I look on with longing at the curvy brunette dancing in front of me. The red dress she is wearing has strategically placed ruching that makes it impossible to look away from her amazing ass. I’m embarrassed a little at the intensity of the emotion I am feeling in response to a piece of clothing. But more than that, it is about how the woman looks moving in it. She is so confident, so unashamed of her best attributes, flaunting around her beauty as if it was a favor she was performing to benefit the whole of humankind.
I loved and hated tango at that moment. I loved seeing the possibility that women could be so powerful in their bodies, so unabashedly sensual. I hated that I could not do that, that I was not that, that I could never be that. The distance between where I was psychologically and the mindset she seemed to occupy was like from earth to the moon - it’s right there in front of me but reaching it within my lifetime felt close to impossible. I knew I had the weirdest body in the room, I knew that it was an odd shape, my nose was crooked, my thighs were too big, my belly was too round, my arms were too flabby, my teeth were crooked. I knew all of these imperfections by heart and kept vigilant track of them, using the mirror as an opportunity to point out to myself each one. It was like a checklist I would go through each time I saw a reflection of myself.
“Belly still too big. Check.
Look how big my highs are in these pants. Check
Nose is so crooked, I should smile less. Check”
I actually remember training myself to smile less on the right side of my face because that would help my nose to remain more even.
It’s funny (although a bit embarrassing) to admit to the unusual patterns of destructive and disrespectful beliefs I held about myself. Now that I am on the other side of that, on the moon, looking back at where I was. Now it’s silly. But back then, it was my truth, it was my reality.
There was no way I could be like her. Period.
who said that I couldn’t indulge in a private fantasy of my own from time to time? Who would know? In this dark crowded milonga, who would care? And if I close my eyes, even better, then I can truly feel safe. I can pretend I know the music and that my movements are graceful, that I actually know what I am doing and I am doing it well.
So I indulged. I imagined myself wearing that dress, I imagined myself moving like her, I imagined being beautiful, I imagined myself feeling confident, but only in secret, only with my eyes closed. God forbid I see a reflection of myself while dancing.
It was a few months later that, with a fair amount of disbelief and utter terror, I found myself sitting at that same milonga, wearing the dress. The double layered red fabric hugged and stretched across my body in the most pleasant and almost inappropriate ways. My heart was pounding in my chest as I tried to convince myself not to go change into something else... something less revealing...
“I just know that the slit is too high, the dress is too tight on me, it looks ridiculous, people are gonna laugh, they are gonna judge, and that ruching!”
As I sit and wait for that first dance I use all of my mental power to invoke Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill where she wills her body to overcome paralysis. And finally the moment comes and someone does ask me to dance, and I feel myself get up and walk onto the dance floor. Internally I am literally on the verge of a panic attack because everyone inside my head is convinced that I am naked. As I begin to dance, I do the unthinkable, I search out my reflection in the mirror. I need to make sure that I am not naked. At first I don’t see myself, I see her.
“She is wearing the same dress as me! I wonder if it looks on me as good as it does on her. She is so hot…”
I use the next turn as an opportunity to glance in the mirror one more time to assess if my worst fears are true. But once I spot the reflection of the woman in red again I realize that it was my own reflection I was looking at all along. I was fully clothed, thank God, and for the length of that moment, before I remembered to pull out my checklist, I was exactly who I thought I could never be. I was beautiful.