Who am I? Who are you? And are any of us who we used to be? And if not, what does that make me?
These are the big questions I started asking myself as I stood in a short line of strangers in a school gym after hours, shuffling my feet to the eight-beat and swaying my hips in a way I hoped conveyed enough of the sensuality required of the Latin dance but not so much the random guy in the combat boots opposite me got the wrong idea.
When I was 21 I knew exactly who I was. I was a salsa dancer. It was the first thing I thought about in the morning, the last thing I thought about at night and the thing I did with all of my spare time in between.
Once I danced so hard at a salsa party I had to go to the bathroom and throw up. I was a cheap date who had way too much fun on the dance floor to stop for a drink.
Dancing defined who I was and formed the cornerstone of my identity. The dance troupe I performed with was my family and my focus after winning the South Island champs was the New Zealand title.
Then life happened to me. A major job 'opportunity' in Dunedin (an oxymoron, to be sure) suddenly saw me hang up my dancing shoes and that was the end of that.
Fast-forward 18 years and the unrelenting pressure of chasing the first-world dream in personal and professional life has left me looking in the mirror and wondering what happened to the carefree girl in the dancing shoes.
Is that person still inside me, beneath the layers of responsibility and inertia that have, quite frankly, made me intolerably boring?
Am I going to be that person again one (imaginary?) day when the burdens of daily life lift and I have the energy to stay out past midnight on Friday (or even 9pm)?
The only place to find this out was the dance floor. And being a provincial Kiwi girl, the dance floor was a shiny lino one at the local intermediate school.
There were no lifts, no spins, no sparkling short skirts. Just a smattering of women, men and women pretending to be men to make up the numbers.
Until the music played. I shut my eyes. I danced. It was beginner's steps only and half of them I'd forgotten but what mattered is that I remembered the most important thing of all: the me I used to be.
Hiding in a dark, dusty corner of a life dominated by working, mothering, wifeing et al. was a little spark that glowed so much brighter for being fed a bit of kindling for the soul . . . something done for the pure pleasure of it, for the benefit of no one else but me.
Of course because this tale is set in the real world, I confess my intentions to make my salsa soul-fix a weekly one have dwindled away to nothing. But even if it takes me another 18 years to get back there (and let's face it, with babies needing to be crafted into good men that's a realistic goal), at least I know now that the spark inside that makes me more than the sum of the commitments and responsibilities that define daily life still shines.
Where will you find yours?