What I Learned From Dancing For 31 Days


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Things I Learned From Dancing On Video Every Day For a Month

Or, a letter to my February self

Dear February Mariah,

That outrageous-seeming idea you have about dancing on video every day for 31 days? Well, you’re gonna do it. 

You got the idea for #31daysofdance while dancing around the living room to Macklemore’s “Downtown,” in an effort to shake off some doldrums or another; you won’t even remember later what you were sad about. But you very distinctly had the thought, “If I committed to doing this on video every day, that would ensure that I'd dance every day.” Right now, you’re not sure you will actually do it. But, you will. You will post your commitment to this month-long challenge on social media to ensure that you stick with it. 

As you make these videos, there will be times when you dance and you feel so fucking free or sexy or beautiful or just like you’re nailing it. There will be times when you don’t feel anything. All of this is ok. 

You dance differently on video. You will spend the month trying to capture the freedom and unfiltered joy you feel when you dance alone or on a dance floor, and sometimes succeeding, but mostly doing battle with the Self Consciousness Demons. This battle is good for you; those demons spend a lot of time in the background and this battle makes them explicit. Stare them in the face. Talk to them.

You will sometimes do many many takes because you don’t like anything your body is doing. Through watching these many takes, you will learn more about the way your body moves than 31 years living in it has taught you. The more you watch these takes, the more you like what you see.

You will start with elaborately planned costumes and shticks. These will quickly give way to let’s-get-this-done-before-I-go-to-bed, eh-good-enough, hurried scraps of dancing. This is good, too. You learn that the most important thing is to show up, no matter how tired you are. You learn to accept your late-night unpolished ass-shaking as holy, even when you don’t think it’s particularly “creative.”

You will tag your posts with hashtags like #pithairdontcare and #nobranoproblem. This will quickly bring Instagram creeps out of the woodwork, strangers talking about your nipples and telling you they want to lick your hairy armpits. You will become protective of your body in a new way. 

And yet, you will also use this experiment to embrace your long-muffled desire to set thirst traps on the internet. You will wear your disco adventure suit with the tiny booty shorts and bend over in front of the camera. You will wear a sports bra and a barely-there skirt and sprawl onto your bed with limbs akimbo. You will own your body on the internet in a more public, sustained way than before. 

You will struggle with the fact that this is 31 Days of DANCE, not 31 Days of CHOREOGRAPHY. You will discover that what feels good in your body doesn’t always look good on video. You’ll want to do more “interesting” things on video. You’ll be editing yourself in your mind as you move. Sometimes this will lead to what feels like genius. Sometimes you’ll just be frustrated, but you will post the video anyway. This is good. Perfection is for assholes. 

When you choose to dance to Ginuwine’s “Pony” and do a whole Magic Mike thing, watching the footage will awaken a gender dysphoria you didn’t know was possible for you. You want to dance with raw butch swagger, like Channing Tatum or Justin Timberlake or, even, like Jenna Dewing on Lip Sync Battle; what you see on video is a gangly 12-year-old girl playing dress up. You will do take after take, and in the end still have to paste 4 takes together (for a 60-second video) to feel ok about sharing it. This will feel a little like when you panicked while trying to choose an outfit for your Bitmoji, frustrated with how fucking gendered all the options were, everything looking wrong on your avatar body. You won’t know it at the time, but these moments will make it possible, very soon, for you to finally ask yourself whether you identify as nonbinary...but that is a story for another day. 

You will feel sometimes like you are dancing out your breakup. Like you are shaking grief out of your body. Mourning with your limbs and your hips and your hands. Do more of this. 

You will hear from EVERYONE about how much they’re enjoying the videos. For a time, you will scarcely get an email that doesn’t start with, “Hey! I’m loving the dance videos!” This is not the main reason you’re making them, but it heals something in your relationship with social media to know that you’re putting content out there that brings people joy. At the same time, be careful not to spiral when people respond more strongly to one video than another. That doesn’t mean the other video sucked. 

Lip-syncing is holy. A capella dancing is holy. Prince is holy.

Your dance background from childhood still lives in you. Welcome it when it shows up. Just because you’re not as flexible as you were in middle school doesn’t mean you can’t développé like a mother fucker. Just because your college dance teachers insisted on the superiority of a particular kind of movement (one that didn't come naturally to you) doesn’t mean you can’t channel the way you would have moved back then. 

You will want other people to join you, but that will happen on video only once. What happens instead is that dance begets dance, and you get your butt onto dance floors and into dance classes (which, hilariously, sometimes takes time away from your dance videos). Welcome this. Dance with other humans. Let your body connect with other bodies, read their signals, marvel in the wonder of physical contact with consenting strangers. Discover the importance of moving through great big rooms and consider that maybe your apartment cannot contain you. Take up space. 

Most of all, this experiment will teach you that if you really commit to doing something every day, you can do it. That means being willing to do it at 1am, that means being willing to do it imperfectly, but it means doing it. Showing up to do it no matter what, letting it be a day late a couple times but never ever skipping a day.

Keep showing up. For yourself. For your body. For your healing. For your freedom.

You will decide, when the experiment is over, that this is not the end of you dancing on video. You’ll be relieved to be free of the pressure, but you will also miss the regular excuse to shake your ass, and the joy it’s brought you to share it with the world. 

A week after the experiment ends, after a particularly crushing rejection, you’ll be making breakfast to “Hold Me Now” by the Thompson Twins, and you’ll find yourself dancing all over the kitchen, dancing to reclaim your joy. You know that this dance is flowing out of you more easily because of the month you just spent dancing on video. It will occur to you to commemorate this moment on camera. And then, a little Voice inside you will say, “Don’t record this.”

Listen to it. After all, listening to your body was always the whole point.

I love you,
Your April Self

P.S. I'd be remiss if I didn't shout out some of my dance Patronuses! Jess Grippo has been a huge catalyst in getting my butt moving again (I recorded these two videos after one of her workshops), and Anne Marsen has had my heart since her appearance in the seminal indie film Girl Walk - start with Chapter 1.

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And One last thing before you go:

FOSTA-SESTA has very much jeopardized the safety and livelihoods of sex workers; Teen Vogue's primer on the whole thing is a good one. If you're looking for places to send your money to help sex workers, here are a few. (Full disclosure: I found some of these resources second-hand and haven't thoroughly vetted them all, but I trust the channels through which they were recommended.)
Red Light Legal
US PROS Collective
Red Umbrella Fund
Sex Worker Giving Circle