This is the piece I submitted and read to the attendees of No Lose for the Sunday Salon. A lot has been said and assumed about this piece and about me because of it. I have reflected and acknowledged that people were hurt by this piece at the community feedback session that same day (see my quote/response and thoughts below).
No Lose 2013: Sunday Salon Submission “Fatty Dancer”
I want to tell you that I am fat. I want to tell you that I’m a dancer. But the truth is I haven’t always been either of those. I started dancing when my toddler feet hit the ground, but I was a weird, skinny kid who always felt awkward and ugly. At age five I was at a friend’s house dancing to the radio when her sister came in and told me, “What do you think you’re doing? White girls can’t dance!” I was crushed. I ran home crying and begged my mother to change me so that I could dance once again.
As friends went to dance lessons and gymnastics, I stayed home and danced in my carport. I pretended there was a grand ball or a life changing showcase for all to witness my amazing dance skills. I danced with my bff to the radio and cassettes. We had dance routines for everything! We had big dreams and bigger hearts. We loved to dance and refused to stop.
Junior high meant social dances, just like in the movies. Only, the big song of the day was “Me so horny” and I was boy crazy! Puberty hit and with it so did a lot of other stuff. Drugs, boys, depression, weight gain…these things are common, for sure, but for me it felt like the weight of the world on my shoulders, too. High school was a special kind of torture. I fell in with the “wrong” kids and started cutting classes, experimenting with drugs and sneaking out at night to kiss boys in graveyards.
By the time I met my abuser I’d forgotten all about my dancing days. Somehow I thought having a boyfriend was the biggest priority. Oh if I could shake some sense into my fourteen year old self! Meeting that individual would change the course of my entire life. I spent the next five years as a hostage in my own home. Every aspect of my life was controlled by him. I would spend so much time in my head and retreat and disconnect entirely from my body. I had to. I disconnected to protect myself from the abuse. I would fantasize about escaping, about being saved, about evaporating into a vapor. I did not dance for those five years.
When I finally escaped I was 19 and didn’t know who I was or how I fit into the world. At a size 20 I soon realized that I didn’t. I wore baggy corduroys, baggy t-shirts and coordinating flannels to hide what my body had become: fat! I was in a new town with a new job and no idea what my life was supposed to be now. I’d been given another shot at a life, but I was so depressed and unknowingly suffering from PTSD that I mostly just sat home and cried a lot. Soon my old friends came back into the picture and insisted I get out and dance!
We tried dance clubs where we could get in, but not being 21 made that tough. Until they talked me into going to a goth club in San Francisco called “The So What” and it was like a light bulb moment for me. I fought and resisted, “What is this goth shit anyway?” I complained. But they dragged me there kicking and screaming with smuggled in liquor and the promise of a good time. I didn’t believe them for a second. Until we hit the dance floor and this industrial band was playing and in a flash, I was in love!
The fashion, this different style of dance so new to my eyes. I was among the freaks and the weirdos…my people! They were free spirits and moved as they pleased, on their own, no couples! This was fantastic and I soon fell right into it! I bought a cassette of the band (16 Volt) playing that night and tucked it into my back pocket. Years later I got to meet and hang out with those dudes in San Jose. So cool!
I went back to that club with friends and on my own. Sometimes I would go just to have a space to dance without people judging me. It always felt so free and right when I would dance there. It was when I first tried to love my body. I wore an oddly put together mish-mash of lingerie pieces and satin and random chains and crosses. I didn’t know how to do my own make up and would just sort of smear black eye liner here and there.
When I met my future (and now ex) husband, he wasn’t into dancing at all. He went with me to the goth club once but just stood against the wall, I’m sure trying his best to have a good time. I never went back. Later, that club closed and I never found one even close to as good as that.
13 years later, after so many careers, pitfalls and even running my own cafe, a friend talked me into going to FFE (full figured entertainment) in Oakland. I hesitated, but then figured I was in good fat company. I’d been a fat activist and blogger for some years and felt comfortable in my own skin. But dancing? I thought I was “too old” for the club. Ha-ha! I didn’t really know how to dress, but went with it just the same. I didn’t know most of the music but I picked up some new dance moves on the floor and had the best time! Soon I found myself returning to FFE with my friend as well as others. I got to know the club promoter, Tigress and even tried other dance clubs.
I did find a goth night in San Jose, but it will never be anything close to as awesome as “The So What” but what can ya do? It was perhaps a moment in time. I go to 80’s and new wave nights, I go to goth nights and sometimes I go to a local BBW club when my friend talks me into it. I’m not into the whole BBW scene, but when you’re with the right people and dancing you kind of forget about all of that other stuff (at least I try to).
When Tigress asked me to join her in a dance duet for Big Moves Bay Area’s spring show “En Masse” I said yes without thinking. I had not performed on a stage in seventeen years! I had moments of doubt and insecurity, but Tigress was awesome and we had so much fun busting our humps rehearsing for the show. I had never before experienced that whole “runner’s high” thing until those rehearsals. I get it now! It is a wonderful feeling. It is addictive. I fell in love with dancing all over again!
What was amusing to me was how few people knew I could dance or that I enjoy it. Some friends were shocked, others cried at my performance and many thought it would be a very different style altogether. Okay, they thought I’d be doing a bunch of booty shaking, which I’m obviously not opposed to, but they were so not expecting a serious number from the likes of me and Tigress. Ha-ha! I love that! It was such an honor to be a part of “En Masse!” It was a fantastic show and I would have attended even if I wasn’t in it.
