Dance used to be my identity.
Before I even started official dance lessons, I was twirling around in a tutu, waltzing back and forth in front of the family room fireplace, my reflection casted back to me in the glass. Although I don’t distinctly remember these early dance sessions, my family has recordings of me in my pink ballet slippers gracefully dancing around the house. When I watch that young girl, I see what dance truly is in its purest form: absolute joy and self expression. That little girl didn’t care one bit if she was “good” or that her technique was perfect. Instead, she was in tune with the music within herself and her body fell in sync with that rhythmic energy.
Time goes by, and things change. Perceptions change. My feelings about dance definitely changed. Instead of looking forward to shuffling my feet in my tap shoes or twirling across the vast studio floor in my ballet slippers, I laced up my pointe shoes with gritted teeth. I knew in my head that the long Saturday Nutcracker practice would wear heavy on my self confidence and mood. I did not enjoy the practice like I used to. I only wanted to be the best, look the best, and receive the utmost of praise after my time on the big stage.
I realize now that I had forgotten how to dance with my soul and had begun to dance with my head. I had let my ego take control of the wheel, only desiring to improve my skills in the name of being better than my classmates. Instead of building myself up and encouraging others to do the same, I was tearing myself down, grasping and pulling down whoever was near me. I was a toxic mess of negativity, and the worst part of it was I thought that what I was feeling was normal and inescapable. This is just the nature of dance, I told myself time and time again. But it is not.
Dance is art. It is the movement of the body as an outward expression of the soul. How easy it is to forget this, though, in the cutthroat dance culture of many competitive studios. It is very sad to me when I see girls turn away from dance for the reason that they do not “fit” this made-up societal mold of a dancer that is so often associated with this competitive nature.They say their legs are not long enough, their waists not small enough. I used to think these same things about myself as a dancer.
The other day, on a euphoric caffeine high, I began to waltz around my bedroom, so full with energy that it was bubbling over and expressing itself through the movement of my limbs. I continued to arabesque and pirouette around my room, reveling in this unexpected moment of joy. This moment was nothing short of an epiphany. Several days before I had drafted a blog post about how detrimental dance was to my self-confidence and how the competitive atmosphere largely contributed to my eating disorder. Immediately after I experienced this wondrous moment of dancing in my bedroom, though, the words I had written did not ring true. I mis-defined dance and undermined its power. In this self-led bedroom dance class of one, I had reconnected with my purpose and redefined what is means to be a dancer.
It does not mean you must have the most gorgeous of lines and the most perfect of fouettés. It does not mean that you have to be better than every other girl in your class. Heck, you don’t even have to be in a studio surrounded by mirrors to be considered a dancer.
Instead, dance involves connecting with the beat of your own heart. It means staying present with your body and where you are in space in that exact moment. It means finding the joy from the inside out. Dance is not an outward experience. The magic happens from within.
Although my traditional dance career has ended and I no longer show up to the studio for regular classes, in that fateful bedroom waltz, I learned that I will remain a dancer in my own way, eternally moving to the sound of my soul.