“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Dancing, like a love of books, is one of the pillars of my life. I remember being 8 years old and playing that I was a dancer on the stage, performing for my very demanding audience (my dolls and my little sister). I never actually asked for lessons, but my mom picked up on my interest and one day, when she picked me up from school, announced that both me and my sister were starting ballet lessons that week. It was a life-changing moment, I loved every minute of it.
I lapsed during my teens because puberty is a jerk and I was convinced that dancing wasn’t cool. I thought I needed to prove I was tough, so ballet had to go*. It was the price for having a chance to hang out with the popular gang. But my heart was broken, and for a few years I couldn’t sit through a ballet performance without crying. Also, I never got to sit with the popular gang.
My sister followed suit shortly after me but fortunately she was also the first one to see the light. Some 8 years after we quit dancing, she started taking lessons at a studio close to home. She invited us to her open-house performance before Christmas break, and it was like finding a long-lost lover. As soon as the studio opened again, I joined, and have been dancing as much as I can ever since.
It seems obvious now that I should never have let a bunch of kids decide what was ok to do or not. My teenage self didn’t know better, obviously. Not to mention a general fear that if I wasn’t naturally good at something, I shouldn’t even bother trying. Stupid, I know, but one is always wiser in hindsight.
I was very lucky to have landed in that dance studio, though. It was, as far as I’m concerned, the most democratic and open-minded studio of the city at that time (the studio is closed now, sadly, and I left the city more than three years ago so I don’t know about now). I never felt looked down at, and not only did I have the chance to dance to my heart’s content, they also gave me the chance to teach. It was my first and longest job to-date.
Now don’t be misled. I am not that good. In fact, I am not flexible at all and I am hardly as strong as I should be, but that didn’t stop me from dancing very challenging roles in our summer and winter recitals.
Interesting things happen when you give someone the chance to do something they love. I wasn’t very good, as I’ve said, but I guess my teachers saw my dedication and my willingness to practice until I had it right. So they gave me increasingly difficult roles, which in turn motivated me to practice more, and eventually I became a decent dancer, even with all my limitations, and even if I say so myself. Sure, I rarely got to dance a variation in its original choreography (turning, for example, is as much a weakness as my lack of flexibility), but I could still develop artistry and deliver an enjoyable performance (I hope!).
When I left my hometown at age 25, I had collected an amateur version of an auditioning dancer’s repertoire. And moving abroad did not stop me from dancing; if anything, it opened doors to new possibilities.
But the point of this post is not to boast about this dancing of mine. It is rather my way of encouraging others out there to keep doing (or start doing) the things they love because who cares what other people think? Certainly it doesn’t matter more than what we think of ourselves! It sounds very cheesy, but I believe we all could use some cheesy encouragement more often.
My intention was never to become a professional dancer, but it still took years of deprivation to realize that I need to dance in order to feel like myself. Nobody should have to go through that. I’ve heard similar stories with singing in choirs, sports, painting, writing, the list is endless.
So, this post is part encouragement, part warning that this blog will have its serious share of ballet-related posts, simply because so many of my favorite experiences are related to it.
I close with this beautiful Under Armor ad featuring one of my favorite dancers, #MistyCopeland.
*Back then I hadn’t seen anyone performing fouettés. Otherwise I would have known that there are few things as tough as ballet.