Coming to terms with the physical and mental changes brought on by menopause can be challenging. Women grow up with the narrative that their value is intrinsically linked to their physical appearance, so it’s natural to lose some confidence when physical changes appear.
According to menopause coach and educator Catherine O’Keeffe, “Menopause can be a deeply psychological time for many, understanding what menopause is and what it may look like for you is key, it’s not just hot flushes! Given the individual nature of menopause, we will all have a unique experience, many women experience an impact on their self-confidence which also impacts self-esteem. There is no right or wrong way to navigate menopause – it is down to doing what is right for you”.
I’m perimenopausal but have been lucky not to have experienced a lot of symptoms. However, I’ve noticed my confidence disappearing at the same rate as my collagen, so I’ve tried to flip my focus from how my body looks to what it can do. This has been far more supportive for my mental health, and I’ve found that midlife can be a time of great growth and personal development.
I lived in Spain for a year, and I’ve always been fascinated by flamenco dancing: the passion, the vigour, the colour and the noise. However, I never gave learning it any real consideration. It was one of those things I thought I’d always watch from the sidelines but never do, because I just didn’t have the confidence. It was the wake-up call of the pandemic that made me realise “if not now, when?”
I’m not naturally graceful, and like many women our age, have gained a few pounds lately. I was wracked with self-doubt. Could I do something totally out of my comfort zone?
I decided there was only one way to find out, and if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right! I signed up for zoom-based lessons at Taller Flamenco, a dance school based in Seville. I have passable Spanish and I decided I may as well take lessons from experts in ‘the home of flamenco’. I was assigned Lourdes Recio, a highly experienced dancer who has studied under some of the flamenco masters like Manolo Marín.
At first, I was so awkward and embarrassed that I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror as I danced. All I could think about was my two left feet and my flabby arms. However, the great thing about flamenco is that it requires such intense levels of concentration that it’s almost impossible to think about anything else. In fact, I was concentrating so hard on getting the moves right that Lourdes told me “menos concentración más pasión” (less concentration more passion).
She explained that I was focusing so hard on co-ordinating the moves that I was forgetting what it was all about. Flamenco is about confidence and passion, so she told me that regardless of whether my feet, hands and head were doing the right things, I should just have fun. That’s quite hard to do when you feel like Bambi on roller-skates! However, as the weeks went on, my skills, and my confidence, improved.
When I visited Seville this year, I arranged an in-person lesson with Lourdes. It was amazing to have that personal connection (Zoom only goes so far!). What doesn’t come across in 2D was the sheer chutzpah and self-assurance that emanates from her when she moves. I was in awe of her grace and natural confidence.
Lourdes arranged a short choreography that I could learn in 2 hours, based on the Tango of Triana. She told me that particular type of flamenco was all about being brazen and dancing “sin verguenza” (without shame or embarrassment). There was a lot of bum slapping, hip rolling, pointing and strutting. Basically, my worst nightmare! However, by the end of our time together, I managed to point, strut and look in the mirror without falling over laughing, so I’ll take that as a win. Strangely I did feel more confident – not only was I taking on a new challenge (in my second language) but I was feeling good about just doing it.
As an A-type personality, I’m not going to lie, I like to win. I like to achieve my goals and tick off my many to-do lists. I inadvertently picked the best possible remedy for myself, because you can’t win at dancing, and it turns out, you can’t lose either.
Several studies have indicated that dancing can have profoundly beneficial effects on not just physical health, but brain function and even self-esteem. A recent report published by the Australasian Menopause Society indicates that “dancing improves cholesterol levels, physical fitness, self-image, and self-esteem in postmenopausal women” and research suggests that dancing can hugely improve sedentary women’s mental health and quality of life.
Midlife is a time of profound physiological change, but with it comes great wisdom, self-awareness and an opportunity for growth. I’ve found that learning to dance has been life-affirming and empowering. I definitely won’t be auditioning for Strictly any time soon, and that’s fine by me. The gamechanger was understanding that being perfect isn’t the point; being present in the moment is. As a perfectionist, that’s been a hard-won lesson for me.
I realised it doesn’t matter if I never get better than I am now. I’m having fun, proving you’re never too old to learn new things, and boosting my physical and mental wellbeing. I’m taking back my confidence, one step at a time. I’m still working on the brazenness though…
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