Bring It

Gillian Kessler Body Image

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I danced in front of an audience last weekend. A big audience. A packed house, in fact. And to think I almost retired.

Let me back up. The only physical activity I've been really confident about for most of my life has been dancing. I've been a serious child student, a flirty high-schooler holding the spotlight on the school stage, a college girl lost in minimalist, contemporary interpretations of wild texts and an adult teacher, leading others weekly through my full-celebration of hip swings and rib isolation, sharp shoulders and soulful walks.

But a year ago, I just couldn't swing it all like I used to. I was back to teaching a full-load of academics and suddenly had two school age children. My day was a wild race of lesson plans and reading circles, meal preparations and homework folders. I couldn't leave the intensity of my life— the full and resonant energy—to find my own groove in a studio a few nights a week.  So after 20 years of teaching dance, I quit.  Sometimes you just have to let something go. It felt right for me to be home with my babies in the evenings. We'd bust our moves to Disney Pandora, all Hakuna Matata's and fast, chubby feet.

A month or so ago, I realized that the eve of my favorite local performance was upon me. Actually, I may not have even realized if a song that I danced to years ago hadn't come on while I was driving home from work. I pulled over and grabbed my phone, leaving a nostalgic, rambling message on my old dance partners voice mail.  I asked her if we were too late to secure a spot, wondered aloud if I'd be able to choreograph something in time, asked who may be interested in performing with us. I was way out of the loop and needed her affirmation from the other end—yes we could pull it together, no I wasn't too old or too out of practice to bring it.

Flash-forward a few weeks; I have a rockin' little crew of ladies, the piece is solid, we're ready for our big night. But there I found myself. Backstage, surrounded by performers half my age, wondering if I could pull off the high kicks and double pirouettes like I used to. Wondering if it was okay to expose my never-to-return-to-her-pre-baby-self-belly in front of all those strangers. Wondering exactly how I could just jump back in the game after a whole year away from my art.

But before I could let my self-doubt percolate too deeply, our song started. I burst forth from the wings, moved up and down the runway, nailed the turns and, before I could even catch my breath, the piece was over. The familiar rush of applause felt fabulous, my breath heaving with deep work, big smiles and I walked off, replete with humble pride. And before I could take the time to draw it all in, I'd peeled off my eyelashes, changed back into my hoodie, and made my way out into the cold night, back into my real life of babysitters and laundry, of sleeping children and meals to plan. 

This afternoon a mom found me at school. She'd been at the show over the weekend. She asked me if I had a minute and then began to tell me about my performance. Instead of telling me that she loved the dance, instead of the kind and familiar compliments that come when people see me out of context, she surprised me. She instead told me how my dancing had changed. She told me how she loved watching me dance since I've had my children. She talked about how moved she was by the strength of my body and the resonant depth of my movements. She talked about how much my movement-style has changed since she took my dance class years ago and how watching me inspired her to take more time for her own art.  

As I walked down the hallway crowded with children, and walked past my colleagues, back to my desk piled with notebooks to read-through and emails to return, I found there was a little spring in my step. A secret strut, if you will. Because this mama was right. I do move differently. My body has shifted, my whole center of gravity has found her happy base in my gut. My belly button went from “in-e” to “out-e” and my strong stomach stands like a stubborn wall, a battlefield of expansion and contraction.  My movements are closer to the ground, deep, rooted in the earth, primal.

I walked past chatting children and open backpacks and remembered how I danced my way through two pregnancies, how it was the slow and steady sway of hips that moved me through contractions, the rhythm of music that helped bring down my blood-pressure. I remembered all the songs on my, “Birth or Bust” playlist, the yoga mat I rolled out on my living room floor, the scent of the candles that were lit, amber and musk. I see my belly as she was then—the almost 200 pounds of me, muscle and blood, bone and tiny ears, fingers, the two of us, living as one, finding our groove, ready to re-configure the way we see the world.

Looking for more from Gililan? Look no further.

About the Author

Gillian Kessler

Gillian Kessler can be found dancing to loud music, teaching exuberant children to appreciate language, writing in the early morning when everyone is asleep and exploring the wilds of Montana with her beautiful family. Read more about her eclectic and full life at .

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