Earlier this year there was a story about a gentleman called Sean O'Brien. Sean was body-shamed on social media for the “crime” of dancing. While he was enjoying himself, others took photos and uploaded them to 4Chan with the intention of humiliating him. It worked.
To a degree.
But it didn't take long for a group of people to pick up on the post and turn it around. Needless to say, Sean danced again, this time to a very different response.
Well over ten years ago, I went through something similar. There was one thing I loved to do... Dance. I'd go to clubs and concerts and just let myself be free. As a larger lady, I didn't care that my body probably wasn't designed to move to music. Music spoke to me and that's all I cared about.
Then the inevitable happened. While at a club one night someone pointed out that others were laughing at me.
My heart was shattered. I felt worthless. Humiliated. Ugly. In a split second, I went from a 20-something woman with the world at her feet to a frightened mouse. Little did I know how much those words would affect me, not just in that moment but for years to come.
That one moment helped to break my confidence and self-esteem. Where once I would have dressed up to go out, I instead hid myself away. I clothed myself in baggy clothing. I stopped going to clubs and concerts. I stopped listening to music except when I was walking to and from work. In my eyes, I was worthless. Everything I worked on, from films to books to jobs was worth nothing. I was worth nothing and didn't believe either myself, or anything I did, should hold any value.
Moments like that shouldn't have been inevitable because everyone should be free to express themselves through dance. No one should feel like they have to hold back because of the way they look or move. Music lives within us, built in to our bodies, and the desire to move with it is overwhelming. So much so that it shouldn't be suppressed just because of what others around us think.
Yet so often this desire is hidden away, the fear of ridicule crippling us. We want to sway, or bounce, or wave our arms. But we're scared of what the people around us will think.
On 3rd October 2015, I decided it was time to chase away the shame and stigma that I'd attached to myself for so long. Thanks to my day job, I'd met a wonderful group of people all of who attend a local Zumba class. Over a number of months, their gentle persuasion became good natured pressure until I finally cracked.
It would be fun.
It would be an opportunity to get out.
But it still made me nervous.
A barrage of questions rolled around my head. What did I wear? What were the people like? Would I fit in?
It was a long walk to the venue, one that left me with plenty of time to change my mind and turn around. Already I was making up excuses, preparing them for Monday morning. I didn't feel well. My back ached. I was tired. It had been a long week. I needed to wash my hair. All of them plausible in my mind.
Yet, at the same time, I knew I'd be letting down the very people who'd invested time and love in me. They wanted to see me there. They wanted me to join in. It was at that moment that I realised that people did want me around. They did want to know me. And they weren't judging me.
So I continued my walk until I found myself at a school on the other side of town. There were lots of cars arriving and leaving, all of them I assumed going to the Saturday morning football match. I felt alone and scared, my nerves getting the better of me. But I'd gotten this far so there was no giving up.
Walking through the gates, I looked around and tried to find a hint of where this two hour dance class would be. Finally I saw people who looked like they might be heading to such a class (think sports wear). Quietly I fell in line behind them until someone noticed me. They turned, smiled, and introduced themselves before asking if I was there to dance.
I was. And that tiny spark of recognition form a complete stranger was all it took to relax me.
I danced for two whole hours, only stopping to catch my breath or take a drink. It didn't matter that I didn't know the moves. It didn't matter that I was completely out of time. No one stared at me. No one judged me. No one laughed at me. I was having the time of my life and I'd found a safe, happy space where I could be myself.
Slowly... Slowly... I can feel my confidence returning. And I can't wait for the next class! (Which won't be 2 hours long, thank goodness!)
No one should be shamed for dancing. No one should feel like they have to stand in a corner because of the way they look. Music moves us, just as it should. Let it flow through you and enjoy the experience.