Dancing for Home

I just got home from my jazz and ballet classes. For a boyish girl who held a male-dominated job for a decade and who is more likely to take up martial arts as in the past, I sometimes ask myself: How did I end up here? There’s never a day when I don’t ask myself, what I am doing here. I’m just embarrassing myself. I don’t belong here. Against the backdrop of blond young beautiful girls who sweep the studio with elegantly arched feet like they were born with them, I feel like a klutz.

But here I am showing up class after class after class. Because I know when I lie on the floor with eyes closed breathing in deeply; I know when I start the warm-up with only the sound of slow piano accompaniment filling the room, running through my veins, soothing my cares so that only the moment matters and the rest fades away; I know when the music plays and I move with the beat deliberately, I know I am home, if only temporarily.

My journey began a few months after finishing my academic program of 2 years in my adopted country. Three years ago, I uprooted myself from home to study, that path which led me here. I had planned to come back after my program but then I met my husband and decided to stay. Fast forward to a few months ago, I finally woke up to the realisation that much of our happiness as a married couple depends both on our shared and separate experiences where we are. So I decided to be home where I am.

In our class, our dance instructor gathered us to say that outside the studio, society always tells us what we can and cannot do. They tell us who we are and if we are not careful, we become it. But we are in the studio, of our own free will, dancing our own story. So we should dance like we believe in our full capacity to breathe our own individuality into the art and make it come alive in the way that only we can.

Without reservations but only true yearning inside, my heart cried out. Through the years in my adopted city 6 thousand miles away from the home I knew, in this beautiful place whose language I still don’t speak perfectly, where I struggle to find a sense of identity but more so belongingness, every so often is a looming feeling of strangeness and coldness, of unspoken loneliness and otherness. But only now am I defiant.

So I dance like nobody’s judging, never minding spectators, making mistakes turn after turn. I ignored how awkward my steps may look, but instead feel the music in heartbeats and wish away my self-consciousness. Breathe my story into the art, however confused and broken, owning it as it comes out the way it does because it’s beautiful in all its boldness and earnestness within.

For a girl from the tropics who would stay under the blankets during winter’s grey skies, dancing makes me get up from my warm, cozy bed to walk 20 minutes to the studio and back home in snow and ice, in sub-zero temperatures and early darkness. While it may not look grand and congratulatory to the casual observer, I know I came a long way.

I had set out to demystify home and build a new life in a new place. For the time being, I chose a life that is not defined in terms of the classical goals of our productivity-obsessed, achievement-pursuing generation that bring conventional outwardly success. Not that it’s a bad predictable choice. I am thankful for not having the urgency to toil for the monthly rent. But then again, I’ve also had a decade of fulfilling career.

I chose to unlearn some societal norms and question my claim to climbing up the career ladder. I danced around very different cultural values from my upbringing and in my relatively new world— between community and individuality, modesty and assertiveness, vulnerability and guardedness, ambition and authenticity. I became curious, trying out new things, wild-eyed questioning and living out the answers, uncovering beauty in a wide range of encounters and shared humanity.

I combed through experiences the city offers. It revealed a wealth of events. I found myself out for activities — in language exchanges, in dance studios, in writing workshops, in casual street photography sessions, in pre-arranged dinners with strangers from online groups — activities I would personally discover parts and parcels of the enormous city with my own eyes and maybe somehow my place in it.

I met people. People who were increasingly transient in a globalised world — arriving, chasing job posts, leaving, creating destinies. I cheered for friends and acquaintances who find the courage to leave and uproot themselves despite uncertainty and perpetuating groundlessness. This, I understand much to the level of my overarching dream then to leave my roots to chase the dream of exploring new worlds.

I welcomed strangers and their shy authentic smiles, who may also have journeyed a long way and are only stopping by. I came across individuals who were born and raised in the country but moved from city to city for jobs, settled in and shared the same feeling of strangeness, otherness and friendlessness. This surprised and moved me. I developed compassion from my real or perceived otherness.

Over a couple of months, I saw the endeavour for what it can be, an amazing opportunity to explore the city and a chance interaction with a few of its diverse inhabitants. After having seen only the academic side for the first couple of years, I have since then enjoyed the city’s arts scenes, joined the start-up business sphere, participated in the outdoors culture, took up a new hobby, rediscovered playing solitary piano music and writing in silent spaces. I became immensely grateful.

I recognised that there are pockets of happiness in the actual doing of activities and in transient meetings with strangers in workshops, dance studios, networking events, in the sharing of that instant, in the moment, fleeting but present and real.

When my sister flew halfway across the world to visit me for the holidays, I had to briefly interrupt my newfound routine to travel with her. I knew it would break the momentum I had built, even if my life depended on that semblance of stability. But we had a marvellous time traveling to nearby historical cities and traditional Christmas markets, spending an intimate Christmas with my husband’s family.

We cooked, baked, went to the cinema, watched a series at home, went out for a stroll. We did the usual things we do at home. One night, a curious person asked us how it is like to be siblings to each other. We told stories about making play houses out of blankets as children, of singing invented tunes from children’s poems and how I scared her to death about a card game with monsters coming to life on a full moon that earned me an admonishing from our father.

After my husband and I drove my sister back to the airport, I came home to our place. I was arranging my things post-holiday when I saw my old winter jacket which I lent to my sister during her stay. The house fell silent. I mentally ran through the things I needed to do while the silence grew by every second. I wanted to put the jacket away for dry cleaning and as I reached out for it, I felt an overwhelming sadness that stunned me. I held the jacket and paused to gain some level of objectivity.

And there it was, this inevitable feeling of loss, ambiguous as it may seem. I was back to being alone with this cold strangeness, without anyone whom I’ve had a shared lifetime familiarity and connection with. There it was, this tugging rootlessness, this lack of longevity and continuity in relationships, the non-economic consequence of the globalised and mobile world. There it was, this lack of belongingness, the heaviness of my absence from my closest and dearest in their small joys and in their daily tragedies. All the feelings I was trying to conquer came back even as I committed myself to “be home” where I am.

I let myself mourn momentarily. The words of my dance instructor comforted me: “This is a beautiful learning process. Don’t stop.” So I stood up, went back to my routine and regained my pace. As I went on, I recognised the semblance of home in small everyday things.

It is in the cashier lady’s wrinkled smile up to me in the supermarket I am a regular at. It is in the quiet understanding among kindred spirits who also uprooted themselves from their own native landscapes. It is in the blossoming of friendships with people I choose to regularly see. It is there in my husband’s support each step of the way so I can take time carving my way through. Finally, there is home with my newfound family, the warmth and welcoming kindness they extend, our summer excursions and Christmas celebrations. And while it’s not a lifetime of shared familiarity, it is the beginning of it.

So now here I am again, back to the dance studio. Against the backdrop of mostly graceful flowing moves, adept with each knowing step, I danced my little secret story, embracing my clumsy novelty in all my defiant glory.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.