Friday, November 19, 2010

How Ballroom Dancing Changed My Life


by "Dr. Deb" Castaldo Guest Writer

For years, I wasted my energies chasing a fairy tale. Then I took up ballroom dancing. and discovered parts of myself I didn’t know existed.
Curtain up! This Renaissance woman is reinventing her former shy self in bold ballroom style! I’m dancing on out my Act I and kicking up my heels in my Act II with a sexy cha cha cha complete with fringes, eyelashes, and heels! One morning a year ago, I woke up from a Viennese waltz dream, made a wrong turn in a shopping center parking lot, and landed on the doorstep of a ballroom dance studio. Now at age 54, I am waltzing my way out of the post - divorce doldrums into competitive ballroom dancing!

Ballroom dancing is waking me up to aspects of myself I didn’t even know existed. Each dance requires the expression of a unique persona: whether it’s the fun loving, energetic swing, the sultry, seductive rumba, the sexy, flirty cha cha cha, the romantic bolero, the elegant poise of waltz, the jazzy spunk of fox trot, or the passionate aggressiveness of tango, I’m embracing it all!

Ballroom dancing is more than just a hobby for me; it’s become a guide for my reinvention, and my lessons are teaching me much more than just dance steps. I am learning invaluable life lessons! What have I learned thus far?

* Always step out on the floor with confidence, head held high
* Keep your chin up and flash a beautiful smile even if you stumble
* Stay grounded physically, mentally, and emotionally or you will fall
* You must learn to dance well alone and hold yourself up
* Leaning on a partner too much can drag you both down – literally!
* A great partnership requires absolute trust, close connection, give and take, and great communication
* It’s not about winning, it’s about the perseverance and patience needed to keep going along the way

My Act I was predetermined by the fairy tales I heard as a little girl that said that a woman’s true value was attached to her ability to catch a man and become a mother. I married my first boyfriend at age 22. I was a shy, dependent small town girl with no voice, terrified to speak up for her needs. Stuck in a marriage of emotional disconnection and little intimacy. The possibility of divorcing and forging a new path never occurred to me in my young adulthood.

My Act I created the necessary momentum I needed for my Act II. My reinvention began when I turned 35 and something in my gut woke up. I found the courage to take a quantum leap out of a marriage that was slowly destroying my spirit. I have been a “no marriage no kids” woman for the past 16 years. Becoming divorced without children at midlife brought me face to face with a triple whammy of stressors: divorce, childlessness, and aging. For many women like me, living “out of sync” in a married, mothering world still carries with it an internal sense of stigma, shame, guilt, and failure.

My divorce was initially a traumatic disruption of the fairy tale life I was “supposed” to have as a woman. The first decade of my single life was consumed with remarrying ASAP.

I revved up into a frenzy attending one singles’ event after another. I worked out, looked my best, smiled a lot, and updated my style. I tried to strike the right balance: sweet, sexy, funny, smart, not too smart, confident, and not too confident. I was busy pleasing everyone else. After ten years of searching, lots of dating and several significant break-up’s and make-up’s…I was exhausted!

Then my A-HA moment finally clicked! I was a victim of those ridiculous fairy tales from my childhood! What if my “no marriage no kids” life was an amazing opportunity and I was missing it? I was buying into beliefs of “the marriage/motherhood mandate”: that any life other than marriage and motherhood wasn’t good enough. I realized I was living “in the mean time”, chasing an untrue fairy tale and putting my authentic self on hold!

My life was stuck in an unending intermission.

I finally had to shift my focus away from what was missing and wrong with my life to all that was right and beautiful about it. I finally stopped asking: “how can I find a man, why haven’t I found one, and what must I do to be enough?” I started asking, “how can I get on purpose, give and make a difference, where are my gifts and talents, and how can I use them?”

Once I stopped wasting energy, I got totally resolved to redesign my life. I kicked myself into high gear to go BIG after my dreams! Now fifteen years into my reinvention, many of my dreams have come to pass: marching at Lincoln Center in New York City to receive the Ph.D. degree, my first published book arriving on my doorstep, hosting my first radio show, and starting my own business: The Center for Couples and Family Solutions.

Being divorced without children doesn’t define me any more. I have stopped living “in the meantime” as if my life is not good enough. My “no marriage no kids” life has been a precious gift that has afforded me the energy, passion, and time to give back and live at full throttle! NOW! I am moving confidently on in the direction of my own dreams, living the best life I can imagine!

And if you are asking, what’s going to happen in Act III? Grab your popcorn! I’ll be pursuing absurd goals and trying to achieve the impossible. No matter what my age, how wrinkled, or how out of shape my menopausal body becomes, I’ll be strutting my ballroom diva stuff, waltzing away going for ballroom gold! 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3……

Debra D. Castaldo, Ph.D. is host of Solution Talk on Rockland World Radio, Adjunct Faculty at Rutgers University. She is also the author of Divorced without Children: Solution Focused Therapy with Women at Midlife.

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