Courtney Maum on Finally Learning to Dance Like Nobody’s Watching
After Birthing a Child, Finding New Ways to Move
My first attempt at public dance was at a surprise party for my 13th birthday. The event was a big deal: I went to an all-girls’ school, and the party was a coed affair with imported boys. My mother took camcorder footage of me attempting to find “The Rhythm of the Night,” and shifting into moroseness when nobody wanted to slow dance to “Nothing Compares to You.” Watching the tape afterward, I zeroed in on my body—which had developed more quickly than my classmates’—bopping in a crowd of khaki pants and ponytails. I looked jumbly and uncomfortable. I was horrified.
Over the next few years, I braved a variety of athletic pursuits, but dance wasn’t one of them. My attempts at rhythmic movement lived and died within that fête. Though I certainly became more comfortable with my body as I aged, I had absolutely no desire to shake my frame around. In my teens and in my twenties, I felt discombobulated and ungainly, more gesundheit than gazelle.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant that I got the hang of my own shape. I’d been doing yoga for years like a good girl from Connecticut, and one day while in triangle pose my baby kicked me into an important realization: I did not like yoga. I was bored out of my skull with yoga. I suddenly realized that during this time of profound stillness and incubation, I wanted—and needed—to move the hell around.It wasn’t until I was pregnant that I got the hang of my own shape.
In my second trimester, I put on big-beat music like Major Lazer and the French electronic artist Sophie, and I popped and locked and posed. After years of resenting my curves, I’d finally figured out what to do: I could drop it to the ground. I could drop it like it was hot. I got harder, faster, stronger to the music of Daft Punk.
Of the many gifts that motherhood can bring, one (for me, at least) was the cessation of caring what people thought about my body. All of my muscles and organs and bones had worked together to birth my daughter, and I wanted to celebrate our hard work. So I kept on dancing. I put on louder music and danced with my girl in her baby carrier all around the living room. When she developed sea legs, we hung a Jolly Jumper from the ceiling so that we could bounce together. The neighbors could see us waltzing from the window, the postman found me sweaty whenever he dropped a package off. But I wasn’t embarrassed to move in public any longer—my mother body brought me joy. In addition to the mounting pride I felt, my actual structure got better after childbirth, too. My body grew longer and more supple, stretchy and more languorous, like a house finally settling into the ground on which it’s built. Episiotomy be damned, I could touch my toes from a seated position. I could do a pirouette and land in fourth position; my daughter was my spot.
My love affair with movement flourished as my child crawled from infancy to toddlerhood. I signed up for the community classes offered by Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires, a seasonal opportunity that allows plebeians like me to join professional dancers in their morning warm-ups. There was only about ten minutes of chaste stretching before we were ordered to leap and fall and tumble (elegantly) across the ground. This exercise—which took place in front of actual professionals, mind you—would have been my idea of hell when I was younger, but something magnificent happened as I rolled across the freezing floor: because I didn’t care if anyone was watching me, nobody did.
In my experiments with public dance classes, this lesson has been repeated for me on a larger scale. Being comfortable in your body is a gift, of course, but it’s also a gift for others. When you spend time around people who actually like themselves, you can’t help but be tempted to accept yourself more, too. In the years since Jacob’s Pillow, I’ve tried everything on the menu in our Massachusetts corner: tango, belly dancing, hip hop, ballet, modern dance, online Masala Bhangra videos, even contra dance. When I’m on book tour, my Ballet Beautiful subscription is the first thing I pack, moving along to the founder’s port de bras, attitudes, and demi plies via video in my hotel room. To the endless delight of my daughter, I’m the only parent who appears in the back of the little Zoom square during her online ballet classes. I figure if she’s going to spend 45 minutes sashaying around our bedroom, why can’t I?
The weather has been bad in our Northeast corner during COVID-19: cold and gray and rainy, the kind of damp that makes you want to binge-watch Ozark instead of going for a walk. And so I turn to dance to shake my fear and sadness out. My husband joins us in our impromptu dance parties in the living room; we let our daughter jump from couch to couch. We can’t travel, we can’t plan, we can’t go to the town lake. But inside of our houses, we’re still called to move.
The following is excerpted from Moms Don’t Have Time to: A Quarantine Anthology, edited by Zibby Owens with original essays by more than 60 bestselling and award-winning authors.