tl;dr As my course has become more and more about turning me into the kind of dancer I’m not, I have found refuge in working out and focusing on my own fitness, something that has been a source of shame in the past.
For anyone that’s wondering, my course isn’t going too well. There’s been transphobia and lack of basic respect at every turn. It’s hard. I’m not actually enjoying dance at the moment. This is only an acceptable situation because I know it’s going to end very soon.
But there is one thing that is going really well for me right: working out.
I was weak and very unfit when I started dancing and I knew it, and so I was embarassed to do anything that showed it in front of anyone else. I wouldn’t do any strengthening exercises to warm up for class, I wouldn’t stretch after class, I wouldn’t do anything that would draw attention to how unfit I was. I knew I had to be strong to be a dancer, and I knew I wasn’t, and so my insecurities took control and, instead of pushing myself to get stronger, I ran away from The Big Scary Thing in fear of being judged and told I couldn’t do the thing I loved.
This is not my fault. This is the fault of a system that had so many set expectations for me that I knew I couldn’t meet. It became easier for me to quit before I started.
And I’ve tried to commit to different exercise regiments over the course of my life. Some worked. Some didn’t. None ever lasted long enough to actually have any significant impact. I stopped doing most of them because I would fall into shame of not being good enough and despair of ever seeing real progress.
But, this year, I really committed to working out because my school has a tiny little “gym” that’s free for students.
I first tried one of the classes there and felt the same judgement and insecurity I had gotten before, so instead, I started going to free practice sessions. I still feel judged, but it is manageable, as everyone is focused on doing different things, as opposed to doing the same thing as me (except so much “better”). Sometimes I’m even lucky enough to be the only person in there.
I know I’m not as strong as most of the other people there, and I know I’m probably not doing the exercises “right”, but I also know that I’m getting stronger. And it’s actually really satisfying to look at my notes and see the numbers slowly increase over time.
While I’m on a course where I constantly have to be whatever my teacher wants me to be, working out has become the place where I can become what I want to be. I have complete control. I’m not as strong as I’d like, but I know I’m going to get there, because it’s what I want, and I’m watching myself plugging steadily onwards.
It’s a strange life reversal: working out, not dance, has become the place where I don’t have to be ashamed.
I think, at the end of the day, it’s important to recognize that not every system works for everybody. And that our emotions will impact how we are able to exercise. For me, instead of pushing myself through my shame and insecurity, I had to find a way to work out that impacted it in the least way possible. It was hard at first. But every time I do it, I gain a little more self-confidence. And maybe, by the time I lose access to my school’s equipment, I’ll have enough confidence to find another gym to keep working out at. I hope so, because I’m really enjoying this.