The Worst Dance Ever

The worst dance ever.
I am not writing this post to shame, or blame anyone. I am not asking for protection or a simply sympathetic ear. I just am telling my story and this happens to be an experience that changed me. As good dances do, so do the bad ones and this one was the worst.

At Denver Fusion Exchange I experienced the worst dance of my life.
I left the floor shaking, overwhelmed by negative sexual energy, rough intense grabbing of my neck, hair, wrists and dress - which happen to be trigger points for me; points that the lead I was dancing with is aware of-  as he is someone I know well and someone I usually trust. Alcohol was involved but it was simply a bad miscommunicated situation.
I understand how it came to be, but it shook me in my insides. As I left the floor someone else extended a hand to ask me to dance, that sweet promise, but all I could do was shake my head and try and offer a shaky smile to him as I held myself together enough to get my body off of the dance floor.
It was late, 4:30 or 5 in the morning and the hallways around the big ballroom were less populated with people. I searched the drowsy faces looking for a familiar one I could find refuge in, for a hug, in hopes of washing off the incredible distaste on my skin. But I didn't know anyone that I saw. I could feel the tumult of emotion rising in me like a tidal wave and I knew it would break over me soon. I ducked into the other side of the ballroom and bee lined for the DJ booth, which I ducked behind and sank to the floor, tears already spilling down my face, leaving tracks of the mascara I had applied with great care at the beginning of the evening.
All I could do was cry. I felt violated and scared and angry at myself for not protecting myself and walking away mid-dance, as soon as it was uncomfortable.
But I hadn't. In the moment I had felt too scared to do that. Sobs clutched at my belly and tears rolled without check. I felt my trust broken. I felt the dirty fingers of unwanted hands still hovering upon my skin.
I felt someone approach me, but I didn't look up. They came and stood there for a moment as if to ask me to dance, but then seemed to notice the tears rolling down my face and left. But 60 seconds later someone sat down on the other side of me, also hidden from the dance floor by the DJ booth. He sat at least an arm's length away but in my blurred peripheral vision I saw a hand extended on the carpet between us. Just that, a hand. I reached out for it and squeezed. He squeezed back. And then scooted in a foot or two, still giving me space but offering me his. I could tell as he came closer that it was my friend Edward. "You are so loved." He said. It was the first thing he said to me. We sat there until the song ended. Him half holding me, his long arm protectively around my shoulders as my body convulsing with sobs. Noah and Alisha came over and Alisha checked to see what was wrong. I just told her that I had had a really, really, really bad dance. She looked slightly skeptical but nodded and squeezed my other hand.
"I'll be fine, I will, it was just a really, really bad dance." I said again. Edward who was still holding my other hand said in a low voice. "We know that, we know you'll be fine. You are so strong. But we love you." Noah planted a kiss on my forehead and then went to direct the next song. Alisha brought me tissues for my mascara streaked face and gave me a big hug.
It was then that the last song was announced and I suddenly realized, with a shot of panic, that I would have to traverse the long hallway laden with dancers and possibly also the lead I had just danced with, with tears still streaking down my face and into the neck of my red dress. It was not a very pretty picture and the part of me that hates to cause a scene recoiled. "Oh." I said in dread.
"Do you want help, with anything.. getting to your room?" Edward asked, still sitting there with me. I nodded, slowly. He nodded back and climbed to his feet, six foot something above me and helped me up with a steady hand. We navigated the hallway, his strong hand never letting go of mine; even when we were in the elevator and he had pushed the number for my floor. He walked me all the way to my door and hugged me and said: "I won't leave you, until you ask me to." We were at the door of my room which contained somewhere upwards of six people sleeping within it. I thanked Edward again and told him I would be alright, I didn't want to wake my room. He hugged me again and told me how loved I was. He waited to turn back towards the elevator until I had disappeared into the dark of my room.
Inside the shared hotel room the only light was that of the bedside clock, glowing green and reading 5:01AM.  Before the door shut, I caught a glimpse of the sleeping shapes of people on the fold out couch, as well as two more in the king size bed three of us had been sharing.  Someone else was a sleeping bag shaped lump on the floor.
I tried to quiet my crying as I stepped over a sleeping someone to get to my side of the bed. I didn't bother with pajamas or brushing my teeth, I simply removed my leg brace and my dance paws and climbed beneath the sheets still in my red dress the red rose still clipped in my hair.
I tried again to quiet my tears, but they just wouldn't stop.
But before I had completely climbed under the heavy sheets and comforter I felt arms reaching out for me.
They pulled me from the cold and empty edge of the bed into the warmth there in the middle. Arms gently wrapped around me and I found my tear soaked face nestled into the crook of a man's shoulder. From the other side of him I felt a second set of warm arms reaching around me. I curled my body towards them and placed my hand on the chest of the man who was first reached out for me. It was then, that I realized that I had absolutely no idea who this person was.
Soft words were spoken to me. The first of which were:
"You are so loved. It's gonna be alright."

