Benefits of dancing range from strengthening and toning to reducing stress and building confidence. But one woman seeks the art for something even deeper: To survive her divorce.
"My life was everything I had imagined it would be - and then my marriage crumbled and ended," said Deborah Graham, Toronto lawyer and author. "As a divorce lawyer, I knew what needed to be done legally, but I had no idea how to emotionally survive it."
Fighting fear, shame and vulnerability, Graham unexpectedly turned to ballroom dance. She chronicles her journey from struggle and negativity to courage, self-worth and beauty in her new book, Dance Me Beautiful.
"At my first lesson, my instructor looked me in the eye and asked me what I wanted to get from dancing," Graham recalled. "I startled myself with my answer: 'Dance me beautiful,' was all I could say."
Dance Me Beautiful follows Graham's progression from awkward first lessons to finding the courage to enter her first competition, her physical journey mirroring her personal one to find inner beauty and strength.
"I found myself through ballroom dance," Graham said, "But whatever your medium, you must do whatever it takes to open your heart and trust in the joy of life."
Deborah Graham is a collaborative family lawyer, mediator and part-time professor. Graham grew up in Toronto, Ontario, where she now lives with her son and dances at Pollock Dance Studio. She graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School, married her high school sweetheart, and separated a few years later. Graham has also written a children's chapter book called The Magic Comes Back, which she is self-publishing this year.
Dance Me Beautiful
Author: Deborah Graham
Question: Why did you decide to write Dance Me Beautiful?
Deborah Graham: I wrote Dance Me Beautiful because I had to. I was dancing for my life and needed to write for my life as well. In many respects, I had stopped living after my divorce. I was going through the motions of life but I had disengaged from life and from myself. I began to ballroom dance and the cells in my body started to come alive, but every time I felt an awakening something in me shut down. The voice in my head told me I didn't deserve a second chance; I had used mine up; I didn't deserve a happy life and I was foolish for wasting my time and money taking dance classes.
Dance was starting to work its magic but I was impatient and I needed to bring my head into this transformation. I needed to write to help process the desire, the resistance, the fight and the transformation. Between dancing and writing, I came alive.
I gave the Dance Me Beautiful manuscript to my dance instructor as my way of saying thank you. And that seemed to be the end of it. I hadn't written Dance Me Beautiful to publish it or share it. Dance Me Beautiful sat in my drawer for many years. Every once in a while I brought it out and read it and felt that perhaps there was something more for this piece of writing - it felt somehow incomplete to put it back in the drawer.
And then in the fall of 2011, I heard Brene Brown speak. She talked about shame and shame resilience. She said that shame can only live in silence and that by sharing our stories we can light the way for others. I knew in that moment that it was time to put Dance Me Beautiful out in the world. It was time to share my story and offer a little light.
Question: Was it difficult reliving certain times in your life when you were writing Dance Me Beautiful?
Deborah Graham: There was a therapeutic poignancy to reliving moments in my life as I wrote Dance Me Beautiful. Reflecting and writing stirred up emotions and allowed them to move through me onto the paper so that I could move on.
Question: How did dance overcome the difficulties presented to you after divorce?
Deborah Graham: Ballroom dancing is a partnership dance. It requires a level of trust between the man and woman and creates a safe relationship space in which healing can take place, especially when the healing is from a separation or divorce.
Ballroom dancing also helps a woman to connect and explore her femininity. For me, as a lawyer, I was usually in a position of leading. Ballroom dancing allowed me an opportunity (and a challenge) in giving up control and following. I think that when we are faced with adversity, we experience an awareness of the loss of control. Ballroom dancing helped me explore that loss of control and experience the strength that comes from being vulnerable.
And finally, to truly dance the various ballroom dances, you must access the part of you that is that dance. As you learn the various dances you must access the sensuality of the rumba, the playfulness of the swing, the nostalgic romanticism of the waltz and the intensity of the tango, which helps you expand and grow into more of your full being. As I accessed the intensity of the tango, it helped to ignite my life spirit and bring a passion and zest back into my life.
Question: What do you hope readers take away from Dance Me Beautiful?
Deborah Graham: Dance Me Beautiful is not really about dance; it is about our soul's journey as we become more of who we are.
Our stories, our hopes, our dreams and our struggles are so much more universal than we imagine them to be. We imagine that we are all alone thinking and feeling what we do, but we really are all in this dance of life together.
I hope that readers feel less alone in their struggles and their hopes and are inspired to follow their passions and move through the fears, limitations or restrictions that are preventing them from being their most authentic selves and living their most passionate and meaningful lives.
I hope that readers are inspired to 'dance themselves beautiful!'
Question: What advice do you have for an adult who wishes to try dancing?
Deborah Graham: The hardest part is getting started so I would encourage anyone who wants to try dancing to book a trial lesson. Learning something new as an adult is great for our minds and our spirits!
Interview by Brooke Hunter