I’m pressed up against him when he breaks away from me to say it:
“Maybe, try being more…” And here he struggles to find the right word, my dance partner. His eyes scrunch up lightly, until they suddenly light up as he snaps his fingers. “Sexy. Be more sexy, like, be freer with your body. You know? Think of a belly dancer –sensual.”
We’re on the dance floor when he tells me this. The whole room is sweltering hot. Two fans beat nonstop to no avail. Everyone’s shirts are starting to lightly cling to their skin. It doesn’t help that all of us are dancing, not inches way from each other, but pressed into each other, breaking away only to execute well-timed spins and intricate dance patterns.
The beat of bachata & salsa music is blaring jubilantly over the noise of the two fans, but when my dance partner breaks way from me to speak his voice is quiet and intense. He’s tall, from the Dominican Republic, well muscled — and also making a lot of earnest eye contact with his dark brown eyes as he says this to me. He really wants me to get this, that bachata isn’t just a dance. Bachata is a sensual connection between two people, a shared intimacy.
When people talk about bachata they often describe it as sensual, but bachata is more than just sensual. Bachata is sexy. It’s rhythmic and undulating, the melody caresses you, the singers croon about heartbreak and longing. You’re close enough to feel the body heat of your partner and his thighs moving between and around yours as you dance. It’s easy to get carried away with bachata –The music, the dance, the intimacy… Which is probably the whole point.
He’s not wrong, my dance partner, in what he’s saying, but that doesn’t make it
sting any less. I’m a woman, I’m supposed to have sexy down. As I try again, I can’t help but think that this should just be natural, that I shouldn’t have to learn this. It shouldn’t be awkward and ridiculous. But that’s exactly how I feel on that dance floor — awkward and ridiculous.
And the feedback I keep getting from experienced dance partners in one form or another isn’t helping me feel any better about it: Loosen up. Give your body over to your partner. Let yourself go — give yourself over to the music. They’re all saying the same thing, in their different ways: Surrender.
And that’s really the essence of sexy, isn’t it? It’s not a low cut top, or the way you grind your hips. It’s not the perfect pout or a suggestive tone of voice. Sexy is Letting go, losing control to the moment by being fully present, and that takes confidence. Sexy is allowing yourself to be seduced by something bigger than yourself. Getting carried away… And that means trusting yourself enough to give up your self-control.
Bachata is all about the sexy, and If I’m going to learn bachata I’m going to need to embrace sexy — my sexy, my version of sexy. I’m going to have to rediscover the sexy and feminine within me, because there is, very definitely, a sexy and feminine woman within me. She’s just been in hiding.
I come by it honestly, hiding sexy. I did not grow up in the Dominican Republic where I can only imagine that sex, flirtation, and celebration are as natural as breathing. I didn’t grow up in the hot, humid tropics where there’s a clave beat and dancing on every corner. I didn’t grow up flirting or being encouraged to be feminine.
I grew up with sex ed, puritanical ideals, and after school specials on the dangers of sex in this country. Between them all, I’m sure I’m not the only woman baffled by the idea of sexy or utterly confused by what exactly I’m supposed to do with all this femininity. Baffled, but also intrigued, and kind of seduced, by the very idea of it. I’m a little scared of sexy, but I’m also really taken with the idea of it. I want sexy. Mostly because I suspect that feeling sexy means feeling more alive and getting to enjoy and appreciate men more. This sounds good to me… Really good.
And I’ve come to realize that by not embodying sexy, by being so guarded, I’ve missed out on men and fun and pleasure. I’ve missed out on the good guys. Their humor, their masculinity, their courage and vulnerability, not to mention all their charm. I’ve missed out on having fun with men and feeling free with them. I’ve missed out on sharing myself with them and on a lot of the perks of being a woman.
This all begs the question: How do we get back to feeling sexy and alive? To having fun and appreciating men? I wish I had a 5 step program for us. Something simple, elegant, and easy to follow. Maybe a flashy infograph to go with it… By now, you’ve probably guessed, I don’t. Life is less about following of a plan, anyway, and more about taking action and learning from risk.
If we want to reclaim sexy I strongly suspect we have to do it by getting out there and owning it. We have to try sexy on more, even when the process of trying it on means we must risk looking a little ridiculous, like me on that dance floor. We need the confidence to know that eventually it starts to feel natural.
Your version of sexy may have nothing to do with a dance floor, mine certainly has grown beyond that, but wherever that journey takes you it will involve playfulness, a bit of struggle and risk. Make no doubt about it. But isn’t freedom and the feeling of being unshackled, of pure joy, worth that? That’s a question only you can answer. And for the record I don’t believe there are any right or wrong answers, just your answers, your truth.
As for my answer..? I think you already know. So, here’s to dancing bachata, turning the dial way up on sexy, enjoying femininity more, and to appreciating men.