "little voices" saying, "You can't do that!" go away. We become more sure of ourselves. I love to dance and DH hates it. I make him do one dance a wedding.

  4. Jill, I think that is a great point. One of the lovely graces of getting older is less fear of what others' think. That's a wonderful gift. Eileen