Shaka Lee wearing Galen Hooks Method Apparel Sweatshirt that says I Am A Dancer

My Dance Journey; Part One – I Am a Dancer

Before I ever thought of teaching dance I had to get comfortable calling myself a dancer again. A title that I let get stripped away from me.

This is part one of my dance journey.

I was a performer by nature. As a child, I had a knack for dance and was always demanding the attention of my father and grandmother. I would dress up and float around the house to classical music on my tippy toes, pretending to be a ballerina. Or I would thrust my hips in a belly top to Britney Spears. Whenever there was music playing I was dancing. My family couldn’t afford to send me to dance classes so I learned most of my dance moves from music videos on TV. It was something I never considered doing professionally but something that just brought me joy.

As a teen, I attended an art school that gave me my first taste at classical dance styles such as ballet, jazz and modern. The postures were not natural for me and there was so much technique I wasn’t used to. Dancing had never been so technical. But I never gave up. I was so undyingly passionate about it that I never showed up late to my 8:55 am class. I learned as much as I could in those two short years and pushed my body to the limits, trying so hard to perfect my posture, flexibility and balance. Since never attending childhood ballet classes like most of my classmates I had a lot of catching up to do. 

Just before the start of my final school year, I started dating a hip hop dancer who had just graduated. I was so excited. In my mind, it would be just like all those movies I had grown up watching, Save the Last Dance, Step Up, Take the Lead, etc. Two young dancers with different backgrounds and dance styles, falling in love and dancing together. He and his friends would spend all their time dancing. I felt like I was finally around people who would understand my passion for dance.

One day I admitted this embarrassing fantasy to him and he looked at me, a little confused. “But you’re not a dancer,” he told me. At those words, I felt my entire identity shatter. Clearly, he had the authority to say something like this as he was a professional dancer; he appeared in music videos, he taught classes and he had years of dance training. All of which I did not. I liked to dance, but I was not a dancer. I must have been fooling myself.

For the rest of our four-year (on and off) relationship, I would hide my love for dance. I supported him as a dancer; I would watch him and his crew rehearse, watch him teach classes, accompany him to street battles, help him prepare for performances, lend money to get his team matching gear. But I knew my place. I was a dancer’s girlfriend, I was not a dancer. That was his world and I did not belong in it.

It was even harder when we lived together. Only during the late evenings when I was alone at home would I get the courage to dance. I would let myself get high, blast my music and dance, sometimes for hours. It was a kind of therapy for me in those dark times. Feeling the music move my body helped keep me sane. But I kept this behaviour a secret. 

In our last chaotic year together I started gogo dancing. I needed some extra money and when a fellow model let me in on her side gig I became so intrigued that within a week I was hired by the company she danced for. Could I really get paid to dance? The only reason I ever went out with my friends was to dance to the blasting music. And now I was making money doing it? Performing for the entire venue, and no one was allowed to bother me? This was a dream. 

Of course when I told him about my new job he was not supportive. In his mind “shaking my ass” still did not make me a dancer, even if I was getting paid for it. It made him deeply uncomfortable. 

In the last rocky year of our relationship, I wasn’t able to find frequent work as a gogo dancer anymore and dance completely disappeared from my life. 

Around a year and a half later (and in a healthy, supportive relationship I might add) I opened the newspaper and found a little article about a Beyonce themed dance class for women. This struck me as the perfect dance class. I found out that the class was taught in heels and although they were optional they helped define the movement as more feminine. The next week I booked a day off work and went by myself to take the class. I strapped on my tallest heels and bought some new dance shorts just for the occasion. 

The first class was not easy. Even after gogo dancing in heels for years I had trouble keeping my balance. The routine had moves I had never done before and I was always forgetting what came next. But when the routine was over and we were left to freestyle I felt that inner performer come back to life for the first time in so long. I left the class feeling sensual and powerful, and I knew I needed this back in my life. So I bought a package of five more classes and took Wednesdays off my permanent availability from work.

For three years straight I trained for four to eight hours a week. I took classes, workshops and I was even accepted into a heels dance company. I loved learning from these mastermind teachers, the environment of these classes and the supportive friends that I had made. In late 2018 I started gogo dancing again regularly. I was now performing with multiple companies all over the city, learning the samba and performing with a small troupe and still trying to take classes whenever I could, yet I had difficulty calling myself a dancer. 

Although the wounds of that past relationship were healed up long ago, there was one that remained open. Even with the years of technical training under my belt and the number of professional dance companies I had danced and performed with, I still didn’t feel like I was good enough to be called a dancer. 

I realized I had to change my self-talk. I needed to stop thinking that I had to prove myself to someone else. The only way I could feel like I was a dancer was to believe it myself. I needed to start giving myself credit. When others asked me what I did, I started including dance. Whenever I received compliments on my dancing I stopped brushing them off. When friends would introduce me as a dancer I no longer corrected them. 

Today I can call myself a dancer because I know it is a part of who I am and it always will be. No one can take that away. 

Although it was an unconventional beginning, this will always be the start of my dance journey.

2 Comments

  • Bhavya Sharma

    I love your journey! I feel like I’m on the same path , I’ve been struggling to integrate my love of dance with the wound of losing years of skill training. I do have a lot of catching up to do, your journey has inspired me to approach that part of me I have abandoned for years: thank you for this precious gift!

    • Shaka Lee

      Wow. I am so delighted that you resonated with this. Dance is such a beautiful art form but it can get so stale when you take away the feeling from it. Technique is truly beautiful to watch, but the feeling is what truly captures an audience – and what makes it FEEL so good!
      I’m so sad to hear when people lose their love for dance, so I’m so glad you hear that you are on your path to finding it again. Makes me so happy! <3

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