I have always liked to move. I was in dance classes by the time I was six years old. I couldn’t wait to turn 18 and quit ballet so I could take jazz classes. I just really wanted to do Jazz Hands! I love to dance and I danced into my thirty’s. Then I discovered health clubs. I became an aerobics instructor, a certified personal trainer, and health club manager. To this day, when I walk into a health club and smell sweat, I’m happy.
A little more than a year ago, while working out, I noticed a poster promoting a new class. What caught my eye? The word Dance! Since I love to dance my natural curiosity and endeavor for a new form of exercise class were peaked by the poster. Little did I know that stepping into that first dance class would begin a healing connection, and a place of refuge for one hour a week.
My PTSD symptoms can be debilitating sometimes. I feel exhausted, ungrounded, and triggered by too much stimulation, or I’m hypervigilant and stressed by being around a group of people. Even though exercise is an integral part of my self-care practice, it can be an enormous struggle to go to the gym. But I really wanted to try this new dance class.
On the first day of class, the instructor immediately engaged with each person as we were walking in. Welcoming us and talking about the class with passion and excitement, explaining that we were just going to dance. It didn’t matter if we got the steps, or what we looked like, we were in this together as a group, a community.
I’m the type of exerciser who doesn’t really engage when I go to the gym. I come in, work out, and leave. But there was something different in the way we were greeted that stopped me for a moment. I felt included, equal, and that all of us who were in that room were more than just bodies to fill a class. I didn’t care that I didn’t know the steps or the songs, I just moved with the music, knowing that maybe I would catch on sooner or later, but more importantly, I felt fully in my body. Something else was different, I wasn’t anxious, hypervigilant, or bothered by any symptoms of my PTSD that can often plague me during my workouts.
A week later, I had to force myself to go to class. I had a very difficult morning and wasn’t sure I would be able to cope and have control over my emotions. I thought that I would stand in the back by the door and if I had to leave I could quietly exit. When I arrived, we received the same warm welcome, the same passion, excitement, and the message that we are enough. We are okay and worthy, and that we are just going to dance. Together! I didn’t stand in the back which is my typical go-to spot. I moved to the front. I felt safe, secure, present. I let the music move my body. I skipped and twirled with inner-child lightness and stomped with empowerment. I smiled, sweated, and felt that something had shifted in me.
After class, without giving it any thought, and trusting my instincts, I went up to the instructor and introduced myself. In uncharacteristic self-disclosure, I told her, that I struggle with PTSD, her class is fabulous, and I’ll be back.” I typically would never disclose my illness in this setting, but I knew that I was feeling different and that the class was having a profound effect on me. I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to communicate this to her.
After a year and a half, I no longer question how this class affects my well-being. I have enough internal data to know it helps. Even though there have been many, many times that I am struggling with my symptoms, I no longer need to force myself to go. For me, this class is as important as any other self-care, grounding technique that I have learned to use along the way.
Trauma survivors can often feel invisible, alone, and disconnected from our bodies. This class has helped me trust my ability to stay connected in my body. That it’s safe, and I am okay. Not only am I okay, but I am also worthy of how it feels to move my body and stay in the here and now, present, fully connected. I feel secure in my ability to move in a safe and easy environment without the fear of crushing PTSD symptoms.
I look back on that day that I introduced myself and risked the vulnerability of self-disclosure. I was moved by the way my instructor listened to what I was saying and the next thing I knew, in a spirit of unity, we were standing there, two sweaty strangers hugging heart-to-heart forming a bond of acceptance and connection.
That power of connection through movement that brought the two of us together has forged a bond of mutual respect and hours of deep conversation. I will forever be grateful for my empowered, yet willing to be vulnerable heart-to-heart sister/teacher.
Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph