(I have so many Chapter 2 drafts and they are not even remotely close in their content, but I feel like writing right now, so A Dancing Child it will be.)
In twelfth standard, a classmate asked me why I started dancing only in tenth standard. It was true. In school.
I spent a major part of my childhood believing I was talentless. I wrote in my diary everyday and I danced spontaneously to songs when they played, and if I was in a crowd I danced in my head. And I believed that everybody wrote, and that everybody danced. Or at least that they could if they wanted to, and I was merely one of the many that put it to practice.
(Also talented people were ubiquitous at my school).
Sometime when I was thirteen I started writing satirical pieces and participating in essay competitions. I had a few classmates, friends and teachers tell me I was good and I believed them. Better than the class average, I believed.
Dancing though was a different story altogether.
Back home I had been dancing since I was a kid to anything that was on TV or on my brother’s walkman, and later on the phone – I was resourceful in making do with the little space in our bedrooms. And when Amma was away I’d sneak into her consulting room to dance. From age thirteen or so I have danced regularly at home (I still do.) But I was extremely shy at school – mostly because I didn’t think I was any good.
From ages ten to fifteen, I painfully watched kids dance on stage as youth festivals passed me by. Painful because I secretly did believe I could be up there (albeit shrouded in self-doubt), yet I couldn’t muster enough confidence (nor work out the logistics that would have entailed if it came to that) to try. I saw parents – mostly moms- dressing the girls up, mine were both working and probably couldn’t care less (indeed I looked at those mothers in short-lived awe and harmless envy).
It was all good since I still participated in other stuff even if I was hardly talented in them, and whenever I saw dance practice sessions I’d tell myself I probably wasn’t a good dancer anyway, yet I couldn’t but longingly steal glances.
During our eighth standard Christmas party, our whole class was dancing and I could finally indulge in active comparison – I remember thinking Hey I‘m quite good at this. Maybe I didn’t want to be proven wrong, but maybe I was just shy.
The next year, auditions for Senior Group Dance were held in my classroom. I remember I was miserably seated on the second last bench with my friends watching the auditions, pretending I had no stakes and no inclination. I vividly remember thinking “I’m pretty sure I’m as good as these kids. Or am I?”
Well, no big deal if I don’t dance another year. I’d take part in drama and group song and other stuff that needed minimal individual talent. I still don’t get how I was okay with singing/acting auditions – which I knew I wasn’t any good at – but not dancing, Maybe it’s true I didn’t want to be proven wrong about my dancing skills.
I didn’t dance that year.
Finally tenth standard came. I remember waiting for the September youth festival from when school began in June, bringing myself up to enroll for the dance, then to show up at the audition. At each stage I strongly considered backing out, and half-hoped and half-feared some mix-up would happen and that they’d never get my name or follow up for auditions.
I remember feeling relieved when I could finally learn those audition steps – as I had suspected I was quite good. Good enough, anyway.
It was a huge deal, preceded by years of self-doubt, and of watching friends and juniors and seniors onstage, years of convincing myself that I wasn’t any good but also guarding my own insecurity.
But when she asked Why did you begin dancing only in 10th? and I saw what I suspected to be an almost unkind snigger, I was taken aback. Should I tell her the story? I wasn’t going to, I was fiercely private.
One small step for onlookers, one decade long story for the kid.
I couldn’t comprehend her intentions and I remember pausing and responding with a confused silence which was all I could gather, and which may have been all it deserved at that point, teen-to-teen. But if there’s anything my life has taught me, it is to never assume.