I walked into the dance studio at Seacoast Stilettos in Peabody wearing sweats, a T-shirt, and a pair of dance heels. “Midnight Snack” by Muni Long blasted through the speakers. The wooden floors were reflected in the large mirror that ran the length of the room. Fuchsia and blue light strips made me feel like I was at a dance club, but here, virtually everyone was wearing lingerie. Fishnet stockings, sheer leggings, crop tops, lacy bodysuits, and polyester jumpsuits. Knee pads for floor work, and stiletto heels.
It was a Monday night, and we were all ready for dance class. Feeling welcomed and instantly comfortable, I decided to remove my own shirt and dance in a bra, smiling to myself as I realized how far I’d come since I ended my long-term relationship.
A beautiful woman in fishnets and a deep V-neck zippered top stood in front of the class and introduced herself. “Hi! I’m Ali, and welcome to Beginner Heels.” While she taught us the choreography, Ali told us to maintain eye contact — to love ourselves in the mirror.
I took a hard look. I was 20 pounds heavier than I “should be.” My ex-boyfriend’s words echoed in my head. “Melissa, how do you expect me to work on our sex life when you’re not doing your part of losing weight?”
It hadn’t been that long since we’d broken up, but the damage was already done. How do you rebuild after three years of rejection? Three years of loving someone so deeply who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make love to you anymore?
Before him, I had been a sexually liberated and active woman, confident in who I was. Now, I didn’t feel sexy. I was disgusted by my body every time I looked in the mirror.
I turned to dancing. I’d done jazz dance and cheerleading growing up, but I didn’t think I could actually pull off dancing in 3½-inch heels, which I’d discovered on Instagram during quarantine. But something about the sensual song choices, the hip gyrations, booty shakes, and facial expressions made me want to try it when I moved back to Boston.
On her knees, Ali slinked to the floor on her side, bent her right leg, and bounced her booty twice to the lyrics. The movement matching the music made me laugh but also helped me celebrate my body and made me believe: It’s true — my body is sensuous.
At this studio, all the dance instructors say, “If you’re not dancing, you’re what?” Then the class shouts, “Cheering!” After learning the choreography, we split into smaller groups to perform. Ali encouraged us to take up space and freestyle.
A woman in a sheer pink top and black shorts asked me if I could use her phone to film her dance. Her lock screen had a photo of her two little boys. She said Monday nights are for single mom nights out. I was stunned. I watched her with awe and newfound respect. If she had the confidence to dance, I thought, then so could I. When the music played, she swayed her hips and played with her hair, before Ali counted her in: “5, 6, 7, 8!” Then, all around me, I heard the cheers, “Yas queen!” “Take it off!” “So hot!” I cheered too.
I decided to wear lingerie to the next class. I had thrown most of mine away — it was just a reminder of my failed relationship with my ex. But I had kept a red lingerie set from Valentine’s Day three years before. I’d never worn it. Not until now.
New friends in the class complimented me on the killer outfit. And as I danced, I let my body go, took up space, and looked at the mirror. Everyone’s affirmations drowned out the doubts in my head. I started to see what they were talking about. I am hot.
Melissa Rosales is an associate podcast producer for The Boston Globe. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.