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Elise Sax Headshot

Finding My Smile Through Dance

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The last time I danced, I think a bar mitzvah was involved. It was obligatory dancing, the kind you have to do to fulfill social obligations, even if you'd rather be home watching reruns of anything with your bare feet up on the coffee table.

And it was dancing with a religious bent to it, the hora... an Israeli group dance. I might have also done the chicken dance, but the memory is a bit fuzzy. Happily.

So, nobody was more surprised than I when I jumped at an Arthur Murray Groupon like it was all-you-can-eat shrimp at a buffet.

The next thing I knew I was in high heels in the dance studio with my dance instructor, Matthew. He is younger than I am. In fact, I have clothes in my closet older than he is.

I was immediately gripped with fear that I would injure Matthew, pulverize his feet under mine, elbow his face during a spin. I began to sweat with anxiety, but he tried to put me at ease. In fact -- bizarrely -- he showed no fear at all.

"Are you a fan of Dancing With the Stars?" he asked me.

It seems that most students fall into two categories. Either they are getting ready for their wedding, or they have been inspired by Dancing with the Stars.

I am neither. I have always wanted to learn to dance. Waltz, swing, salsa, foxtrot, rumba, cha-cha. I wanted to learn it all, but it took me to reach middle age to get beyond the fear of humiliating myself on the dance floor.

Or maybe I knew this instinctually: When I dance, I smile.

Dear, patient Matthew spins me, leads me around the floor. I haven't broken any of his toes, yet. He is good. When I told him that he could probably lead my dog in a half-decent waltz, he didn't argue. I sweat so much, I expect them to offer me a life vest with each lesson. I worry that someone with my thighs shouldn't be dancing. I don't have dancer thighs.

And I smile. In fact, I smile the entire time I'm learning to dance, when I'm struggling to learn the moves, when I'm trying not injure my dance partner. In fact, the smile often grows to full-out laughter. I giggle so much during swing dance lessons, I sound even younger than Matthew.

The treadmill has never made me smile. Not once. Meditation has always put me to sleep.

As we search for happiness, reach for serenity, and follow our bliss, perhaps we should be focused on what makes us smile. Discover that organic something that brings out our childlike joy and hold on to it, while it leads us with rhythm, in harmony. Instead of trying to create happiness, allow what makes us happy into our lives.

In other words, have fun.

Now I own three pairs of ballroom dance shoes, and just for the hell of it, I bought tap shoes, too. I don't know how to tap, but cooking dinner is much more fun while I clank around the kitchen, pretending I'm Ginger Rogers.

As for my dance lessons, I've got the footwork down, and now I'm starting on my knees. In a month or so, I will graduate to my hips and someday, I will be dancing like I'm supposed to and give Matthew a run for his money.

And I'll be smiling.

For more by Elise Sax, click here.

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