Flaxen Haired Darling

“I’m the blonde! get to be the princess!” the words echo in my mind 25 years later. The year was 1989. The location, Hillsborough, California. I lived across the tracks in the less ostentatious suburb of Burlingame. Preschool was cancelled that day due to the rain and we’d just finished watching the biggest blockbuster since E.T., The Princess Bride. When the movie commenced, we decided to play the characters. “Well, I’m the prettier one! I should be the princess!” I stomped my foot indignantly. The girl’s mother frowned and picked up the phone. I’d insulted her flaxen haired darling. Play time was over.

I don’t remember her name now, but the point is moot. Blondes learn from a young age that they are special. Now that I’m an adult, the argument is less over who’s the princess and more over who gets the guy. Instead of, “I’m the blonde! should be the princess!,” they know they already are. It’s more like, “I’m the blonde! should get the d*ck!,” and they do.

Fast forward to 2011. After just 3 months of lessons, I’m dating the hottest guy in the studio. It’s against the rules, but we are barely discreet about it. A sideways glance across the Ballroom, a giggle at an inappropriate time, a hickey in a visible spot make it glaringly obvious. All the Orange County Stepford Wives at the place change their demeanor toward me. Instead of hello, now I’m paying $900 a month to be snarled at by spoiled brats on the sidelines and disgruntled divorcees. 

The whirlwind ends and another gets him. She gets him the same way I did. She’s older; crow’s feet show the wear of her ravaged mind. She’s like them. A golden haired mold of homogeny and silicone. She broke the rules but they don’t care. They flock to the golden one. Instead of hello, they get to know her name, inquire about the kids, invite her out for drinks. She broke the rules but it’s OK because she’s sameness and I’m different. He, too, adores the golden one, and not just because of her gold. He speaks to her in soft tones. He strokes her arm like the mane of a timid puppy. He stays with her for years, buys her petty things. He becomes a live in lover, masseuse, and nanny. He does all this because the light of this golden trophy enshrouds him in the glow. Society approves of this match!

Like the raven black of my hair, I fade like a shadow on the wall, a shadow in his mind, and then I’m not at all.

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Fear is the Opposite of Love

Fear is the opposite of love. When someone snubs us, we feel dejected and blame ourselves. Someone else’s disdain is NEVER personal, however. It is based on their own insecurities: they may feel that you will surpass them at work or in another social arena; gain recognition for a goal they’re also working toward; or be acknowledged in their own social circle. In my experiences, I have found this to be true with other women, *especially* in dance and work environments. At times, I have taken a very catty reproach. I have gossiped and slandered in self-defense. It’s important to refrain from retaliation, though. The people who dislike you secretly admire your talents yet fear that you will prove their self-doubts to be true. Instead, shower them with love and love yourself. They are fighting a tougher internal battle than anything they could ever put you through.

So Why Are They Here?

The 8 o’clock hour arrives and aloof loner types stand against the wall avoiding eye contact and staring out the glass panes that line the building. The music has started but no one is on the floor. They are huddling near the back, pouring hooch from a suspicious paper bag into half-filled coke cups. Powder, Poser, Pretentious, Plump Girl and Mother, all there.

Plump Girl says she’s been dancing since 4. But art school could not afford charisma. “So now she’s a big fish in a small pond,” gloats Mother. “She’s the best.” “Yeah, I’m the BEST!” echoes Plump Girl.

Powder, Poser, and Pretentious could not tell you what their favorite dance is. They have watched Dancing with the Stars a few times but don’t give a hoot about the sport. “Dancing is not really about dancing,” Pretentious says. “It’s about having fun and spending time with your instructor. We’re going to Vegas next weekend – the Bellagio, of course two rooms. What do you think? I’m separated, NOT divorced. Yet.” “Dancing is all about sex,” chuckles Powder. “Actually, it’s about winning. I always win because I know everyone,” interjects Poser.

Students searching for surrogates.

The Things You’re Not Supposed to Say

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Ballroom dance in the last three years, it’s that image is everything. Ballroom dance has always had a pristine reputation with its outsiders. Shows like Dancing with the Stars portray it as a fun past time where your worries and weight fall away from you and sculpt you into a marvelous human being. It is perhaps the only industry where traditional gender roles are still in play, however. Women take a proverbial beating – mental, physical, emotional – and are expected to “get back in the kitchen,” or, in this case, frame. Suck it up (suck it in?), don’t say anything, and smile! Even if your horizontal Mambo partner is having an affair with the newly divorced Sally Soccermom who needs a hobby while the kids are in school. As they say in Show Biz, the show must go on! And not just a showcase or competition, but the portrayal that everything is OK and you and your dance partner can “still be friends.” Society wants to believe that there’s still a community untouched by the realities of human error. But dancers do not dance for fun. They dance because they love it, because they need to, because their passion for music and movement drive them to be dancesport competitors.

Like callouses developed from leather strapped shoes, there is an emotional hardening that comes with the industry. The first year is mental boot-camp. Why should your coaches take pity on you? Why should they make exceptions? They’ve seen it all before, if not lived through it. There’s a sense of brotherhood that comes from the pain. Don’t you dare talk about it with non-dancers. Don’t you dare betray the community. We’re all carrying the same hurt, but that’s what unites us.