Humans crave intimacy. There are many feelings and sensations that come with holding hands, touching a person’s leg to show you’re listening, and hugging someone so tight you can’t breathe. It can be magic, but it can also be tainted by pain.
In 2021 I recalled an act that I had not dealt with, which had traumatised my body five years prior. I felt stuck in the feeling of keeping my guard up at all times, mentally and physically. I found the smallest motions of intimacy, like hugging, difficult.
It felt impossible. And scary. Very very scary.
In May 2022 I saw a promo post about a Cape Town Swing event on my friend’s Instagram account. I decided that I would go alone, which would be a first in itself. I felt so nervous driving up to this beautiful old building where the event was to take place. I remember spotting my friend taking pictures of the dance floor and I stuck to her side at the beginning of the night.
However, it soon became clear that the people there were so kind and open. There were not really any cliques, which was unusual for Cape Town, and people would offer their hand to dance so freely and teach the basic steps to anyone in need (myself included) so graciously. I remember thinking that this community of people was different and special.
Then I began to realise, to my dismay, that swing dancing involved quite a close stance to the other person. I avoided all eye contact and stood as far away from my dance partner as I could. I danced with a handful of people that night and remember getting into the car to go home feeling frustrated that the evening was tainted with this fear which followed me around like a grey cloud.
I started going to more and more social swing events and classes and soon realised that the practice of swing dancing involves much more than just the body. Once I got the basic steps down, I found so much joy in expressing myself through the moves and songs. It took a few socials and classes to feel more comfortable with the embrace expected in swing. However, it also felt easy to shift into a position that felt comfortable with any partner I had.
I also found the community to be big on respect and boundaries, so if anyone were to accidentally brush or touch someone on a more intimate body part, they would instantly apologise and we would move on.
Fast forward one year and countless dances, I recently realised that the fear that was hanging over my head so potently is gone. I have taken control over my own body and danced this dance for no other reason but for joy.
Along with unknowingly helping overcome these internal fears, the Cape Town Swing community has taught me so much more: to release initial judgement about people, for example. This community is so diverse yet we all have one thing in common- the love for dance. The friendships that have formed, despite the difference in ages and walks of life, have been so special.
I now look back with perspective and see that each twirl on the dance floor, each small eye contact, every hand that I’ve held and trusted to not let me fall and every therapeutic technique that I’ve gathered over these past few months have all been the steps that led me through this cloud of fear. Taking the smallest steps, checking in with myself and when I was ready, taking another.
Small actions lead to overcoming and facing fears that once felt debilitating and scary. But let me tell you something, it’s not scary anymore.
All photos by Ruby Paton.