“I love to dance,” Sarah Jessica Parker says in the opening to the 1983 movie Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Her character had years of experience, but six-year-old Wren just had Dance, Dance Revolution and an electric blue tutu. Even so, I was not discouraged from performing multiple sets of impromptu dances. With my Nana’s back yard for my stage, and adoring family members my audience, I felt wild, I felt safe.
My family was a young one. I was the first grandchild on both sides, a child of children. I grew up as one of the girls, giving out clothing advice, and dancing in living rooms with all the furniture pushed to the corners. With my mom, confidence was never an issue. She would pick me up in a room filled with her friends and twirl me across the room. I was the Ginger to her Fred, always down for a foxtrot.
As you get older, you are expected to have strained parental relationships, to blush when your mom calls you sweetie, or love. Instead of shoving the couch against a wall, swinging your hips, and throwing your face toward the ceiling, you are expected to sit on a couch with your hands in your lap, back straight and mouth closed. You are expected to stop dancing. You are expected to grow up.
So I did. I stopped asking questions, I stopped dancing in my Nana’s backyard, stopped talking at all. In class, if you didn’t know something or asked a “dumb” question then you were immature, young. So why risk it? I was already a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier than any girl in my grade. School dances were spent leaning against the wall, an appropriate distance from the “mature” girls clad in eyeliner and the perfect xs tube top. Trying to blend as a 5’8, 140 pound, red-headed sixth grader wasn’t that easy. I wasn’t the perfectly petite Sarah Jessica Parker, I was the Rock starring as Little Orphan Annie. If all a gingered Dwayne Johnson could do to hide was to mold into the wall of my middle school gymnasium, he was going to darn well try. The pretty girls didn’t dance, so I didn’t dance.
One summer, my mom took a friend and me to a movie in the city square. The city set up a huge blow up movie screen, and tonight was playing the 1978 classic, Grease. It was one of my all time favorite films so I obviously sung along—under my breath—to every single song. When the movie got to its climax, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John singing “You’re the One that I Want,” my mom stood up, in front of at least 1,000 people, began to dance. This was a scene that had occured many a time in the safety of my living room. But here? I full body blushed. When my mom offered me her hand, I instinctually shook my head. Not ready to be stared at, laughed at. I expected relief to flood my body when I said no, but all I felt was instant regret. I sat there thinking of the perfectly lean girls. They were not having fun, I cannot recall a single smile. If being immature, being young meant that I would finally be content and confident, then I would have put on a tutu right then. I sprang up from our folding chair, pulled my friend up with me, and we danced, laughed and twirled so hard, it meant clinging to each other to keep from falling. In a perfect movie moment the entire square would have jumped up, relinquished their insecurities and just danced. But alas, people are people with all their own insecurities, and we didn’t need them. We were not afraid. I stopped being afraid. I joined student government, tried out for the cross country team, I grew up. And I did so my own way.
High School was no waltz. I struggled at home, failed a test, never got asked to dance. I never ended up finding the John Travolta to my Olivia Newton John, but that’s because I realized Olivia is more my type. I learned I am the type of President that is more focused on community projects than dances, an athlete more interested in losing herself in the endorphins than winning the race. I learned that I stopped growing at 5’8, and I am pissed I’ll never reach six feet. One inch off of being a Victoria’s Secret model, but hey, they say they are too mature for me anyways. I don’t belong on runways, I belong in grassy backyards and shallow streams, being just a girl, having fun.