I sit in one of the folding metal chairs that lines the perimeter of the gym. It’s Friday night dance class at Bryan Junior High in 1977. I’m wearing a skirt, pantyhose, and white gloves as per dance class dress code. Girls sit with one ankle behind the other and hands clasped together on laps.
Boys wear shirts and ties and sit with both feet on the floor and palms faced down on each thigh.
None of these formalities, however, will save me from the embarrassment of what’s to come.
We all watch our dance class instructor Mr. Morgan demonstrate the foxtrot with his lovely assistant—a girl who looks to be 17 or 18, but who we later learn is just a couple of years older than we are. I marvel at her flowing pink dress that spins like Marilyn Monroe’s and shows off her, ahem, figure.
In an era before LGBTQ+, dance class manners decree that boys ask girls to partner up with, “May I have this dance, please?” Pimples or not, tall or short, the answer must always be “Yes, you may.”
Sometimes the girls get to ask the boys. After all, it’s the late 70’s with Title IX and such, but mostly boys ask the girls.
Mr. Morgan spins lovely assistant dancer girl to his right, signaling the end of the first demonstration, and then he gives the cue.
All the dancer boys rise from their metal chairs, and the gym erupts with the clickety-clack of their shoes as they cross the shiny gym floor in search of a partner.
Already my full 5’8”, I enviously watch a TALL dancer boy stand before a popular TINY dancer girl.
Suddenly, I spy a boy heading my way. He stands before me and recites his line. I stand, take his proffered hand, and we find a place on the dance floor. I am a full head taller and pretend to be indifferent to the fact that I must look down at him as we foxtrot our way around the gym.
At every Friday night dance class, there are always more dancer girls than dancer boys. In these awkward instances—for girls only—when the numbers are even, two girls dance together, one girl doing everything in reverse.
But when the number of dancers is odd, there is always ONE unlucky dancer girl without a partner.
On this Friday night, Mr. Morgan and his assistant have just finished demonstrating the second dance, the waltz, when Mr. M once again gives the cue. I watch as dancer boy after dancer boy offers hands to dancer girl after dancer girl.
The click clack of shoes and excited chatter die down, and, in the silence, I realize that every person in the gym is coupled off on the floor…except me.
I’m the only one still seated in my folding metal chair.
I can still remember how that moment felt.
Do you have a story like that? A story that stills feel raw or that loops in your head even years later?
Maybe you too have a story of humiliation or shame or awkwardness that leads you to tell yourself, “I’m not good enough, smart enough, worthy enough, thin enough, well-liked enough,” __________________ (you fill in the blank).
It’s a story, perhaps, that lurks beneath the surface, one you’re not even consciously aware of, a self-story that keeps you from speaking up, quitting a bad job, finding a good partner, or starting your own business.
In her book, Choose Your Story, Change Your Life, Kindra Hall writes, “It can be unsettling to realize that you have an entire world of almost invisible storytelling going on inside you. And perhaps even a little scary to discover that those stories are determining how your life unfolds.”
But she adds this caveat: “Beyond that uncertainty is a powerful idea—that you can take control of those stories, and through them, take control of your life.”
How to do that is the topic of my next motivational talk at The Little Traveler in Geneva on Friday, Oct. 21. Click here to sign up.
The exciting news is that you can learn to, as Kindra notes, catch your inner storyteller in the act and identify the stories holding you back. Then you can choose better stories—or reframe the ones you have—and effectively install them into the forefront of your mind so that THESE positive stories feed your self-talk.
I can laugh at that junior high story now. I came to understand that that story didn’t define me. I discovered other positive stories that I could put in its place.
Doing the work of choosing stories that serve you rather than hold you back can literally transform your life—one story at a time.