My lace sleeves floated as my partner spun me in the air. He was wearing a plastic gold chain and an afro wig. I had blue eyeshadow and neon pink-and-orange striped knee socks on. We’d been paired as strangers a minute ago and now I hung in his arms with abandon. My hand was bleeding, but I wouldn’t notice until later.
I was about to have the best night ever.
Two nights before my boyfriend walked out on me. I still had the rug burns where I begged him on my knees to stay. He had shaken my weak hands off his wrist like dust.
I cried to my friends, took the train to dinner, bought stone-ground chocolate from a hipster: the standards.
I walked the empty apartment in the middle of the night, too hungry to sleep, too tired to cook. My dog sat by me helplessly as I doubled over with sobs.
After two days, I dragged my sleep-deprived, dumped self into the shower and put on some wacky clothes for the retro-themed Funky Turkey night at my local swing dancing studio.
When they announced the Jack and Jill dance contest, I was the first girl to put my name down.
For the first heat, I did the bump’n’grind with a female lead, and danced another 15 minutes straight with guys I’d just met to everything from hip-hop to Celine Dion.
I was the first name they called as a finalist.
By the time finals rolled around it was 11:30 p.m. and I’d been dancing for three hours straight.
The final round was a blur. I remember oompa-loompa-ing to “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” I remember my partner and I reprimanded for Miley-twerking in front of the judge’s toddler. I remember “Gangnam Style.”
The glory moment, the moment where I likely cut my hand, was during the Mariah Carey modern dance. I threw myself into my partner’s arms and let him carry me. I didn’t know him and he was willowy. But I wasn’t thinking. I was dancing.
The audience screamed as he spun me, dragged me on the floor across the length of the room, flipped my body back and forth and twirled me down to my knees.
This time, I had a hand to pull me back up.
I wouldn’t have been able to dance like this if I were still in my relationship. It made my boyfriend uncomfortable when I was too close to other guys, which made me uncomfortable. My dance was cramped, a half urge.
That night, there was nothing holding me back. I danced until I thought I would throw up. Men lined up after, but I batted them away with a dizzy hand.
I was almost asleep by the time they announced the winners. Third place wasn’t us. Second place wasn’t us.
We won. We won it all.
First place, free tickets to more dances, and the coveted homemade turkey trophy.
I wanted to cry. My body, with its creaking knees and multiple injuries, running on endless nights of crying, had come through for me. My power bars were gone; by hour 5 I was running on passion alone as I drove home.
Let me tell you something. Before this night, I never knew I was a good dancer. And this is after I’ve been PAID to swing dance in a blockbuster movie. Yet I still doubted. I took beginning classes for fear of embarrassing myself.
But since that night, it all changed. Three months later, I competed at my first blues conference. I made a video of my aerial dancing and put it on Instagram. I started to call myself a dancer.
If my heart hadn’t been broken, so thoroughly broken until it split wide open, I wouldn’t have even entered the contest, much less won it.
I would never have known that I could be the best dancer in the entire room.