Elise Campbell Photography | Shine. Elise Campbell Photography

Shine. Elise Campbell Photography

January 25, 2016


It’s a chilly fall Saturday morning.  I could sleep in.  My dog Hannah is curled against me, and somehow, little Abby has snuck in for a “good morning snuggle with mommy,” as she calls it.  The warmth of my bed, and my dog, and my Abby lure me to stay.  I breathe in the warmth and the love in this moment, but something else calls me, and I know that ending my “good morning snuggle” is what I need to do. I go to where I am drawn.

I know the routine.  Black pants.  Bra then sports bra.  Oy. Tank top.  Hoodie.  Search for almost-matching black socks and lace up.

I stop, in the crisp fall air, as I always do, to find the sun and ground myself.  I face the sun, close my eyes, and allow the warmth of her rays to fill me up.  I surrender myself.  I surrender this day. “Guide me.”

Thankfully, I am guided to Janice’s dance class. As I drive, I turn up the radio.  Music fills my car as the gorgeous views somehow continue to surprise me, and I wonder how I could be blessed, again, to witness this kind of beauty.  To experience this beautiful day. It never gets old.  There is no place I’d rather be than here, in my car, on my way to Janice’s dance class.

I climb slowly up the stairs of the studio, around the corner, and the morning light pours itself through the windows and bounces off the hardwood floors.  The spirit of long ago dance performances and theatrical productions draws me in.  The smell of hard work and hard wood bring me back to my own theatre days.

Then, I see Janice, aptly named the Goddess of Groove.  And I see my kind of women.  Ready to dance.  Kind faces.  Natural beauties.  All of them.  Tuned into something that I can’t explain, but somehow they all have it.  Is this because of Janice?

The music starts.  We begin to dance.


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“Zumba,” I chuckle as we warm up.  “Zumba?”  I found Janice’s class because of my friend.  She loves Zumba.  She asked me to come.  “I don’t dance,” I said. But then I realized that I was making it all about me, and not her, and so I showed up at a Zumba class to support my friend.  Zumba was fun, I guess.  It wasn’t “me,” but it was exercise, and it was better than the treadmill.

Then one day, by accident, I took Janice’s Zumba class. I mean, she was teaching it at a Zumba studio, but to me, it felt different from Zumba.  It felt like more of a match for me.

The choreography was challenging.  The music was soulful. Magically, the women around me were transformed. In some of them, I could see the little girls who had once been prima ballerinas.  In others, I could see the little girls who had never had the chance to dance….until now.  And dance, they did. (My first friend, Yvette, told me, “When you dance with Janice, you find your core.”  Little did I know that finding my core went far deeper than simply moving the core of my body.)

As the next song comes on, I realize that I’m so caught up in what we are doing that I don’t have time to think about how I do not belong here.  I don’t dance.  I never did.  I never could.  I shut that part of me off a long, long time ago.   I learned to be still.  To be quiet.  I learned how not to shine.  I learned how to fit in.  “Elise, you’re a spaz,” I was told more than once.  “You klutz.”  And so when I was 10, or 11, or 12, I watched the women who moved with grace.  My Aunt Norn.  My teacher.  I copied them.  I started caring about how I looked.  I was too scared of humiliating myself with another klutzy move, so I slowed down and I stopped spilling things and stepping on toes.  I stopped being first, even when I was really excited, and I waited until it was safe to do just about anything.  I turned off most of who I was, and taught myself that good girls play it safe. But as I played it safe, I also learned how not to shine. In my young mind, I thought this would make me more worthy.

As we dance, I begin to smile.  I can’t help it.  I’m kinda starting to shine.  A little.  I’m concentrating, hard, on unlocking Janice’s beautiful and mysterious patterns of choreography.  But still, a smile finds its way to my face.  Because I know.  I know who I am.  I don’t care how I look. I know where I am, and there is no place in the world I’d rather be than here, in this studio, surrounded by women who are following Janice’s lead.  Janice’s grace.  Janice’s soul.  What have they unlocked, I wonder….  Before Janice, I finally learned to choose love over fear. I had already begun to unlock the emotional fog I’d been living under since I was 10, or 11, or 12. The spiritual, too, had begun to come into alignment.  But in my wildest dreams, I never knew that I could be unlock the soulful little girl inside me who always, always, always wanted to dance.

As I pick up on a sequence, and catch on to pretty fancy timing, and that part of me who was hardly ever asked to dance, and who wouldn’t have danced if she had been asked, she comes alive!  She finds her core and she is empowered.   Her curves are awesome when she moves from her core.  Her femininity is beautiful.  She owns her sexiness -for herself- and that is powerful.

Janice stops to show us a step.  She is magical in how she moves, in what she creates, and how she allows us to be.  “The music dictates the choreography,” she explains.  I knew it!  This dance, for Janice, it is like my photography, I think.  We put in the work, for sure.  The learning.  The practicing.  The orchestrating.  The creating.  But the art, it comes through us.  It is not of us.

And so, as we cool down, and stretch, bathed in our own sweat, we are whole.  I am, anyway.  I am ready to embrace this day to which I have surrendered.  We, amazing women, who range in age from 15 to 80, we have the chance, for just an hour a week, to be four-year-old ballerinas, and twelve-year-old hip-hop dancers, and belly-dancing goddesses from 6,000 years ago. There are no prerequisites. We are not judged. We are here, and so we dance.  And that is all.

We walk out heavily, with our grateful muscles and our grateful hearts and we glow.  We glow with sweat, but if I step back, and look really closely at my sisters as they walk down the stairs and out into the crisp, fall air, we also glow from the inside.  We radiate something that I could never find the words for, but I know that it empowers us to somehow light the way for other people – dancers, non-dancers, future dancers, anyone who has something to unlock.  To conquer.

Back home, as I untie my dance shoes, peel off my clothes and step into the shower, the cool water washes away the sweat, but the glow remains. And I know that it is time for me to show up.  All the way.  And to shine.