I felt like a bit of a phony at first. These other girls had been performing and rehearsing and who was I to be in this big amazing show?! But they were all so kind and supportive. It was an emotional journey for me as well as a physical one. I had some childhood stuff come back to haunt me but worked through it with some major help from my friends. After our tech and dress rehearsals I had so many people tell me how fantastic our piece was that I couldn’t believe it. Then after the two performances, to see the looks on my friends and new boyfriend’s faces?! Well, that is priceless!
I felt a bit of loss after those shows were over, though. No more rehearsals? No more laughing and being silly with Tigress? Nothing to look forward to or work towards? I was in mourning for dance. I hit up the club as best I could, but that local BBW club’s DJ is the worst ever and it just wasn’t filling the dance gap. When I saw that No Lose was looking for people to be in the talent show I signed up, again, without even thinking. I had no ideas, no song in mind and no inspiration. I had to dig deep for that one! Ha-ha! I wanted to do it just to keep dancing.
I want to tell you that I am fat. I want to tell you that I’m a dancer. And I am both of those things now. I spent far too much time away from doing the thing I love to do that I just cannot stop now! I want to be the dancing granny on YouTube, in a dancing grannies dance troupe! I want to take every opportunity to move in a joyful way! I often say that human connection is the spice of life for me. Conversation is my drug of choice and listening to my glorious gut will never steer me wrong. But now I also know how very powerful movement can be.
I used to watch the Big Moves performances and be in tears the whole time. They were tears of joy, mind you, but inside of me lived an ache for dance. A knee injury and lack of health insurance kept me fearful for so long that I thought I could never do it. A little low-cost acupuncture here and learning to stretch properly there and being mindful and connected to my body now and I can honestly say that I have never felt better!
I know and love every roll, lump and wrinkle on my body now. I feel like I own my body and don’t just lease it. I had to learn how to eat things that would support my body better as well as my dancing. Because, leg cramps!!! Ha-ha! When people see me dancing all night long, all arm fat flailing and rump shakin’ goodness? I no longer care what they think of me. I’m having the time of my life while they’re holding themselves back. I cannot worry about that or them. I can only worry about what the next song will be and how I am going to bust all the moves when it hits! And when “California Love” comes on? You better clear the dance floor because that is my jam and I am going to get down! Ha-ha!
It took me 35 years to get here. To be the dancer I always wanted to be. To love the incredible gift that is this body, all 325 lbs of it. To understand and heal and appreciate what it can do for me and where it can take me. As it changes shape, I get to rediscover and reconnect with it. My grandma often told me, “Never get old, Sarah!” and while I can’t promise anything on that note, I can honestly say that I feel so much younger now than I did in my twenties. I no longer carry the weight of the world, I only carry my own. And I am happy with that.
Now I choose to celebrate life with every step…Dancing!
This is what I said at the feedback session later that day in response to several people saying that they were hurt by this piece, that it is racist or has “clear racist undertones” and I felt I needed to respond and respect their feelings.
“I want to acknowledge that people were really hurt by the piece I wrote for this morning’s salon. This was not my intention. I wanted to share my lived experience. I am going to take some time to reflect on it and I do not want to place that responsibility on anyone else. Racism is something that I work on in my life everyday and will absolutely continue to do so. Thank you.”
I never thought I would ever in my life be accused of being racist or that something I wrote would or could have racist undertones because of how and where I grew up and how and where I live my life now. I have always been committed to equality for all and work very hard within my communities to create a safe space for everyone. I know it is not the responsibility of those who were hurt by this piece to educate me on the how’s and the why’s. At the same time I do not at all understand but I want to very badly. I understand accountability and mistakes and I would absolutely admit to such an occurrence. What I don’t yet fully get is how sharing my lived experience has hurt people.
I don’t consider myself an ignorant person, despite the fact that I’ve had only up to a 9th grade education. I work very hard to be informed, educate myself and be involved in community and activism, not just in issues of size acceptance. I consider myself an ally to the oppressed and feel that everyone’s story is important and should be heard. When we take away the voices of others, when they are silenced and shut down, we continue that oppression.
I have done a lot of thinking on this and discussed it with others. It was brought up that perhaps how I was dressed/presented myself that made me appear a certain way that isn’t actually true of my real life. I was dressed in my Sunday best because I was speaking in public to a large audience. I felt safe to do so. I had planned my outfits over many months and was excited to get into my costumes for No Lose.
I would and could not hurt someone intentionally. I do my absolute best to not hurt anyone ever. To have my words twisted and misrepresented is hard and painful. What was worse was getting thanked and called brave for apologizing from other white folks when in fact I hadn’t apologized. What hurt more than that was not feeling allowed to talk about it, to question it or to ask what I could do to make things right. I have survived so very much in my short life, I help other survivors and those who are currently struggling, all of the time. I do it because I care and because I have been there. I am a compassionate individual but also a very publicly vulnerable one. This has taken me years of work to get here and I’m finding it hard to stay true to myself while carrying the burden of fear and shame along, too.
If you have questions, please ask me. If you have a comment, please leave one. I am always open to discussing things. I don’t pretend to know everything, far from it, and always seek more knowledge. I do realize that putting myself “out there” carries a risk. I have always accepted that risk. I want to be responsible in my vulnerability and compassion, though. Fat people get enough shit thrown at and on them and it has been a real eye opener to see that come from other fat people (not just on the subjects of this post). I hope that together we can improve things so that everyone feels safe in our community. I am willing and ready to continue to do the work.