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  • Writer's pictureShanice The CEO

Dance is my Safe Place!

safe space


  • 1.a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm:

This blog entry is an ode to my saving grace that is dance. I think most dancers have this story of how "they found dance" or "dance found them", however my story is a bit deeper than that. Dance saved my life. But let me start from the beginning.

I started dancing, sheesh, when I started walking really. I was part of a dance team at a local dance studio in Concord at a very young age. You can call it very expensive daycare I guess. So after school I would have to go to dance class where it was back-to-back training from 4pm-9pm. As I got older that timespan got later since I was on the competition team. Then my weekends were filled with dance all through grade school to high school. Now at the time I was very young, so I didn't notice how "different" I was from the other dancers. I could see, but I didn't fully comprehend on how my difference in skin caused different treatment. Reflecting back, I feel I wasn't seen as a potentially serious ballet dancer. I also weighed 90 pounds, wet, and yet was told that my "appearance" did not meet the standards. Never any specific details. Even my hair was a situation. I tell ya, the dance world is harsh and as an impressionable young, black girl, either someone prepares you or you drown. I was one that took in water later down the line - but let me not get ahead of myself. In the 90s you also didn't see too many black dancers unless they were in rap/hip hop videos; and usually they were fare skinned. So it was hard to aspire to become something you felt didn't exist for someone like me. I remember meeting Paula Abdul at a dance convention and she was so tiny and she didn't look like my peers - all east bay white - but didn't fully look like me - light skin, fair hair, and reeeeeally talented (I was my worst critic at 10 yo). But in all, I loved it. The excitement, the fast pace, the travel, the costumes - well most of them. Most of all I enjoyed feeling that finally I mattered and was being seen for doing something extraordinary - fouette turns were the superpower.

Now lets fast forward to coming back from college. I got out of competitive dance in high school for what I told myself was to have a life; but really due to affordability. Shoot I didn't even have a college fund and was still getting lunch support, so how can I expect to have that paid for AND volleyball freshman year, then cheer all high school. Everyone wants to be a cheerleader of course. Again I am in a space where I love what I am doing, but I just didn't meet the mold of what a cheerleader looked like (so glad that changed after my years thanks to the economy and affordable housing, for black girls behind me). BUT then dance came back in church when I was introduced to praise dancing. For the first time dance became much more deeper than performance. It became a tool for self development and connection. Especially in a world where I felt completely disconnected. I was the black girl of a few, but not the "hood" black girl they desired. I was a nerdy, harry potter loving, 4.6 gpa having, people pleaser, that no one fully understood. That I didn't even understand. Praise dance didn't care. And again I was in a place were I felt that I mattered. Then folks decided to use it as a weapon of control. Before I knew it praise dance, in the way I loved it, was taken from me.

**TRIGGER WARNING AHEAD: REFLECTION ON MY SUICIDE ATTEMPT. Please scroll past to the last paragraph for your own health. No hurt feelings at all.**

Summer of 2010 I fell into a deep depression. College years were great but there were so many events that caused my past trauma to surface on top of the present hurt and humiliation. I had no desire to live. If the world and those in it can misuse and abuse me, there must be something wrong with me. I must have no purpose in life and if I continue living it will just get worse. I will never experience love, happiness, trust, or peace. I didn't matter. So I decided to take a razor to my wrists in my childhood home...I decided, but God had other plans. As I am crying in my childhood bathroom, I got a phone call from my mom. You don't not pick up Desiree's calls. Mind you they were at a church meeting (I stayed behind). She tells me that I was appointed to be the church's praise dance teacher. In the mental state of unworthy and unequipped I responded with a "I respectfully decline" - that's how you say it in Zion. Well pastor wasn't having that and said he would see me in his office tomorrow (Sunday - who said I was going to church?). This began the process of how DANCE SAVED MY LIFE. Now it wasn't a light switch. I still dealt with depression on my own and in silence. Black people don't do therapy; and who was paying for that??? (NOTE: I strongly encourage professional therapy for everyone. Make this a priority. I am now!) The trauma I was dealing with couldn't be talked about because it was entangled with other people's lives that I felt "wasn't my place to expose". So praise dance gave me that outlet. Every time I danced from then on, or shared a new piece to my students, it came from my own story. It was a outward expression of my inward struggles and celebrations. Some days were bad and others were good - and dance was always there for me to work it out. Dance has always been there. My safe space to be sad, frustrated, anxious, imperfect, and free. Dance has continued to free me from the harm life has passed to me - seen and unseen; heard and unheard - dance knows all of me. I am so grateful for it. It is more than just technique. It is no longer a performance. I perform every day at work, church, with family, and friends. When I dance, it is not a performance, but a purpose to release and reset. And who better to dance to than God. I never really caught onto journaling. I know surprising considering blogging is a form of that hehe. But my truth is in my dance. Dance became my diary and prayers. Every placement of my feet. The position of my arms. Each turn and bend of my body. Dance became my weapon and shield to get through life, and I make sure to keep my site focused on God's promise for me with every turn - always looking upward. I don't take dance lightly and that is because it is my Safe Space!

I ENCOURAGE YOU: Find your safe space and protect it. There will be people who try to tare it down. They will try to run it over with their toxic intentions for self gain or misuse it for their own misaligned endeavors. FIGHT BACK! PROTECT IT! Do not let it go for anything. You have a right to protect your safe space. You have a right to have your safe space. I pray over your safe space and that it remains in tact and expands to allow others to find refuge for themselves this mental health awareness month. Your Safe Space Matters!

Collage of My Favorite Black Women Dancers feat. Paula Abdul, Christy Copeland, and Ciara...& me and my dance sisters

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