When I hear people talk about the healing power of dance, I immediately think of this wonderful cheesy scene in an old sitcom, Jack and Jill. One of the characters has just learned that she’s been cheated on and decides to “dance it out” in her studio. Slow, melancholy music, lots of angsty reaches. A montage.
When I fell in love with dance at 26-years-old, there were no angsty reaches, only the inexplicable feeling of coming home.
Home was a word I had no real connection to. I entered the foster care system as a teen, and 22 homes later, I found myself homeless with a one-year-old. It would be almost ten years before I would step into a beginning jazz class at a community college; a jazz class that became the catalyst for a life I never saw coming.
Dance allowed safety that words and relationship hadn’t. I could express, perform and connect; I could engage my body and mind, and yet no words were required. No forced counseling, no questions about my past.
Since that day almost 15 years ago, my dance journey has looked like a ball of yarn, looping and twisting, knotting and getting stuck.
This season has been uniquely hard. Since tearing my ACL a few months ago, I’ve dipped in and out of days of depression, willing myself to teach and dance. I remind myself that yes, I could quit. I could physically stop dancing, but emotionally, I would still be a dancer. There is no escaping that, so there is no true payoff in stopping, only a leap into the world of a (more) frustrated artist.
Recently, I took a wonderful class that included a combo with several turns and jumps— none of which I can execute at the moment. I felt a heated wave of anxiety start to rise, but this time, surprisingly, a quieter, more gracious internal voice stepped in:
“What are you really upset about?”
This one question slowed my mind down. As a dancer, a teacher, and a friend, I am excellent at giving advice and encouragement, but I often unwittingly deem myself immune as if my words don’t apply to me.
What was I really upset about?
Yes, it’s frustrating as a dancer to be unable to throw yourself into the choreography. It’s frustrating to have any movement “off limits” as it were, but that wasn’t it.
No, I was upset because people would see. People would see that I have to make a different choice; that I’m not like them.
I was upset because somehow, we’ve all silently come to the conclusion that turns and jumps are paramount to being a successful dancer. We’ve decided that the more turns a dancer can execute, the more skilled she is.
I was upset because I had made dance about ego and validation instead of being about what my 26-year-old self knew it to be: coming home.
In an era of social media, influencers, and celebrities judging dancers on TV based on tricks, our internal dancer’s voice is being drowned out by the shout of people “should-ing” all over us. A friend of mine recently put it beautifully: “there’s no space to fail.”
The truth is, I don’t even care much for turns or jumps. I never get too excited when I see them, and I don’t naturally gravitate toward them in my own choreography. Instead, my breath is taken away by nuance, authenticity, and the artist’s willingness to take the risk involved with exploring and feeling instead of imitating and defaulting.
The next time you or I have this moment in class, the moment we feel less than; let’s take a minute and remember what it’s for. Let’s not rob ourselves of another opportunity for learning that we can never get back.