Rediscovering My Passion

One of my earliest memories is dancing in my living room to a cassette tape of the Footloose soundtrack. I still have the lyrics memorized, a thing I discovered last month as I absent-mindedly sang along to my brother’s high school choir concert.

My connection to music and movement was with me practically from birth. While my mother had a passion for singing and creating music through guitar and piano, I had a passion for moving to music. Loving dance was always easy for me, but finding an outlet was more difficult. While my parents would have loved to indulge my passion for dance with training, unfortunately they lacked the resources.  Perhaps this made me appreciate dance even more as I saw my little sister detest dance after taking ballet.

Aside from getting groovy in the living room, swing dancing was the first partner dance that I learned. When I was 11, my dad took me to a Merrie Miss daddy-daughter sock hop. Before we went, he taught me the basic swing step and some simple lifts (I was 11 and he’s a big guy, so throwing me around was no problem). At the dance I felt like the star! All the other girls wanted to dance like my dad and I were dancing. To this day, that is one of my fondest memories of my dad. Later, in high school I found a group of friends who were also into swing dancing. We loved to practice Lindy-Hop, west coast, country swing, and especially the lifts. At BYU I continued to do partner dancing, both swing and ballroom.

My only real dance training was at BYU where I took as many ballroom classes as I could. My love for ballroom dancing did not turn into my landing a spot on a competitive team, although I auditioned three times.  This disappointment was a blow to my confidence as well.  In retrospect, I think this is why I didn’t seek an outlet for dancing after I got married and moved away.

Fast forward a decade. I’m married, frumpy, with three kids. I see reality TV dancing  shows and feel sad that part of my life is over. I think, “Girls in dance classes are young, I am not. I should put my children in dance classes, not take them.”

So when my cousins invited me to go to a dance club last year, I took them up on it.  And I found my nirvana. The loud music, flashing lights, dancing. I was in my element. I danced, really danced, for hours. Admittedly, I looked out of place. You may know that people at dance clubs just bump and grind or bop around a little bit. They don’t really dance.  But I didn’t care. I was re-discovering the dancer inside me. Because, for the last ten years or so I haven’t danced.

After that, I decided that dancing was part of who I am and I needed to embrace it.  One day I went to the gym during an off-peak hour and snuck into the group fitness room with my ipod and armband. I turned on music only I could hear and began spinning, turning, an leaping across the room. As I moved in front of the mirrors like it was my own private studio.  Suddenly an hour was gone and I was dripping with sweat. I felt ALIVE.  The feeling was addictive. I started going back again and again.

Next I found a co-op dance class at a local studio. The women in the class were all trained dancers and they took turns teaching an advanced routine to the class. It was way beyond my ability, but I kept going week after week. Finally I volunteered to teach a latin dance. As I choreographed my song, I struggled to overcome my anxiety about performing. Even though I loved to dance, and was pretty good, I still felt inadequate because I hadn’t had the same training as the other women in my class. In the end, the dance went really well. It wasn’t as complicated as the other dances, but it was a great cardio workout.

Which leads me to my present relationship with dance. Shortly thereafter I discovered a type of dance-fitness class that combines simple moves from hip-hop, latin, and other international dance (even a little swing!) into an hour-long cardio workout. I enjoyed the party atmosphere of these classes with high energy from a room full of dancers.

A few months after I started attending these classes, I decided to get trained to teach them. While that step was exciting, the possibilities were also scary. How could I teach a dance class without a long history of dance training? My self-confidence lagged behind my enthusiasm as I completed the certification to become an instructor.

When I auditioned to teach at a fitness club, I was incredibly nervous. I don’t remember ever having been that nervous. It seems so silly, but I was on a stage, with a class watching and following me, my image projected onto screens around the entire facility. It was quite terrifying.

Getting through that audition was a gift from God. I found myself using the same coping mechanism that got me through AP tests in high school. I just imagined myself at the end of my audition and found the strength to get me through.

After a successful audition, I started teaching classes at the fitness club and now I teach 5 times a week. It’s a wonderful outlet for my creativity, as I get to choose my own music and choreograph my own dances.

But, most of all, it’s an outlet for my long-lost passion. When I dance, a little bit of me comes alive. It’s a powerful and wonderful part of my life and I am so glad that I overcame my fear long enough to achieve my goal of integrating dancing into my life and the lives of others.


