There is something indescribably beautiful about the Truth. Well, I’m sure there would be if it could be found. When I was seventeen, about to set off into the big wide world, finally on my own (well, besides the financial, emotional, and general all-round support of my parents), the pursuit of Truth was foremost in my mind. Years of Catholic schooling ensured that the way, the truth, and the light were inextricably linked. So of course my search for this elusive Holy Grail led me through lofty endeavours, deeds of goodness, places of purity. It made sense that that was where I would find this Truth. What can I say? I was seventeen.
Thirty years later I had got an education of sorts, committed myself to a marriage (of sorts), fallen inelegantly into motherhood, immigrated, and somehow forgotten about my quest– perhaps I was simply too tired. I was also somewhat placated by the ‘truths’ that I had picked up along the way. You know, the ones that tell you what being a good wife and mother means. The things you should and shouldn’t do to be a successful human being. And I believed them. Wholeheartedly.
And then one night not too long ago I found myself backstage, about to step into the spotlight in front of two hundred strangers, all of whom had paid good money to watch me dance. I was wearing high heels for the first time…ever. Ditto for the make-up and corset. The music started and I stepped onstage, wearing my seventeen-year-old daughter’s short black zip-up dress, and a pair of Audrey Hepburn gloves. Not one of my friends or family members was in the audience. I hadn’t told them what I was doing. Because the one truth I knew, absolutely, was that a good wife, a sensible mother, would never remove her clothes in public, even if it is to the beat of Beethoven.
I am not a fearful person. I tend to be pathologically naive in my assumption that things will turn out OK. This is probably why I collapsed quite happily into marriage and motherhood in the first place. I lack the gene that worries about long-term consequences. Until it’s too late. Like realising halfway through my dance routine that this was quite possibly one of the worst ideas I’d ever had.
The gloves were the first to go, then the dress. Heels and stockings followed. And suddenly I was aware that I would be exposing my gravity-ravaged bottom to a theatre full of strangers. As I turned my back toward the unsuspecting audience, I ran my hands down my forty-seven-year-old derrière – a gesture borne of panic and a last-ditch attempt at modesty I suppose. The crowd reacted. Wildly. And just like that, my terror disappeared. Oh, my hands were still shaking. My legs still jelly. But I had not felt a thrill like this in…well…forever. This was awesome! My solar plexus lit up. For the first time in my life I felt beautiful, desirable, perfect. Just. As. I. Was.
And suddenly the nature of my dilemma changed. Because, as long as fear was what I was experiencing, I could convince myself that I was doing burlesque for all sorts of noble reasons. You know, to conquer my Catholic hang-ups. To rebel against society’s misguided views on how women should behave. To protest the media’s portrayal of the ideal (and completely unrealistic) female form. To overcome my prudish girlhood. These arguments all gave me a valid excuse to dance nearly-naked in public. But if I was enjoying it, all those magnanimous rationalisations no longer existed.
But more important, if this was what gave me joy…if this was the person I was… then I couldn’t be that other person – you know, the good girl I’d been for the past forty-seven years. And it was then that I stumbled upon the truth. And I realised I’d been searching in all the wrong places. The truth reveals itself in our darkest moments, when we are most confused. Conflicted. It lurks in the shadows, waiting. The tricky part though, is recognising it. Acknowledging it. Embracing it for what it is.
In her book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés suggests that in order to truly be our authentic selves, we need to cultivate our wild nature – to go into the darkness. Well, I was ready. Listening to the audience that night, reveling in my alter ego’s fantasies, oh boy was I ever ready! But then followed her warning to watch out for being “irreparably trapped, captured or killed on [the] way there or back”. That didn’t sound terribly fun, and visions of telling my husband what I was doing careened through my head. But that’s a story for another time…
My awkward entry into the world of burlesque shattered my myths about human nature, about feminine power, about myself. Being honest with ourselves is the hardest kind of truth there is. Coming face to face with your soul, unexpectedly and brutally naked in the unforgiving light of real life’s midnight is oftentimes not terribly pretty. It took me a while. I made some undeniably poor decisions, and succumbed to much unnecessary angst. But finally I understood that it is the polarities within us that make us fascinating, and unique. We need to accept them without judgement. But more crucially, they should be embraced as vitally juxtaposing opposites, with no attempt to reconcile them in any way. Because that’s how they stay vibrant, energetic, creative. Just as mixing bright colours together on a canvas simply results in a muddy-coloured mess, so too trying to temper our fantastic dichotomies is an exercise not only in futility, but one that will simply result in a passionless, sterile existence.
I’ll probably go to my grave someday being no less confused than I am today. But this I know…every now and then, if we are lucky, and the planets are aligned just so, and the gods conspire, and the universe smiles briefly upon us, we are given the opportunity of Traveling Through Truth. And yet, because we are mortal, and fallible, and afraid, we may only recognise it once it’s passed us by. But by then it’s too late, and all that remains is the poignant understanding that it does indeed exist, that magic is entirely possible. Don’t let that happen. The next time you feel yourself stumble into the shadows, let go, because what you will discover, in that moment of falling, is a self so unexpected, so full of possibility, that it will take your breath away.
If you’d like to dance in your unique darkness, the seductive shadow that’s hiding your fantastic light, join us at the next Diva Date Night. Bring your dreams, your fantasies, your passions…and don’t forget the sexiest pair of heels you own. Finding the truth, whatever it is, will never be this much fun.