How does an insecure sixty-something, wrinkled-knee, loose-skinned, menopausal grandmother survive in a ballroom full of mirrors?
Welcome to the world I live in two hours, three days a week—the world of pro-am competitive ballroom dancing. There are very few celebrities in my world, but there is a great deal of sweat and hard work. If you were to visit us, one of the first things you might notice is that mirrors completely cover three walls of the ballroom. Oh, you’re probably thinking, “that’s no big deal, I pass mirrors without looking all the time”—me, too, but not during a dance lesson. During a dance lesson my teacher makes me look, over and over again.
“Let’s do some mirror work,” he says—remember when you were a kid and your mom said, “let’s go clean your room?” She wasn’t really planning on cleaning much was she? It’s kind of like that only I whine more now than I did then.
In spite of my whining though, I usually learn something. For example, last week I learned that my new pants cut into the soft flesh around my waist creating a very unfortunate bulge, and the cropped, khaki pants I bought at The Gap a couple of years ago—let’s just say, another error in judgment.
Then there was the new sleeveless top I bought last summer to dance in. Sixty-two years old, lots of mirrors, no tan, sleeveless? Bad idea. Then I bought a long-sleeved top that I just knew would be great, but every time I raised my arm (and I do that a lot), my soft, white stomach was showing. So I bought a tunic length long-sleeved, white shirt—that should do it, right? Nope, sweat-stains.
Now I own four long-sleeved black leotards and four pairs of extra long black pants.
But it’s not just my body that gets reflected. After the first fifteen minutes of each lesson, my freckles (all right, age spots, who am I kidding?) have emerged in full force because my makeup base has melted off. My mascara, on the other hand, is still on my face—it’s just under my eyes rather than on my eyelashes, and my lipstick is usually on my teeth because I’ve been chewing my lip.
That seems bad enough, but one day it actually got worse. We were doing some mirror work on the Tango and I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror as we changed direction and stopped suddenly—at least, my bones stopped, my skin just kept going. I watched as the skin on one side of my face slid past my jawbone. Finally, after a second or two, whatever elasticity my skin has left brought everything back into alignment, but I assure you those seconds were as stretched and distorted as my poor skin.
Another day, I was feeling pretty good about how I looked as I danced down the room, but, suddenly, between one mirror panel and another, I put on about ten pounds—all in the wrong places. When I got to the next panel, it was gone, but when I moved closer to that panel, it was back. Sort of like fun house mirrors without any of the fun.
In defense of the mirror and my poor abused teacher, however, I have to admit that sometimes I do learn something helpful. Last week, for example, we were working on this turn in the Foxtrot and I couldn’t get it—until I saw myself in the mirror. No wonder I couldn’t get it—my head and feet were hardly in the same hemisphere by the time I turned around. And sometimes, I look better than I thought–sometimes.
Now, you and I both know that my skin is going to get looser not tighter, and that bulges will continue to pop out, so I figure focusing on those things is not helpful. Instead, I am trying to learn to be grateful instead—grateful for the ability and opportunity to learn. After all, I never imagined I’d get to learn to dance in my sixties, even if I do have to do it in a hall of mirrors.
And, trust me, if I can do this, you can probably do anything—you just have to really want it. So find something, if you haven’t already, that let’s you see past the bulges and loose skin. Find something that’s so important to you, that even a room full of mirrors won’t stop you from pursuing it. And when something tries to distort your reflection and discourage you, ignore it, it’s probably just a faulty mirror.