Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Serenity on the Dance Floor: An Unexpected Delightful Discovery of a Potential Antidote to My Anxiety

"Well, actually, my sleep doctor told me that the best time to exercise is two hours before bed. That way you get rid of the rest of your energy and you sleep better."

I was in the middle of a discussion with some Chicago friends over a home-cooked dinner from a special diet called Whole30. The discussion centered on the quest to establish a daily routine. I was lamenting over the fact that waking up at 6AM to go to the gym was trending toward unsuccessful in the maintenance category.   

As we discussed bedtimes and wake times and Paleolithic-inspired eating, I started to panic.

"Yeah, we have really enjoyed moving to this neighborhood and we have lots of couple friends in the building. Our realtor said that lots of people our age will continue to migrate out here but we are just a year or so ahead. We even have Game Night with some neighbors down the hall."

At this point, I was sweating and my Vertigo ear was ringing. 

  • Couples
  • Friends
  • Cooking together at home
  • Moving out to neighborhoods
  • Game Night

I was freaking out at the incongruous nature of my life compared to my peers. Being an open book with nothing to lose, I announced my concerns over the incongruous nature of my life compared to my friends. Luckily, they responded with a gentle knowingness that segued into an honest discussion about life.

"It's hard." My friend said.

"Like, when I first moved out here and I called my dad and told him I was struggling, he said that he felt he had failed as a parent if this was the first time I understood that life is, in fact, hard and that it stays hard, through triumphs, joys and failures."
She went on to remind me that,

"And like I told you. Chicago is a hard city. People work hard here. The buses and trains are still full at 7PM."

Oh. As I considered these statements, I started to wonder about how I would get home. The 'L' stop in Bucktown was over half a mile away, and I am still unfamiliar with where I should and should not be wary of being alone at night.

"We'll drive you." She said. And they did.

The irony of the night was that it was my first official attempt this year at "Having Fun." My boss revealed a brilliant New Year's resolution of making an effort to have some fun each day – which, I know sounds like a LOT but really can be actualized in little things like making dinner or going to yoga. The point is that you cannot make your entire life about work otherwise everything will start to fog over. I was so inspired by this concept that I went back to my desk and started thinking about "Having Fun." Then the shocking realization came. 

I could not remember the last time I had had fun.

I did not have fun over Christmas. I was too worried about work and didn't even take my mom to a movie. Not once. 

Maybe I had had fun in the Fall going out to bars and wearing my new high heels? Yes, I guess that was fun, but I spent too much money.

Was Chicago in the Summer fun? Yes, I suppose the concept of it was fun, but now, as my friend so aptly put it, my honeymoon in Chicago was over and it was time to start Living Here Like A Real Person.

So, it was after the lack-of-fun realization that I immediately texted my friend and invited myself over for dinner. Much to my luck, my Whole30 home cooked dinner with my Chicago friends was the start of an exploration that led me to tonight's dance class.

With the helpful advice of my friend's sleep doctor, I was motivated to try working out at night. I was lucky to have the right flow of my work day so that I could make it on time to a dance class I'd been eyeing for a few weeks. I go to this expensive gym called Equinox and I justify the price because of proximity. I can easily walk to the gym. And being able to easily walk to the gym is the difference between going to the gym and not going to the gym. But part of paying for this expensive gym membership is that the place has amazing classes. I almost never take these classes.

When I arrived at the class there was already a line of people waiting to get in. I saw a nice looking girl and I stated the obvious in the form of a question: 

"Are you here for the dance class?"

It turns out she was, and she told me that it was a fun, very crowded, very energetic experience. She pointed out some fun people to watch and wished me a good class. It was at this point when I tried to remember the last time I had actually danced. Like, not at-a-party-moving-with-the-music dance, but really full on, sweat-soaked-hair-clinging-to-your-forehead dance.

As a kid and in college, dancing was always a big thing in my life. Growing up I did competitive dance. It was super stressful and time-consuming but now when I think back on it, I like those memories of sequins, hair spray and swearing moms. When I see remnants of the Competition Dance lifestyle, I can't help but smile with the intimate knowledge of slicked back hair buns and scratchy pink ballet tights. 

And in college, I had this killer dance routine to 'N Sync Bye Bye Bye and this routine came out every Friday in our dorm rooms. Our fake wooden desks would be sticky with Absolute Vodka and I would do my Justin Timberlake dance over and over until sometimes I fell over. 

Later on, when I had quit dance and was an official twenty something adult, I learned to love the freeness of a night out with girlfriends, just (thinking that we were) owning the dance floor. In Minneapolis there is a club called The Front, and this was where we would go on Friday nights and do our girls dance circle thing. DJ Dirty Duke played pop song after pop song that we all certainly thought were played just for us. 

The dance class at Equinox tonight was packed. I was amused by the presence of way more variety than just skinny hot girls. There were some grandmas and dads and randoms there, too. 

The music turned on and I was greeted by an old friend – Britney. The instructor came out and he was already on fire; clapping, yelling, doing some attitude dance moves and jumping up and down. The great part about this was that we were supposed to be doing the same thing. 

So I started copying the dance teacher, and this copy cat game got me doing moves I have not done since my 'N Sync days. This instructor was so amazing because he was into every single song, kind of acting them out with facial expressions and oh-no-you-don't finger waging. With the decades of copy cat training under my ancient dance belt, I copied him dutifully, rolling my hips, shaking my chest, and doing lots of pointing left and right. At one point I tried to do this move and my neck started to ache like it does if you try head banging. But, no matter. 

I was smiling, laughing, sweating, clapping and shaking my ass. My eye makeup from work was dripping down my cheeks and I was having fun

As I danced and kicked and sashayed across the room, my mind started working. But this time it was working for good and not for evil. I started picturing a dance party in my studio apartment with all the older adults in my building (I live in a nice building in Streeterville and have more mature neighbors). I thought about all the people who live alone and who might be lonely or just bored. What if I invited them over and we all just kind of danced? Or what if I opened a center for people with Anxiety, Depression and mental illness and conducted a bunch of crazy intense dance classes where the beats were so loud and the moves so nasty that people would forget for a moment that they were not happy people?

Ok, I admit, these ideas are weird and would need some serious tweaking, but you get the idea. My mind was feeling like a creative place, not a cold place. And when I got home, I had fun looking up music videos instead of How-To articles on managing anxiety. 

See - that's the thing - This annoying anxiety that has crept up during this Chicago Winter is not allowed to stay and I am desperate to kick it to the curb. So I read endless online mental wellness articles (some helpful, some not) in my search for a quick fix. 

And I'm telling you, tonight my dance class was that quick fix I've been looking for. An antidote to my anxiety, a cleanser for my untidy mind; dancing my ass off tonight cleared my head like whoa.

I know that the anxious feelings will creep back in, because that is only natural and anxiety is a part of all of our lives. But tonight I feel like I uncovered one more tool in my Mental Health Toolkit (along with meditation, laughing, playing with dogs, talking to friends, listening to music, eating junk food) that will help me clear this fog and get me back to loving this wonderful, crazy life of mine.


  1. Susan, I'd dance with you any time (whether it's at Hopkins Dance Studio or not)!

  2. Love love love love love! I just think of the private dance party you threw me when I had you come over one night as I was writing my MBA marketing final and needed some Cre Cre time...