Empowered to Take Up All My Space

It took a LOT of courage to do this, but the person after me doing the poem with the drums asked me to partner with him and… I did it.

Here’s the text:

With sweat pouring off me, I’m stomping my feet and swishing my long skirt around me. I’m not quite on rhythm and I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror because I know my steps look nothing like my flamenco instructor, but I feel free. I’ve taken dance classes before – ballet and tap when I was young, swing and salsa in college and as a young adult – but flamenco is the one I want to continue with. Even more, it’s what I want to be a metaphor for my life.

When I took ballet, it was always about trying to be graceful, staying quiet and in my place, and – even as a young child – not being too large. It took me until I was about seven or eight to lose my baby fat and slim down, and my ballet teacher poked at my belly and told me that I ate too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and that I needed to suck in my stomach. I was five.

Ballet dancers look beautiful and I admire their hard work and dedication. But I also know the sacrifices they make for their art – the long, unbroken lines come from brutally carrying their weight on the tips of their toes, something the human body is not made for.  The slim physique of ballet dancers comes from strenuous physical activity, but also, too often, from disordered eating or substance abuse.

Flamenco, on the other hand, embraces whatever size, shape, or age a woman is. My flamenco teacher is constantly telling us to “take up all your space.” It’s about being stable on your feet and your hips, using all the body that you have, and learning the technique in a way that you can impart the dance with all the soul and feeling needed. You are encouraged to land heavily on the floor, to lean into steps with all your weight, and to use your hands and arms in large, sweeping movements. You are also encouraged to make noise.

Another thing that draws me to flamenco is how empowered the women look. There is a specific look cultivated with this dance, and empowered really is the best word I can think of for it. Women keep their head up, look proud, and don’t lower their eyes for anyone.

There’s also the stomping – which is clearly not the official term and my flamenco teacher would be angry with me for using it – that is so cathartic. I found the perfect description from the unlikeliest of sources, Wikipedia.) “El baile flamenco is known for its emotional intensity, proud carriage, expressive use of the arms, and rhythmic stamping of the feet.” Female flamenco dancers often use large, colorful scarves and skirts, taking up all their space like proud tropical birds, but fiercer.

I keep going back to these dance lessons because they remind me that I want to live like that. Not proud in a narcissistic way, but proud in a non-apologetic way. I had to spend so much of my life apologizing for who I was, in both words and actions, that I didn’t get to have that proud carriage. I still feel so often like my spirit is broken and flawed in an irreparable way that it’s hard for me to accept that I have the right to have a “proud carriage.” I come off as empowered to many people because I’m opinionated and not afraid of public speaking, but that’s not how I feel. I want to have the empowerment inside too.

I also want to feel like I have the right to take up all my space. I don’t want to try to be smaller or shrink into spaces that don’t quite fit me. I want to take up the space that I take up and stomp if I need to. Not to be angry and reactionary, but to be myself, proud, expressive, and fighting for my rights. I want to express myself in stomping if I need to. I want to stomp because I am beautiful and persevering and have learned to hold my head up high.

 

 

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