“But you can’t dance,” she said.
Now everyone was looking at me and their pity burnt into my skin. I took my bag and left.
For annual days and school programmes, I would see the dancers come in early for makeup. They would come with their mothers, who brought huge bags, and wait for their names to be called. They would sit on a chair and the bearded makeup man would then start painting their faces.
The entire room would smell of wet powder, cheap lipstick and sweat.
They would then get their hair set and more helpers would tug at long wigs with threads. They would put on sun and moon ornaments, adjust their arapatta (golden waistband) and put on loads of safety pins.
The dancers would be given lemon juice with a straw so as to not ruin their lipstick. Some dancers would eat a vegetable puff discreetly. Photos would be taken in some dance pose. Thick anklets would announce their arrival, and people would look at them. They would do some step feebly in the corner, with their friends, so as to not forget it on stage.
When I heard there were openings when it came to dance, I rushed. We were asked to follow a choreographed set piece. I couldn’t follow it. I couldn’t do it. I tried to squat and hold my fingers properly. I tried to look lovingly at my invisible baby. I tried to pick invisible flowers from invisible trees.
I was suddenly conscious of my body, my movements and myself.
I wanted to cry.
The dance teacher came to me and said, “Did you think you would be able to dance looking that fat? Do not waste my time.”
That is when I realised I couldn’t dance. Or perhaps, that I shouldn’t.
Farewell party came and went. College fresher party came and went. Multiple parties came and went. I would want to jump in and dance recklessly. But then people would look at me.
Being a public speaker did not bother me. But being a dancer did. People would point out that my hands have no grace, my hips fall flat, and my legs don’t have any motion. So when asked to dance, I would modestly say “not today” and follow it up with a smile. If I couldn’t avoid it, I would just look at other people, and copy their steps. Anything was better than mine.
But then eventually, I realised that I’m not alone. There are so many people who modestly take a step back when all they want to do is jump in – people who have been told that they can’t dance; people have been told how they should dance.
To finally dance with abandon was an act of revolution.
Dancing is one of the purest forms to break free from the leash that you willingly and unknowingly tied yourself to. To dance with abandon is to own your body in its complete and utter and beauty and grossness. To let the music cook your blood and make it wild. To have absolutely no poise. To let a kind of sexuality awaken in you. To occupy your space, however big or small. To dance hard and leave your shirt stained with sweat. To throw your hair around and let it stick to your back. To not care whether people look or don’t.
To just be.
I look completely stupid while I am dancing. My legs and hands don’t match. My face looks like it’s going to melt. My hips toss about like pouring one cup of tea to another.
When we give in to this kind of recklessness, little else can equal it.
Featured image credit: Shashank Gangwar/Unsplash