I recently had the opportunity to see a taped excerpt from one of our performing group's shows from several years ago. In his introduction to one of the dances, our Kumu told the audience a story (Hawaiians love to "talk story") about how someone from his childhood came to one of the shows and asked him why he put the fat girl up front.
(That's me with my lovely hula sister Katrina, decked out for the small group dance in October's show.)
Kumu told the audience he was really bothered by that comment, and couldn't understand it, because all he saw when he watched this woman dance was something really beautiful, and he felt sorry for the person who made that remark. And then said he wanted to show the audience something really beautiful.
It was a dance featuring the heaviest women in the halau. And I burst into tears watching his introduction and their beautiful dance. It made me love him all the more. I mean, I know by the way he treats us - treats me - that he feels this way, but I had no idea he'd taken on this issue in a show.
The reason I stayed away from dance for so many years was my weight. I gained a lot of weight after I stopped dancing in college and never felt like I was in the right shape to take a dance class. I kept telling myself I'd do it once I got into better shape, but tick tock, tick tock, there I was in my early 40's, still not dancing, until my dear friend Rebecca suggested hula, in part because (as I've mentioned before) it's forgiving of many body types, even though it is far more challenging than I could ever have imagined.
The irony of my life is that people were telling me I was fat when I wasn't - hello, middle school hell - and I internalized that. It didn't match with the way I saw myself, but when your peers are mocking you for the way you look, you can't help but think they must be right, especially during those hideous years of awkward adolescence. I was taller than everyone else, and developed sooner. I didn't look like everyone else, and that's the time in your life when all you want is to blend in. I so wish I'd had the strength to ignore the cruelty of my peers, but I simply didn't. So I've always assumed that everyone sees me the way they saw me. (Well, not everyone - not my friends. Have I mentioned how lucky I am in the friend department??)
One of the amazing things about hula is that people there see ME, the REAL me, the me I think I am, deep down. The me I've always thought I was but lost somewhere along the way through adolescence. The positive feedback I get there astonishes me. People ask to follow me as I dance, they praise my chanting (that's the biggest shock), and not once has anyone ever said a word about my size. Some of my hula siblings say they actually ADMIRE me. I can't express how much this all means to me.
The other night in class, Kumu talked about how we have to make ourselves vulnerable in order to show what we're feeling as we dance so that we're not just up there with empty smiles. I actually feel safe enough in hula to do that, and believe me, it's not easy for me to make myself vulnerable to anyone, for any reason. But the love and acceptance I receive in hula makes it impossible to keep the walls up. One of my hula sisters recently called me at work, and said she laughed when she heard the voice mail message, because I sound so serious and so professional - she thinks the laughing, silly person she knows from hula is the real me. I have to agree.
And I thought I was just taking a dance class!