I danced for the first time in two years this week.
Well, tried to.
After taking some advice from professors and friends about the ~preciousness~ of Senior Spring, I was reminded that this is the time of the season to make choices that personally benefit me. Whether that be taking things out of my schedule that I’m not fully invested in or making an effort to pay attention to my passions, I’ve been taking the time to think about my time. The result? I walked into a jazz dance audition cold.
The afterlife of a dancer is marked by few things: incredible nostalgia, poppable joints, and boxes of costumes that are hoarded for the just-in-case occasions.
There are other types of indicators, too, though. Some may come off as more dismissive.
“Hey, someone’s doing a story on dancers. Should I give them your contact information?”
“Martha, you danced. You should audition for this show.”
“We remember watching you onstage. We miss seeing you there.”
*with a coy expression* I miss being there, too.
These examples can be familiar to anyone who devoted part of their life to the stage. They are the occasional reminders that set off a reaction in our minds: cue the montage reel, dim down the lights, and grab a tissue if you need it.
They remind us just how far away we are from our days of leotards and tights–that we aren’t what we used to be; it’s just all in the past.
I studied ballet and other forms of dance from the time I was 3 years old up until graduating high school. Through that time I competed in dance competitions, attended summer intensives at School of the Arts in Winston Salem, performed seven and a half-minute classical variations onstage, and was even fortunate enough to have my dancing pay for part of my college tuition through the Distinguished Young Women program.
Was I ever Misty Copeland? No. But is it fair to say that I possessed some talent? Yeah. I hope so.
Fast forward to now: I’m a senior in college. I haven’t taken a single ballet class since being in Chapel Hill, and the only real dancing I’ve done on campus has been through a small ballet company during my freshman and sophomore years as well as competing in Greek Groove (seriously, check out the link; we killed). After taking the advice from my professors–to really find and do things that made me my best–I felt inclined to try dance again. I went to an audition.
The first 30-minutes alone told some hard truths about my abilities.
I couldn’t do a center split without wincing, hold a turn without falling, or straighten a knee in an extension longer than a few seconds. I sucked.
My body had changed so much, and it became hard to watch myself in wall-tall mirrors that were far from forgiving. It made me wish I was kinder to myself in high school when I thought what I was wasn’t art.
It took me going through one across-the-floor combination to have one scary question come to mind: Did I only love dance for all those years because it was something I was good at?
After four years of dance-neglect, I had developed the mindset of “If I am not the best dancer I know I can be, why bother?” Why even attempt if I could never jump as high, point my toes as hard, or train through 10-hour weeks as I did when I was 17?
But there had to be something more that would transcend that belief. Why else would I practically bounce to class listening to whatever song was on my phone, or unabashedly be ten-times extra at any party or bar where people were dancing?
We eventually came into the center to do a small combination as the final part of the audition. It was to Lizzo’s “Boys”–a bop.
It was then that I connected some dots: dance is a conduit for human expression–my expression.
It is a better communicator than words and feels before it thinks.
Hearing the beat of the song, the space given for accents, and the energy provided by the lyrics, it didn’t matter what I looked like while dancing–I was feeling it.
Dance has always given me permission to be myself, I realized. It has taught me to be the things I treasure most about myself: strong, confident, driven, vulnerable. It is the foundation of who I am and has led me to new dreams, ones that have nothing to do with performing onstage.
I left that audition a little in shock of how out of practice I was but reminded of the gift I have in knowing something was so integral to my making. A gift to have a body and to use it.
No, I’m never going to be as good as I was at 17. Not even close. But I can be more grateful than I was then.
I’ll be inching closer to that mindset. One step at a time.