fear embodied

when you dance tango, all the trash and junk from the ocean of your consciousness floats up to the surface and you have no choice but to notice. oh. look at that. ugly plastic bottles filled with great and small fears: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of eye contact, fear of tight spaces, fear of awkwardness, fear of intimacy, fear of connection, fear of disconnection, fear of disempowerment, fear of sweaty hands, fear of not enough - not good enough, not skilled enough, not beautiful enough, and let’s not forget, the fear we probably haven’t felt since we were beginners: the fear of touching. for me, there is another fear that i’ve only noticed now, floating in the ocean of my subconscious like some old oil spill, after years of holding men in close embrace, named only recently: the fear of his body.

for as long as i can remember, if a boy challenged me with words i could cut him down in an instant with the sword of language i spent so long sharpening - but if he held me close in an embrace it was like a bird deep inside my chest was struggling, afraid of his body, afraid of his arms, afraid of his chest. maybe it has something to do with the tension i feel in my bones when i walk through new york city streets alone, in my own neighborhood i stopped running outside because the way men looked told my body, you must keep running. or maybe it has something to do with my native culture, the family that raised me rarely touched me, or something to do with my mother, who had twice married men that danced too close, too often to the edge of violence.

don’t you know that on the wide open streets of new york city, to return the stare of a man could be dangerous? at least it feels that way, this is why when a man looked at me at a milonga, asking me to dance, my body’s first instinct was to look away. look away. i don’t want to dance with you i don’t even want to touch you how do i know i can feel safe around you how do i tell my body: hush, it’s okay. now it’s the time to express yourself not the time to protect yourself.

then i realized it wasn’t about them, fear of his body — it was about me - fear of my own body, as in: do i really own my body, what can i wear without looking like i’m asking for it, how do i turn down the volume on those voices that say don’t reveal too much skin, don’t give too much away once it’s taken you can’t give it back once you lose it you can’t claim it back, and who but yourself to blame?

maybe this is the first gift of dancing in close embrace, forced to face your fears embodied, plastic bottles filled with debris, instead of being numb with defensiveness, maybe i could allow myself to feel his arm around my back, my hand on his shoulder, send my gaze inside his collarbone. allow myself to be more like ocean, unafraid to be free.