Author and activist Glennon Doyle once wrote, “Dancing [in front of people] is like being naked out there in plain sight. It’s like a confidence test. And people dance in groups, so it’s also a belonging test. It’s also, let’s face it, a dancing test. I have never been an expert at feeling secure, belonging, or dancing…It all made me feel loserish and claustrophobic in my own skin.”
Can you relate?
Tulsa SHiNE Instructor Ali Fallis can. Now a confident dance fitness instructor, integral member of our marketing team and leader for women in her community, Ali didn’t just start her journey without professional experience; she had no personal experience, either! In fact, until her 30s, Ali hated dancing with a fiery passion.
This is her story.
I wore a black and gold sequined swing dress in my high school show choir. I’ve always loved music and singing, and show choir was just one more way to experience those things while also spending time with my best friends. Know which songs were my favorites?
The ones where we stood in nice clean rows and just sang.
Also, the gold sequins were nice.
Dancing, to me, always felt like a special activity reserved for special “kinds” of people. Rich people. Popular people. Talented people. When I looked around the room at a wedding or a prom or… (well, those were the main places I saw people dance back then…) I saw big, beautiful smiles on the faces of the people on the floor, and to me, that felt like a badge of honor. I truly believed they had somehow earned their place out there, earned their happiness and were reaping their rewards, because they had something special that I simply did not possess.
Spoiler alert: I was right.
If we fast forward through the rest of high school, the college party years, and even my own wedding which included the bare minimum of expected dancing for a bride and not one shimmy more, we’ll arrive at the chapter of young adulthood. By my late twenties I had two babies, two miscarriages, a strong marriage that survived many storms, a tight group of female friends and a new career as a certified birth doula. With two young children at home I worked on call, meaning at any given moment I might have to drop what I was doing and rush off to hold the hand or squeeze the hips of a laboring mother.
It was the most exhausting and beautiful chapter of my life (so far).
Holding and sharing space with over fifty vastly different women in their most vulnerable, intimate, human moments changed me in ways I never thought possible. Walking with them through their journeys of self-discovery, self-acceptance, self-love and empowerment deeply impacted my own. Birth after birth after birth, I found it overwhelmingly beautiful to witness each of them embrace, trust and honor their bodies in different ways. None of their bodies or their experiences inside them were exactly the same, yet all of them were so profoundly powerful and wise and good.
I began to wonder if my body was profoundly powerful and wise and good.
Around this same time, I started attending classes at a local gym with one of my best girlfriends. It started because I wanted to lose a few pounds… then it became about gaining strength to support my laboring clients… and slowly but surely, it became about taking good care of me, from the inside out. We tried cycle and yoga and barre and weightlifting and piloxing; I was up for just about anything on the schedule, except the dance class. It happened on Friday mornings at 9, so about 8pm every Thursday I’d hear that familiar buzz:
“Dance class tomorrow?”
“Never. Meet me on the treadmills.”
It took two long years of those text messages for her to wear me down. I was tired – oh, so very tired – and this saint of a woman had been on call right alongside me that whole time, as the one who took my own babies at the drop of a hat anytime I ran to a mother having hers. I owed her a “yes” and that was all it was: an overdue gift of thanks for my friend.
Until the beat dropped.
Something came over me in that one hour that still brings tears to my eyes as I remember it now. Somewhere along the way… somewhere among all the “yes you cans” and “you’re so strongs” and “your way is the right ways” I’d uttered to birthing mothers… somewhere among the “you’re so beautifuls” and “you can do anythings” and “do what makes your soul shines” I’d said to my young daughter… somewhere on the road to believing it for others I’d internalized the Universal Truth and I knew:
It’s all true for me, too.
So I danced my heart out in that class. I left everything on that dance floor and I moved with a joy I had never felt in my [then] thirty years of moving my body. I don’t remember what I said to my friend about the feelings that class gave me that day, but I do remember her saying, “I TOLD YOU SO.”
Bless the friends who love us so hard we end up loving ourselves, too.
We went back to that class the next Friday at 9, and the one after that, and every Friday morning for the next two years until my husband’s job required us to move from Kansas City to Tulsa. Before we even arrived, he bought me a Groupon to a local fitness studio that offered dance classes. Dance had become such an integral part of my self care; he encouraged me to continue, even without my best friend and my favorite class.
Bless the partners who see and support the things that keep us healthy and happy.
The new dance class in Tulsa wasn’t actually doing so well, and while I loved the studio and made quick friends with the owner, she soon decided to cut it from her schedule. I tried a few other local options, and there just wasn’t anything that came close to that class I loved so much in Kansas City. I desperately scoured the internet to find just the right program, and SHiNE Dance Fitness was it! There were no instructors in Tulsa, but the owner of the studio I had joined said that if I got certified, she’d give me a place to teach it.
Bless the leaders who look back and hold the door for the next one.
If you had asked 25 year-old me if I could ever see myself teaching a dance fitness class to a roomful of women, I’d have laughed right in your face and read you that Glennon Doyle quote about dance making her feel loserish and claustrophobic in her own skin. I’d have told you about that elusive “thing” that some “special kinds of people” have that allow them to dance – that thing which I so clearly did not have.
I have it now, though.
It turns out that it’s not for any special kind of person; it’s ready and waiting for anyone who’s willing to believe in it for themselves.
I trained right away and started teaching SHiNE within months of moving to Tulsa. I needed a place to be free and a place to belong. It turned out that so many other women did, too.
My classes grew quickly and my students loved it so much, many decided to become instructors themselves! We now have eight certified SHiNE instructors in Tulsa, and exactly zero of them had experience before they jumped in. Together, we’re working to build so much more than a dance class. We’re building a community in which members see and support the things that keep one another healthy, love eachother so hard they end up loving themselves, and when they do, they turn around and help the next one.
After her own reckoning with dance, Glennon also says this:
“If I feel a yearning to dance, then I’m going to dance. It’s not about whether I’m good or secure or I belong. Here’s my hunch: nobody’s secure, and nobody feels like she completely belongs. Those insecurities are just job hazards of being human. But some people dance anyway, and those people have more fun. On my deathbed, I’m not going to wish I had danced like JLo; I’m just going to wish I had danced more.”
Dance more, dear ones. Dance wildly. Dance horribly! Dance freely.
Then turn around, and hold the door open for the next one.
We were ALL born to SHiNE!