A Better Kind of Hot Flash

A Better Kind of Hot Flash

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!

A Better Kind of Hot Flash

No one should have to go through menopause and divorce at the same time. That’s just what I did, though. A hot flash came as I was signing the papers, and I knew this time it wasn’t just anger or disappointment. My heart raced, and my forehead perspired so heavily that drops of sweat fell on the documents.

“My ex better not think those are tears,” I joked to the lawyer before I fled to the washroom. “Maybe we should clarify that in the margins and initial it.”

“Oh God,” I moaned into the sink, “why is this happening to me?” I turned from my reflection, but not before seeing myself with uncomfortable clarity — a stiffly hunched middle-aged woman. While the marriage was breaking up, I stopped taking care of myself. I was too depressed to exercise, and I ate my way out of my feelings. Now, here I was, fifty-two years old, single, and forty pounds overweight. I locked myself into a toilet stall and cried.

When the tears passed, I washed my face and composed myself. I returned to the office, paid my fees and left. My lawyer’s office is next to the Methodist church, and on a whim, I walked into the church to pray. I spent some time on my knees but nothing happened. Feeling foolish, I walked out sheepishly into the lobby. A flyer on the bulletin board caught my eye. Smiling, I wrote down the phone number. As always, God has a funny way of answering prayers, in this case with the tango.

At my first class, I learned about the practice embrace. You put your hands on a stranger’s shoulders, and he puts his hands on yours. There is space between you, but you’re connected, hearts open, chests facing one another. Within the first eight steps, I was hooked.

“Tango opens the heart,” the instructor told us. “And it gives you great legs,” joked Patricia, a grandmother and classmate who had been dancing for more than four years.

I had noticed that right away. Not one of the women was under the age of fifty, but they all had legs even Betty Grable would have envied. Their hair was gray but their waists were lithe, their arms toned, their posture graceful, their legs sculpted and strong, and most importantly, they had a glow. They didn’t look young, but they looked beautiful, alive.

“Tango is just walking,” the instructor said, “but walking in the most graceful, aware attitude possible. Feel your partner. Feel the music. Feel yourself. Never lose contact with the floor.”

This was advice I could follow — on the dance floor and off it. For the first six months I tangoed twice a week. Then three times. I began to attend milongas (dance gatherings for tangueros), first in my city, then around the state. And as the dance strengthened and refined my body, it also changed my attitude. When a setback came I remained open. When I felt self-pity or resentment, I stayed in contact with the ground. When I felt sad or lost, I connected with the people around me. I let myself receive their cues — their love, their warmth — just as I learned to listen to the wordless cues of a dance partner. In tango I learned to trust the strangers who held me in their arms; they became, over time, friends. I trusted the lead; I trusted the music; I trusted myself.

The exercise seemed like a fringe benefit at first. But then people started saying things. “Wow, what’s different about you? Have you lost weight?”

I had lost weight around my hips, off my thighs, and best of all, I’d lost the weight that was on my heart. For the first time in years I moved my body in celebration. This was more than exercise!

For the first six months, I learned to dance in that open practice embrace. But finally, at a milonga in the upstairs rec room of the church where I’d first found the flyer, my partner popped the question.

“Now,” he said, “are you ready for the close embrace?” He opened his arms and pulled me near. I blushed like a teenager. For a moment all my doubts flooded back. Was I ready? Then the music thumped. My partner led me into a series of backward ochos. My face was burning, but my body knew the steps. I relaxed. He pulled me closer until we were dancing cheek to cheek.

Dancing cheek to cheek. I’d heard the song, seen it in movies, but never experienced it myself. Not when I was young and pretty. Not until I was past fifty and in the best shape, mentally and physically, of my life. Better late than never. Believe me, it was worth the wait.

~ Helen Reeves ~

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