Now, this may seem like a sob story and a dramatic one at that. But I have had a hard time in the past sharing these kinds of traumatic experiences with anyone, let alone so many. So to be loved and held and supported so much without my asking or my bidding, extremely impacted me. I love New York. Don't get me wrong, but people don't just love you there. And these people, my dance family, do that so well.
So there I am, leaking the last of my mascara onto some guys shirt as he and Katie hold me tenderly. Offering the comfort of their humanness and the solidness of arms around me. Greg, my dear friend and the other person who usually sleeps in the bed with Katie and I came in and Katie and the man I didn't know, told him to get in bed on my other side. It was late and Greg was making a pallet on the floor for himself. Katie had to tell him to get in bed three times before he realized it was more than her just being nice and offering the bed. He climbed in on my other side and reached for my hand.
We slept cuddled like that all night, or I should say morning since it was close to 5:30AM by the time we were all asleep.
Around noon, as the sun finally began sneaking through the blackout curtains, I lifted my puffy and swollen eyes to see the face of the man who had held me so tenderly all night.  I recognized that he wasn't a perfect stranger after all, but someone I had met once or twice on the dance floor, and that his name was Benjamin and that he was there with Katie. Their sleepy smiles in the mid morning sun were brilliant.
We spent breakfast (brunch?) together, laughing and dancing in a crepe place a couple blocks away in downtown Denver. Afterwards we all trooped back to our hotel room, flopping down on the bed in a pile to cuddle and nap and sleepily watch the Broncos game together. I felt my reserves of human contact, kindness and safety slowly being restored.
But as the day wore on, I felt it weighing on me. That dance. I knew I had to deal with the situation. I didn't want it to ruin the last night of the last Fusion Exchange.
I knew the lead in question, well, and even though both Greg and Ben had offered in a tentative sort of way to talk to him for me, I knew it was my place and not theirs. As much as the small part of me wanted to just let someone else do it, I knew it was my place. My pain, my place to fix it.

I dressed for the dance and gathered my courage around me like a cloak. My friend Marian from home who was sharing the hotel room with us, offered me a tumbler full of goat milk that she'd brought fresh from the does at home. I nodded, gratefully and I drank it down. My dose of homegrown liquid courage. I felt it help, as if my roots stood with me.
     I don't remember much of the conversation I had with him. But I do remember praying in the elevator downstairs that he would be easy to find in the crowds of dancers. When the doors dinged open, he was standing just outside the elevator talking to a friend. I remember that he looked a little concerned when I asked to speak with him privately. We stepped into a sterol, well lit hallway and I probably cried, as I generally do.  I explained my trauma and the inappropriateness of those dances and their profound effect on me. He told me that there had been whisky involved in his evening and he was sorry at having upset me. I understood, as best I could. But I asked in a shaky voice for him not to ask me to dance again. I still didn't want him to touch me.

After we talked, I slipped out onto the dance floor and danced, hard, for the next hour. Alone and with whatever partner was available. My bare feet on the hardwood floor, the music making my heart pound. I danced with the uncomfortable, dancing with the vulnerable spaces in my soul, edging out the sticky fingers of pain and broken trust, letting the dance fill me.
I danced all night. I danced till the very last song of the very last Fusion Exchange, until my knees hurt too bad to stand. And with so many hugs and kind words of goodbye I headed to bed. Feeling slightly sad, but utterly blessed.
Now this story is my own. I am sure the lead I danced with, saw it in a different light and must have thought I was enjoying the dances we shared. That's fine. I'm not trying to point fingers or anything else. I am just sharing my experience of a really shitty situation turning into an incredible blessing. Because I feel so incredibly blessed to be a dancer in this community and to call so many of these bright and beautiful souls, my family.
It is my honor to love them wholeheartedly and with so much of myself.
I was however, astounded and completely blown away at how much support, care and love I felt in return. Especially in a situation fraught with sticky social queues and the underlying fact that I just should have walked away the moment the dance got bad.

A friend of mine told me recently that 'family has nothing to do with the shared blood in your veins, but instead it is the people who are there for you no matter what.
So I want to thank you, dance family, and everyone who offered me arms and heart and a place to simply be without explanation. Thank you for making me one of your own and loving me and letting me love you.

Comments

  1. I don't know what to say. I want to thank you for this, but I don't know if that's inappropriate... there's a lot of things I could say and I know a lot of them aren't what you need or want to hear. Elizabeth, I appreciate you oh so much. You are so, so loved. Reading this was not easy, but it was refreshing in a sense that it felt good to not feel alone in certain emotions. Oi. I don't even know what I'm saying. Thank you for sharing this.

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