Contact improv, modern dance partnering, and blues dance. Sounds like the activity set of someone who's extremely comfortable with physical contact, right?
Not so much in my case. I'm constantly working to overcome touch-phobia and physical awkwardness, but there's probably no better way to do it than to plunge into environments where you get instructions like "and now you're going to run and plant your pelvis on top of your partner's pelvis" (and people, let me tell you: THAT IS HARD). Blues taught me how to move and relax and respond to someone else's physical presence with my body and not so much my brain; today's modern dance partnering workshop (required for Purdue's Contemporary Dance Company) added in a weight-bearing aspect that I am still, quite frankly, terrified of. I know I'm a reasonably compact 130 lbs and know the rudiments of falling safely, but still.
Being in a space where teachers and skilled partners make it more mentally and physically safe to do this helps, and having the expectation that I will move like this helps. Above all, for me, it's knowing (in all the dancing that I do) that there's nothing beyond the dancing to interpret; I don't need to worry that touch means flirting or anything else (which I do worry about, because I am so oblivious to romance-related social cues and DO NOT WANT THEM anyway). So the studio and the dance floor become places where I can feel safe moving and where my body can get to know itself and become more fluent, less awkward. I'll start going to the contact improv jams when they start up next week.
Clothes have also been something I've been getting more comfortable with over the past... it's not even the past year, it feels like the past 9 months in particular, but it must have started slowly before that. I used to feel extremely awkward in anything other than long jeans and a t-shirt with a software-related logo proclaiming (I hoped) that I should be treated as a fellow geek and not an incompetent person. Shorts made me cringe, anything with pink was definitely out, and the more masculine I could get my silhouette through sweaters, jackets, and the like, the better.
So it's nice to be able to now run through campus in a tank top and shorts (and pink-and-orange toe shoes) and be amazed at how little shame I feel; I expect the cringing to be there, but it's... not! And I actually feel strong and confident and good with the wind drying the sweat in my hair and the sun warming my body. It will take a long time before I'm as comfortable in the physical world as I am in the intellectual one, and a longer time yet before I'm even remotely close to comfortable in the emotional world, and... I won't even talk about the others. But it's good to know that I can learn these things, that none of these domains is truly closed to me.
This week has been full of lovely things. Experimenting during Kyler's dance rehearsal Tuesday night, then learning how to do breakdance freezes at Kelley's rehearsal on Wednesday (the visible bruises on my shoulder have now faded; they'll probably start again on Monday when I try doing the rapid backbend-to-floor again). Dinner with friends on Thursday after another wonderful dance rehearsal, and my summer writing group (Joi and Patricia) coming over Friday night to continue our playful prodding and shaping of each other's research.
This morning was the dance workshop, after which I packed crepe ingredients into my car and drove out to the office for a portfolio-making party. On the way, I remembered the first time I came to Purdue's campus; I think I was 13 or 14, before high school, and how strange and different and big it seemed in patchwork pieces I saw under heavy chaperoning; how different it feels now, even if I remember bits and pieces being the same (the bookstore, the Union, the dorms we stayed in across the street from Young Hall). When I am with a child, I will try to remember how it feels to have the world be vivid and awake and built in constantly expanding patches.