Shadow Dancing

I lean against the foyer wall and let my forehead rest on the cool plaster. It throbs with a headache. My stomach rumbles low but loudly. It is trying to digest the fast-food cheeseburger I picked up in a rush on my lunch hour. I had brought a salad with me, but when I thought of eating it, it was unsatisfying.

The temptation to slump onto the couch and watch television seems irresistible, but I have already forsaken the salad. So I change into my workout clothes and descend to the basement where we keep our exercise gear.

Shoelaces tied and hair pulled back, I step onto the treadmill. I put on my headphones and swipe through the playlists on my smartphone. I select something upbeat, hoping the rhythm will energize me. I press “play” and turn the volume up.

A woman’s confident voice floods my eardrums and a strong drumbeat resonates in my hips, which start to bump out to the side as I place one foot in front of the other on the moving belt. I make a desperate effort to keep time with both the treadmill and the rhythm of the song, but they are not the same speed, and I have to do a half-step cha-cha move in order to keep on the beat.

The cha-cha step wins me over. My arms no longer swing at my sides but are in line with my shoulders, as though I were salsa dancing with a partner. I shake my shoulders, and my breasts flail chaotically under the constraints of my sports bra.

I hit the “stop” button with a determined thud and leap off the belt onto the floor, music still pounding in my ears. There is nothing in my mind but the thump of percussion and that confident voice provoking me to move, move now!

I thrash my arms side to side as I jump up and down. I've completely gotten off the beat of the music; I'm not listening to it anymore. All the energy inside me, all the stress and tension from the day, all the aspirations and goals I desperately want to achieve are released in this tumultuous moment. I scream the lyrics at the top of my lungs, gasping for breath in between jumps.

I am casting out the demon within me. This is my exorcism.

The song ends. I am panting through a big open-mouthed smile. Another song begins.

This time, my movements are more methodic, more melodic, more controlled. The demon is gone. I can dance as I wish. Memories of ballet classes and high school dances and choreographed routines flood my memory. My feet remember the steps.

Recessed lighting splashes my shadow onto every wall. Neither my frazzled hair, now falling out from its ponytail, nor my pudgy skin is discernible in the reflection on the drywall.

With one swift movement, I extract the cloth rubber band from my hair and the strands fall to my shoulders. I shake my head back and forth in time to the beat and the damp ends of my hair whip at my face and sting my cheeks. I close my eyes and laugh gleefully. Running my fingers through my hair, the warm stench of perspiration fills my nostrils, and I delight in the sweet and sour smell of my body’s hard work.

I dance with my shadow now, attemtping to seduce it. I thrust my pelvis and run my hands up my sides. You want me, I tell the shadow. I am sexy. But you can’t have me. I’m too good for you.

I turn my back on the shadow and flick my hair.

The song ends. The lights flicker and I hear the groan of the garage door crawling upwards. I collect my hair and replace the cloth rubber band. I wipe my sweaty face with the back of my hand. The door opens and my husband steps in the house. I peer up at him from the bottom of the staircase.

“Hello, dear,” he says. “What are you to?”

“Just exercising,” I reply simply, a little embarrassed that I was almost caught. “I’ll be up in a minute.”

I look back into the basement and smile at the experience I just had. I found a new workout, yes, but I found more than that.

I leave my headphones on the table and turn off the light. The walls go dark and the shadow disappears. I pause for a moment, then climb the staircase.

What makes you feel free, helps you forget the stress of everyday life? What makes you feel most like yourself? Leave me a comment. I'd love to know!

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