Friday, February 11, 2011

Identity Shift


So many possibilities for the prompt this week! Serious - a death, a plague. Literal - an earthquake, a mudslide. Fun - first kiss, first airplane ride. Love - a wedding, a birth. It would be fun to take this prompt  and do 3 versions. And, of course, there's always the choice whether to write fiction or non-fiction. I tend to prefer to write fiction for the Red Writing Hood since I have my blog for non-fiction, but this one called me to go autobiographical. So, here's what I ended up with:

•  •  •  •  •  •  • •  •  •  •

Identity Shift

I could never have imagined that I would love something so girly. Most of the time I preferred to dig in the dirt with trucks, play softball and be rough and tumble. Kids decided that I must be a boy since I had short hair and didn't want to wear a dress or play with dolls. I wished I had some way to belong in the category of "girl" other than my anatomy. This dichotomy of gender and expectation was an invisible membrane that surrounded me and prevented me from being able to settle into an identity.

My parents encouraged me to do and be anything, and offered me opportunities to participate in lots of activities, partly because they were forward-thinkers, and partly because my mother, herself once a tomboy, wanted to get me out of the house to burn off energy. In addition to playing softball, I took ice skating lessons, swim lessons and eventually played soccer and tennis. So when they signed me up for dance, the hyper-active, outgoing part of me was glad for an activity while the tomboy side was dreading the idea of having to put on tights and a leotard.

The dance studio where I began my training was owned by a couple in their 50's, Miss Nina and Mr. Bill. Their influences were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They were not big on Madonna or the new MTV; a bit of Fosse was as edgy as they got. The dress code was strictly black leotards and pink tights (white t-shirts and black shorts for boys), no crazy neon colors, no cute little tutus. Girls with long hair were required to wear it in a ponytail or a bun, and Miss Nina was known to pull on those to get students to focus in the right direction. A poster that read "DISCIPLINE" was the only adornment above the barre. She demanded a lot from us, and for a bundle of energy who needed an outlet, it was a perfect fit. I craved the structure and loved the hard work.

The rigidity of their system was evidenced by the age-restrictions for classes for the different styles of dance. I began attending when I was five. My only option was a combo class - half an hour of tap and half an hour of tumbling. At some point I switched to a full hour for each, but I can't quite recall when. Once I was eight, I was allowed to start ballet. I know it was a big deal that I was finally old enough to do it which is the only reason I can think I would have wanted to since ballet is such an exceptionally feminine style.

I don't remember the specifics of that first class, the steps we learned, the music that was played. What I do remember is how I felt. Euphoric. Free. The barrier dividing me was gone, and I was enveloped in a snug, comfortable layer of wholeness. Though I still enjoyed boyish interests, I had found my niche in feminine pursuits. For the first time, I knew I was where I was supposed to be, doing what God created me to do.

I had only seen myself from one perspective until then; the whole world shifted.

**Footnote: Miss Nina is at least in her 80's and still teaching little ones a few times a week at the Parks and Rec.

This post was inspired by the prompt "begin your piece with the words, "I could never have imagined" and end it with "Then the whole world shifted" in 600 words or less. Constructive criticism welcome.


Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points said...

Ah...very sweet!

My mom enrolled me in dance when I was a wee thing.

She told people it was for activity and something every little girl should experience.

My dad knew the truth.

She was trying to make me less clumsy.

I'm still clumsy.

But not when I dance. ;)

HonestConvoGal said...

Lovely post. I can imagine a small you very seriously tapping and tumbing. I tumbled both on the mat and off horses and out of trees. I also had short hair and boy toys to go along with My Little Ponies and Glamour Girls. I have 2 boys now, which lets me scratch that tomboy itch. It would be fun to have a daughter, like you, though, to do the girl stuff with. I like your memoir writing. Your story telling is just as strong when its true as when you're lyin' your butt off. :)

Not Just Another Jennifer said...

Thanks, ladies! I'm also uber-clumsy, except when I'm dancing. Mostly....

See, I was terrified to have girls because I just didn't know what to do with them? I thought I would be better able to relate to a boy. But I've found that so far, S has broad interests and hasn't felt the need to be "girly" yet. That day will probably come. And then? I'll have to call my sister in for reinforcements. :)

Valerie said...

I was a tom boy too! I took ballet lessons for just a few weeks before the instructor politely told me that my talents were definitely elsewhere. I was the one in class who went leaping off to the left-when everyone else went leaping off to the right:)

Great piece of writing!

Not Just Another Jennifer said...

Oh, you poor thing! I really don't know how it was a good fit for me, because, honestly? I can't walk without tripping at least once a day. Thanks!

Melanie said...

So sweet and touching! You have a knack for storytelling. I love your word choices in the way you described the dance studio - made the studio come to life for me. Really good stuff.

I'm stopping by via the RDC as well as my own blog - which you commented on a couple of days ago. Thanks for sharing. Appreciated your words.

So nice to meet you and I look forward to visiting your blog more often.

Anonymous said...

I never got into dance as a child, and let me tell you, when I wanted to be a Broadway actress in high school, I regretted the hell out of that!

I love the moment of finding your purpose.

Angie said...

Oh, this takes me back to many hours of dance lessons in my own childhood. I never got that beautiful sense of falling into place, though--dance and I were NOT made for each other. I do love the contradiction of a tomboyish girl in a leotard and pink tights, and you described it so well.

We try to box girls in too tightly. I was big into horses and had short hair, but loved girly things, too. I'm hoping my daughter will feel free to try lots of things before society demands that she identify her perfect fit.

Thanks for sharing this!

Cheryl said...

I'm glad you found something you loved, no matter what it was.

My daughter, at age 5, has already tried dance (tap and ballet), soccer, gymnastics and softball. I figure the more she tries, the more opportunity to find her passion.

Anonymous said...

You are such a fantastic writer.

I always wanted to dance, but our small town didn't have a studio and my parents couldn't afford the classes or the drive time in the next town over. (30 miles away.)

This made me wish all the more that I'd had that chance. Sure as shootin' my kids will be signed up!

Mommy Shorts said...

I love this! It totally reminds me of my dance classes as a little girl. I took Jazz & Gym and every recital was structured around the grand finale, me doing a back bend and then walking like a crab across the mats. And then the time came for us to join the real ballet class. I lasted two or three lessons. I could do the crab but grace was a totally different story.

Blue Moon Girl said...

I could totally picture this little girl being the tomboy, but finding her "girly" side in dance. Very well described! It was enough to picture everything without going overboard. A lovely use of the prompt. I really enjoyed this!

Yuliya said...

I loved this, (I think I told you on Twitter that I did)
while ballet doesn't sound like fun to me at all, I love that it worked for the "tomboy"
and that DISCIPLINE sign? I need to get one of those for my house...

Jill said...

Aw. I love this. I was a dancer too. Visiting from TRDC.

Not Just Another Jennifer said...

Thanks everyone for all the comments! I really appreciate those of you stopping by from TRDC - there were so many entries last week!

Ginny Marie said...

I agree with you...I could write so many more stories using this prompt! Maybe I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I have writer's block. I'm glad you chose the story you did; it was fun to read about that pivotal point in your childhood.

I never took dance class as a little girl, and so I'm living vicariously through my two little girls. They love dance!

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