Carpe Diem, Sistah

Don’t wait. Pursue your passion, and seize YOUR Day. Mommy/Wife/Lawyer/(and YES) now Dancer. It took me to age 44 to really know what I wanted to do in life — I have never been happier.   

By Bonnie Schoenberg

For most of my life I did everything that was expected of me. I got good grades, went to college, then law school, got a job in a big law firm that expected me to bill 2,000 hours a year. I also got married and had kids (although a few years later than might have been expected).  To be honest, it never occurred to me to stop and think about what I loved or wanted to be when I grew up. I just kept moving at all times, trying to be the best at everything I did.  I can honestly say that I never had any passion for what I did.  I only knew that I had to do “it” well.

Fast forward 20 years.  I am still married to the same great guy (who, I must say, has gotten better over time). I have two beautiful but extremely high-maintenance daughters – one with special needs — that have consumed my life for the past 14 years (16 if you count the two years of fertility drugs and IVF procedures).  I run to doctor and therapy appointments for one or both of my girls on a daily basis, refill numerous prescriptions at Walgreens weekly, and try my best to keep my head above water in a world where girls are mean to each other at every age. I still practice law part-time, exercise (often), serve on the Board of Education for our school district, and run my kids back and forth from school to doctors and playdates to poms class.  Basically, I am your typical suburban mom on steroids.

It has never been in my nature to take risks and put myself in a position where I could be embarrassed or fail.  As I look back on my life I realize that I have never done anything “all the way.”  I always hold back for fear of failing.  If I put it all on the table and fail then I am a failure – my biggest fear in life.  But, if I only give part of myself, and fail, I can always say that I didn’t give it my all and I really wouldn’t be a failure. It is a cowardly way to go through life, but it always worked for me.  Failure never seemed like a good option. I mean, who could be proud of a failure?

However, when I turned 40 (and after years of therapy), I made a decision to do something outside of my comfort zone every year.  My first risk was running for the school board in a local election. I won! With that behind me, almost two years ago, I decided to take another risk and I said “yes” when my mother asked me to do her a favor and participate in a charity  “Dancing with the Stars” competition.  They needed a local celebrity and I was the best they could do.  I love Dancing with the Stars and rarely miss an episode. I am also the girl who dances to every song at every bar-mitzvah, and who cries at the end of every Broadway musical because I want so badly to be dancing on that stage.  If I could, I would dance all day, every day.  I tried yoga (too boring) and running (mainly to be with my friends who became triathletes and marathon runners). I just didn’t have their passion so I needed to move on and find something that spoke to me. Not an easy task.

So I took a chance and pursued my 15 minutes of fame.

The first time I walked into the studio, I remember feeling a rush of nervous energy that I hadn’t felt in years – maybe since my wedding. I was paired with a 22-year-old Bulgarian ballroom professional who had been dancing since he was six years old.  He expected me to do the Rhumba – the dance of sex – and really sell it.  Not an easy task for a G-rated mother of two who never really saw herself as sexy.  The thought of reading 50 Shades of Gray turns me 50 shades of RED.

Nonetheless, over the next six weeks my partner trained me as best he could to do a hot and sexy Rhumba. I even took a pole dancing class to prepare. Talk about a freeing experience. On the night of the charity benefit, I had my makeup done like a ballroom dancer – black eye shadow, fake eyelashes – I put on my pink sequins costume with barely enough material to be considered a dress, and I fell in love.

A week after the charity benefit, I was back in the dance studio signing up for real lessons.  I had no idea what I would actually do with these lessons since my husband does not, and will not, dance.  In fact, we have a deal that I can keep dancing as long as I don’t ever expect him to dance. Within weeks, I was going to the studio two to three times a week and taking as many lessons as I could fit into my already ridiculous schedule. It is by far the happiest part of my day. There is no “Drama” at the studio. Everyone supports and encourages each other to do their best. There is no backstabbing, jockeying for position or “playdates” where someone is left out. There are no carpools to arrange, no mothers calling to tell you that your daughter was mean today, or children crying that school is too stressful.

Within a few months of starting lessons, I had signed up to be in the studio’s annual show where I performed for family (including my adoring 10 year-old and horrified 13 year-old), my friends (who, I imagine, think I am certifiably crazy and must make fun of me behind my back) and a bunch of strangers who came to be entertained.

Just to add to the craziness, my professional partners (I now have two of them) talked me into competing – my next big risk.  I fought hard with my partners, telling them that I don’t compete.

It made me totally panic to think of getting on a dance floor and being judged.  What if I lost? What if I totally sucked? How could I live with such failure? 

I also had to consider the time it would take away from my kids and the extra work my husband would have to take on. There was this voice in my head reminding me that my mom was always there when I got home from school, cooking dinner and giving me her undivided attention. Would she approve of my traveling to pursue my passion?

I think it was my husband who finally convinced me to compete.  He told me I would still be a good mother, even if I left my kids to pursue my passion. He made me start to believe that a happy wife and mother would make a happy husband and happy children.  One thing I can say with certainty is that dancing and competing have given me a newfound confidence that I never had before.  Dancing has made me feel better about myself than I ever thought possible. I have had to work hard to fight the fear of failing, and before every competition I tell myself to just go out there and have fun. Win or lose, the point of it all is to just feel the freedom that I have been craving for so many years.

There are days when I feel like I am being sucked into a black hole of obligations and stress.  Most mornings, by the time my kids go to school, I am shaking and my stomach hurts. But the minute I walk into the studio and put on my ballroom shoes, I can breathe again. And when I leave, no matter how stressed I felt when I walked in, I have a smile on my face when I drive away.

Today, over a year later, I know 13 different styles of ballroom dance, 9 different choreographed routines, and I have competed in two national and two local competitions. I have traveled to Orlando and Las Vegas with my giant bag of stage makeup, four pairs of ballroom dance shoes, sequined and beaded dresses that weigh more than me, and a group of spectacular men and women who, like me, love to dance so much that they think spending 12 hours in a ballroom dancing in circles 300 times is the equivalent of a week in Hawaii.

I am getting ready to leave again next month for Tampa — my first independent competition. My older daughter does not love anything about my dancing.  She hates when I travel and leave her home with her dad, whose rules are much more strict than mine.  She is horrified when her friends comment on my pictures or compliment me on my costumes.  My younger daughter, my actress, loves everything about my dancing and supports every aspect of it.  My husband (my prince) and my mother (the president of my fan club) will pick up the slack and take my daughters for their allergy shots, therapy appointments, dance lessons, and to camp so that I can get on an airplane with my costumes, makeup case, four pairs of dance shoes and my dance partners. I totally understand that their sacrifice and support have allowed me to live my dream.

There are days when I wake up and think to myself, “What am I doing? This is just way too much work? Do I really want to work this hard and put my 46-year-old body through this?” But then I take a few days off and I am like an addict without a fix.  I’m dancing in my bathroom and practicing dance moves while I wait in line at the grocery store.  I am no longer the girl who plays it safe, only doing what comes easy. Instead, I am finally doing something I love simply because I love it.  I don’t care anymore if people talk behind my back. Let them. I’m having a blast.  And, hopefully, I am teaching my daughters to pursue their dreams and do what they love – even if it’s hard.

I pray that my children learn from me that if you love yourself enough to face your fears, the rest is just icing on the cake!

LB:  Have you enjoyed a “new lease” on life? Send your story our way. We’d love to hear about it at GIRLilla Warfare.

< back

2 Comments. Would you like to comment?

Leave a Reply