By Christina Marlett

When I was in grade 2, my extra-curricular activity was competitive tap dancing. Each year, my group of girls prepared two competitive pieces. This particular year, our song and dance piece was called Together.

Thirty years later, I can still remember all the words:

“Wherever we go,
Whatever we do,
We’re gonna go through it together.
We may not go far,
but sure as a star,
we’re gonna go through it together.”

Our costumes were hobo-themed. Imagine this. Bowler hat with a white carnation flopping out. Bright yellow t-shirt. Black and white checkered pants with red suspenders. Tap shoes covered in white felt and three black strips of electric tape on each side. What a stylin’ group of 8 year old girls!

We were a talented bunch. We had great tap skills for our age. We worked hard and did what we were told. (I can still hear my teacher yelling: SMILE!!! STRAIGHT LINE!!!)

Generally, when we competed, we earned high marks; 85% and up. That was good enough for a gold medal and usually we placed 1st or 2nd in our age category. For whatever reason though, we didn’t have the same success with Together. It was more of a silver medal dance. I didn’t like that! Silver felt like failure to me. I was used to gold medals and rave reviews. Yep, 8 years old and only the best would do for me.

Each spring, we competed in several competitions, the major one being in Edmonton. It was a big deal. Me, my mom and my younger sister traveled 90 minutes by car with all our costumes and makeup in tow.

The Wild Rose Dance Festival was the culmination of the year’s work. Groups that performed exceptionally well got to be in the Show of Stars at the end of the week. Oh how I yearned to be in that show! It would prove that I was the best. (I guess even the gold medals weren’t really good enough for me. If there was a higher honour, I wanted it!)

So, there we were backstage, waiting to compete in all our hobo glory. I knew that I would have to give it my all if we were to improve our results with this dance. It was our turn. We took our place on stage and the music started. The bright lights blinded me but I performed for the adjudicators like never before. My taps were crisp. My arms were sharp. I belted out that tune, willing my voice to fill the theater.

“No fits, no fights, no feuding, no Egos.

I smiled until my cheeks trembled. I hit every move perfectly from beginning to end. It was my gold medal performance. Or so I thought.

At judging time, we all walked onstage, lined up and stood in our prescribed pose (feet in 3rd position, hands clasped behind our backs, chin up, smile plastered on face). In those days, the adjudicator would come up onstage with a microphone and give us our comments, marks and awards directly. We waited with anticipation.

When it was our turn, the adjudicator said something to the effect that our number was good but not great. Then she said, “I did see one performer with a lot of energy though.” She looked down the line in my direction.

She went on, “I just love to see that kind of enthusiasm! It’s so wonderful that you have a little boy in your group!”

We glanced nervously at each other. We didn’t have a boy in our group. Who was she talking about? Then she walked right up to me and said, “Good job young man!” Oh horror of horrors! She thought I was a boy!

The girls came to my rescue and cried out that I was a girl. The adjudicator apologized but I was crushed. Then we got our silver medal. I guess in retrospect, it was a compliment. I stood out. My energy and hard work was noticeable. However, it was also deeply wounding.

At that young, impressionable age, I determined that if I shined as bright as I could, people would not see me for who I was. They would be confused about one of the most fundamental things about me-that I’m a girl. A small part of me dimmed a little on that stage. It took many years of deep personal inquiry and work to learn to shine again.

That’s one of the reasons I feel so strongly about my process called Ugly Awkward Dancing. It’s an invitation to show up as exactly who you are, no matter what other people think of you. Even if they get you totally wrong, at least you are free.

And then we can all shine as brightly as possible in our vulnerability and courageous awkwardness.

“Through thick and through thin.
All out or all in.
And whether it’s win, place or show.

It’s you for me and me for you,
We’ll muddle through whatever we do,
Together, wherever, we go.”

Christina Marlett BKin, BEd
Self-Care Expert, Embodiment Coach, International Best Selling Author and Producer of The Ugly Awkward Dance Show

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