But here I am showing up class after class after class. Because I know when I lie on the floor, eyes closed breathing in deeply then exhaling heavily; I know when I start the warm-up with only the sound of slow piano accompaniment filling the room, letting it run through my veins, soothing my cares so that only the moment matters and the rest fades away; I know when songs with an attitude eventually play and I move with the beat deliberately, I know I am home, if only temporarily.
Without reservations but only true yearning inside, my heart cries out. In all my 3 years in this adopted city 6 thousand miles away from the home country I uprooted myself from, in this place whose language I still don’t speak perfectly, where I struggle to find a sense of identity but moreso belongingness, every so often is a looming feeling of strangeness and coldness, of unspoken loneliness and otherness. But only now am I defiant.
So I dance like nobody's judging, never minding spectators, making mistakes turn after turn. I tell myself to avoid glancing at the mirror and see how awkward and unnatural my steps looked. But instead to feel the music in heartbeats and wish away my self-consciousness. Breathe my story into the art, however confused and broken, owning it as it comes out the way it does. Because it’s beautiful in all its boldness and earnestness within.
For a girl from the tropics who would stay under the blankets the whole day during winter’s grey skies, too afraid to get exposed to the cold, too anxious of outsiders’ perception, yet too tired to yield to societal expectations, dancing makes me get up from my warm, comfortable bed to walk 20 minutes to the studio and back home in snow and ice, in minus C degrees and early darkness. While it may not look grand and congratulatory to the casual observer, I know I came a long way.
A few months ago, I finally woke up from the slumber with the realisation that much of our happiness as a married couple depends both on our shared and distinct separate experiences where we are. So I decided to be home where I am and know I have to find my way through independently. While there is the immense support of my husband and his family, the warmth and welcoming kindness they extend, in the day-to-day acts of simply living, there’s nobody who can make me feel truly home in my adopted place but myself.
So I went on to the business of building a life in a foreign place. For the time being, I had set out a life that is defined not in terms of the classic goals of our productivity-obsessed, achievement-pursuing generation that bring conventional outwardly success. Not that it’s a bad predictable choice. I acknowledge the rarity of not having the urgency to toil for the monthly rent and am thankful for it. But I’ve also had a decade of fulfilling career, as well as the prestige and success that came with it.
Ultimately there comes a point when the call to that unique but neglected humanity inside grows. It stops adults from becoming old before they are actually old, conforming, world-weary and all-knowing. To not be afraid to be a child again, defiantly trying out new things, wild-eyed questioning and living out the answers, uncovering beauty in a wide range of encounters and shared humanity.
I did more of the things I liked and met people but never friends. I don't feel pressured to make and keep friends. It’s more liberating that way. People are so transient, juggling jobs and families and most importantly creating their destinies. I cheer for friends and acquaintances who find the courage to leave. This, I understand much to the level of my overarching dream then to leave everything behind to start something new and different, that path which led me here.
I welcomed strangers and their shy authentic smiles, who may also have journeyed a long way and are only stopping by. I came across individuals who were born in the country but moved from city to city for jobs, settled in and shared the same feeling of strangeness, otherness and friendlessness. This surprised and moved me. I developed compassion from my real or perceived otherness.
But in all grown-up composure, they who don’t claim to suffer from a culture of detachment discussed the issue in hushed tones and condensed phrases separated by uncomfortable silence. That it seems to be a topic only meant for closed door appointments with life coaches and therapists. This tendency to brush off vulnerability among adults, I became acutely aware of.
Over a couple of months, I saw the endeavour for what it can be, an amazing opportunity to explore the city and a chance interaction with a few of its diverse inhabitants. Having seen only the academic side after 2 years of serious study, I can enjoy the freedom to watch the city’s arts and exhibition scenes, peer at the start-up business arena, feel the sports vibe, take up on a new hobby, rediscover playing solitary piano music and writing in silent spaces. I became grateful.
I recognised that there are pockets of happiness in the actual doing of activities and in transient meetings with strangers in workshops and seminars, dance studios and fitness halls, in the sharing of that instant, in the moment, fleeting but present and real.
When my sister flew halfway across the world to visit me for the holidays, I had to briefly interrupt my newfound routine to travel with her. I know the pause will break the momentum I had built, even as my life depended on it. But we had a marvellous time traveling to nearby historical cities and traditional Christmas markets, spending an intimate Christmas with my husband’s family. We cooked, baked, went to the cinema, watched a series at home, and went out for a stroll.
During her stay, I didn’t lounge too long in bed that my husband took notice. I was always up, preparing in the kitchen, or cleaning about. One curious person asked how it was like to be siblings to each other. We told stories about making play houses out of blankets as children, of singing invented tunes from children’s poems and how I scared her to death about a card game with monsters coming to life on a full moon that earned me an admonishing from our father.
When we drove her back to the airport and I came home with my husband, I was arranging the apartment and saw my old winter jacket which I lent to my sister for the holidays. I wanted to put it away for dry cleaning and as I reached out for it, I felt an overwhelming sadness that stunned me. I held the jacket and paused to gain some level of objectivity.
And there it was, this inevitable feeling of loss, of being back to being alone with this cold strangeness, without anyone whom I’ve had a real shared lifetime familiarity or childhood connection with, this lack of identity and belongingness along with a treasure trove of memories, this feeling I fought so hard to conquer as I committed myself in earlier months to "be home" where I am by discovering the city and hopefully my place in it.
I let myself mourn momentarily. The words of my dance instructor comforted me: “This is a beautiful learning process. Don’t stop.” So I stood up, went back to my routine and regained my momentum. As I went on, I recognised the semblance of home in small everyday things.
It is in the cashier lady’s wrinkled smile up to me in the supermarket I am a regular at. It is in the quiet understanding among kindred spirits I meet who also uprooted themselves from their own native landscapes. It is there in my husband’s support each step of the way so I can take time carving my way through. Finally, there is home with my newfound family and while it’s not a lifetime of shared familiarity, it is the beginning of it.
So now here I am again, back from the dance studio. Against the backdrop of mostly graceful flowing moves, adept with each knowing step, I danced my little secret story, embracing my clumsy otherness in all my defiant glory.