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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9 Responses

  1. Stephanie says:

    This is awesome. I don’t really know what my passion is or how to find it. But, your post reminds me of my mother. All my life, I haven’t known much about her. She’s had a hard life (dad died as a teen, husband left after 6 kids). I don’t think it ever occurred to me that mothers have interests outside of their kids! But, now that the youngest has left home and she is on her own, she is rediscovering her own passions. She loves poetry and has since she was a kid. I didn’t know this. She keeps finding poems and writing poems and emailing them to us. It really makes me happy that she is finding her passion again. It’s like she’s coming to life again.

  2. Juliane says:

    Thank you for posting this. Dance is one of my passions as well and your post reminded me how important it is to nurture them. Thank you for feeding an empty place in my heart today 🙂

  3. Two of Three says:

    Glad you are pursueing your “thing”. Everyone needs a “thing”!

  4. Caroline says:

    You are so not frumpy! 🙂

    I wish I could find a physical passion like this. I’m no dancer, but it’s conceivable that there’s some sport out there that I would really love and excel at. I love that you really realized this passion for dance post-kids. Gives me hope.

  5. mr.mraynes says:

    I must second Caroline: frumpy and you have nothing in common. I’m so happy that you’ve found such a fulfilling endeavor. May it continue to bring you joy!

  6. Kelly Ann says:

    This post really makes me want to dance …

    I am not really good at it but enjoy it. I totally take your class if I was closer.

    I’m glad you’ve found your passion and shown how you have progressed with it as an anchor.

    Although I really have to say as well that you are not frumpy. But perhaps that is because you dance …

  7. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for all of the comments.

    Just to clarify, part of this story is overcoming my negative self-image and lack of self-esteem in my abilities to be able to make dance part of my life again.

    Perhaps I was feeling frumpy more than looking that way, but either way that state of mind was difficult to manage.

    I’m not sure everybody has one passion. I think some people have a lot. I’ve heard somebody say that your passion is what you think about when you have nothing else to think about.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post, fellow dancer!

    Two of Three,
    Thank you. Are you pursuing your thing, by chance?

    I hope that you discover a physical passion, too. Part of my deciding to get back into dance was when I realized that I loved it AND it was really healthy for me. That’s the perfect combination. The other issue is time. With school and kids, you are short on that right now. It’s hard to discover and practice at something when you are so busy. But, you can make it happen if you want to.

    Mr. mraynes,
    Thank you, I will keep it up. Although I’m starting to realize that turning something I do for fun into something I get paid to do changes the dynamics a little bit. I still have to go teach even when I’m sick, like yesterday. Still, I’d rather be dancing than not.

    Kelly Ann,
    If you love to do it, but aren’t good at it, then you just need to do it. Nobody gets good at something without a lot of practice. That’s what I tell my students at least 😉

  8. Ziff says:

    Great story, Jessawhy! I’m so glad to hear you were able to reconnect with this part of yourself. (I’m also always comforted to hear others are sometimes riddled with self-doubt, because I sometimes fear I’m the only one. 🙂 )

  9. Dora says:

    Jessawhy! I had no idea that you were a fellow swing dancer! The talks we could have had at the Sophia Gathering!

    Yes, partner dancing is a fantastic way of being active, social and creative. Every time I travel, I always bring some shoes with me, and have connected with dancers from SLC, NYC, Boston, San Francisco, and even Paris. It’s also a great way for couples to work on something together.

    Many times I think that teenagers go through an awkward phase that puts them off dancing. Perhaps someone told them once, at a school dance, that they looked like a flailing flamingo? But dancing is like any other physical activity … the more you do it, the better you get. It’s rather like learning to do a layup in basketball. In the beginning, the timing and footwork can seem foreign. But as one gets the rhythm, it becomes second nature, and one can focus on all the other things going on in the game.

    Dancing is also one of those things where talent and ability shine over physical characteristics. Having danced with any number of people all over the world, I can state that it matters not if they are short or tall, skinny or fat, ugly or beautiful, or young or old. Once on the dance floor, all that matters is the connection and flow.

    Anyway, Brava! to you for rediscovering your passion, developing your talent, and helping others to connect to dance!

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