Guest blog by Sarah Dicks
I am open
I am a shy and quiet person. Like, really shy and very quiet. I like to be in my own little world, doing my own thing at a reasonable volume, thank you very much! But through Oula, I’m learning that “no man [ahem, woman] is an island.”
I became a fitness class junkie after college. I’d go to the gym, do my workout, and once class was over, I’d hurry out the door before I had to talk to anyone. I might nod or offer a half-smile to familiar faces, but I assumed other gym-goers were there to sweat it out and move on with their days too. One day, I stumbled into a class called Oula. Dancing was not my usual thing, but I decided to keep trying. Finally, I thought I had the steps just about down and took time to look up and around me and… Wait: were people singing? In a fitness class? Surely, this couldn’t be. Singing is for in the shower, and most certainly not for any time or place when, heaven forbid, some stranger might hear me.
“Babe,” I griped to my partner, coming home after that class. “Oula got full of ‘woo girls.’ They were like, singing and woo-ing all class! Maybe I shouldn’t go back. They were so big and loud!” My partner was underwhelmed and observed that I’ve seemed to actually really like this class. I sing at home. I always identify Oula songs on the radio. Couldn't I just woo and sing along with them? No, Babe, I most certainly could not. That would draw too much attention to the little, inconspicuous spot I’d staked out in the back row.
I went back, skeptical, but started paying more attention to my classmates and the connections they had, greeting each other with hugs or making promises to see each other next week. Slowly, I realized this wasn’t just a fitness class. This was a community. I dared myself to open up a little, broadening those half-smiles into real ones. I’d squeak a “hi” as I nodded at regulars. Eventually, I requested a song. I felt like a brazen, dangerous woman.
Riding high on recklessness, I signed up for an Empowerment Weekend. We do an exercise where the group spreads out across the room, with each person sitting directly in front of the mirror. Music plays, and we’re challenged to express the music using our hands and faces only. This felt weird. This felt embarrassing. This felt like something I distinctly did not want to do. However, a little thought wriggled into my head. Sarah, you’ve got to be open to the experience. You’re not going to get anything out of this if you close yourself off. Well, shit. I took a breath, exhaled, and then whole-heartedly pantomimed the various voices of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was fun! At lunch, someone sidled up to the table I’d hidden at and asked to join me. She’d noticed my all-out silliness during the mirror exercise and wanted to get to know me. Yikes! That wriggly little thought came back: Just open up a bit and see what happens. I made that my motto for the rest of the weekend and dared myself to embrace it all. I danced, I laughed, I ate lunch with new people, and I even (gasp) opened my mouth to sing. I felt like I’d suddenly experienced Oula in a whole new way. I was an Oulakin!
And then the pandemic happened.
My household took social distancing very seriously and months of isolation took their toll—closing out the world pulled me further inward, too. But finally, I ventured to an outdoor class. I felt unsure in my body, shy of the dancers around me, worried about months of missed choreography, hot in the mid-summer sun. It was hard, but I felt encouraged. I wanted to feel the same connection with my Oula community that I’d basked in after my Empowerment Weekend again. The whole previous year had finally shown me that… maybe I did not want to be Sarah Island, population: one. That wriggly thought reappeared. Open up and see what happens. Against my instincts, I began to linger after class and talk to other dancers in an audible voice. I started small but worked toward actual conversations. I stopped shying away from sweaty group photos. My inconspicuous little spot in the back row crept forward, closer to the instructor. I tried singing along again. At some point, I let loose a “woo.”
All this to say: I’m learning that telling myself 'I am open' has led me to believe it and has subsequently brought me confidence and connection. Over the years, I’ve had to make an active choice—and effort—to open up and Oula has given me a safe space to try. Since I’ve chosen openness, I’ve seen myself grow in many areas and found a novel willingness to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. I’ve taken on different responsibilities at work, made new friendships and deepened existing ones, and even experimented with different hobbies. I’ll put myself out there in brave, new ways. There’s something terrifying to me about writing something that just anyone can read, but here we are.
I’m more open to accepting myself, too. A tendency toward perfectionism has made me a harsh self-critic, but Oula gives me permission to be perfectly imperfect. When I miss a step in class, I laugh it off and keep going. I’m spending less time worrying over mistakes and leaning into “good enough.” Trying on different characters through our songs—sexy, powerful, vulnerable—helps me tap into these feelings in real life. Running my hands down my sides helps me appreciate my body, instead of fighting with it. Singing in class feels like practice to verbalize my own needs better. It’s taken time, but I’m spending less time quietly lurking in the back. I have found how to use my voice at the front of the room, in the Oula studio and in life.
I’ll still need to practice every day to overcome shyness, make noise, take up space. But I’m excited that I am learning to embrace the adventure. I’m learning I don’t always have to guard the shores of Sarah Island. I am open.
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March 02, 2023
I’m so glad that you ventured out into the ridiculously hot, summer classes with our crazy group. I love dancing with you, and getting to know you, and now taking class from you. ❤️