When midtown Toronto resident Deborah Graham’s marriage ended, she found her life in disarray and, for a time, wound up just going through the motions.
Rather than continuing to feel aimless, however, she decided to fulfill a long-standing dream and take up dance. Instead of simply becoming a new hobby, dance provided her with the basis for a near-complete transformation.
“The feeling was one of the ground underneath me being simply gone,” she said. “After a year or so, I was still pretty sad. I felt like the life had gone out of me.”
Compounding her woes, Graham had done dressage – essentially dancing on horseback – for much of her life. Shortly after her marriage to her high school sweetheart ended, her horse was retired.
“Both those foundations were gone,” she said. When she saw Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote, “only in the darkness can you see the stars” at an Advent mass, she finally decided to make changes in her life.
She went to a midtown dance studio to take up dance and felt hesitant at first, but was able to overcome her trepidation and went in. While she enjoyed the lessons, she continued to have second thoughts for a short while.
“I felt kind of foolish, frivolous and not productive,” she said. “I thought, ‘little kids take dance lessons; grown-ups don’t take dance lessons.’”
Soon, however, she learned to let go of the thoughts that were holding her back and embraced the world of dance.
A lawyer by trade, Graham found dancing helped her connect with her feminine side, something that had been sorely lacking given her career in the homogenous world of law.
“I had a feeling that I was coming to life again,” she said. “As I moved through dance, I went through some of the tests – which I hated – and then through my first competition and on to performance. Each thing brought me new challenges.”
The key for Graham was to stop worrying about outward impressions and allow her true self to come out.
“To dance in a way that creates feeling for the people watching and for you, you have to find the part of you that is the rumba, the part of you that is the waltz,” she said. “The hardest for me was the tango because it’s such a passionate dance, you can’t be half-hearted about it.”
Graham recently published a memoir, Dance Me Beautiful, which outlines her experiences with dance and how they helped lift her out of a particularly difficult time in her life.
While the book depicts her own journey, she noted that many who have read the book have told her they feel the same way whether their outlet comes through dancing, playing sports or other pursuits.
“I think it’s a more universal story than I’d thought,” she said. “Dance helped me to find all of me and that’s something that people can relate to.”
She pointed out that having a physical outlet was necessary for her to break the depression and sadness that followed her divorce.
“It had to do something where my body was engaged in the process,” she said. “As a lawyer, I think all the time, but I couldn’t think my way through this.”
Dance Me Beautiful was Graham’s first foray into writing, and she has already penned a children’s book, The Magic Comes Back, which follows the story of two cousins with a gift for magic.
She is currently working on a follow-up to Dance Me Beautiful, with an eye to turn the book into a trilogy. Dance Me Beautiful is available at major online book sellers. For more information on how to purchase the book, visit www.dancemebeautiful.com