I was home alone on a Saturday the first time I watched the movie “A Chorus Line.” I remember watching the cattle call, the auditions, the amazing way these people were dancing, and I just knew, as much as a person can know anything, that I would never, ever, be able to dance like that, the way I wanted. I would never, ever, have the beautiful bodies like the women had, or be able to leap 5 feet into the air and do quadruple pirouettes like the men. In my heart of hearts I desperately wanted to be like these people on the screen, that was my deepest wish. But, being realistic, not having legs up to my neck, being a little pudgier than the other girls in my ballet and jazz classes, having a tight Achilles tendon that prevented deep plie and thus no spring, and battling my way to finding my center enough to complete a measly double turn, well, being a professional dancer just wasn’t in the cards for me.
Though I danced through high school, and even in some school musicals, when it was time to go to college, it was time to “grow up” and put childish things aside, which for me, meant putting dance away in a small box, up on a dusty shelf in the catacombs of my mind.
Years passed. And then I saw a promo for this television show So You Think You Can Dance. I was intrigued. As a kid I lived for episodes of “Solid Gold,” “Soul Train,” and “Fame” – anything that had any dancing in it. But when this new show appeared, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. Something about it hurt too deeply. It was too hard to watch, though I didn’t exactly know why.
Yes, I’d not danced for upwards of 10 years. Yes, I’d gained about 100 pounds. But why couldn’t I watch? Why couldn’t I even look at this art form that I loved so dearly, even as a kid?
Well, the answer is quite simple. Dance is the love of my life. But I had broken up with dance. I had abandoned it because it wasn’t “practical” and because I’d never be “good enough.” Seeing others in the throes of their love affair with dance on a show like SYTYCD was too hard to bear….
Until I started dancing, myself, once again, that is.
Still in a battle against my body, working out at the gym laboriously on a treadmill, I saw a man giving dance lessons out of one of the group classrooms. It looked a heck of a lot more fun than the stupid treadmill and it was ballroom dancing, something I’d never tried. I decided to give it a shot, and the rest, well, is history. In fact, I just returned from a dance competition a week ago.
And amazingly, ballroom, more than any other dance form I’d previously tried, fit me like a glove. I love the partnership aspect of it, which I never had with ballet, tap, and jazz. My hips move really well, not anything I’d ever valued since I thought everyone could do it (not so, I have discovered) and in ballet you are always trying to keep you hips square. And I gained a kind of confidence, a confidence I’d never had when I was a smaller size, through the dancing. I was not only allowed, but rather vigorously encouraged, to express myself through facial expressions or individualized arm styling.
A few months ago I did my first showcase performance ever, doing a Latin Rumba. Me and my instructor, Ivan, had the entire stage. I got to pick the music. And I danced my little heart out. My mom came to watch, and she, more than anybody, would know that ballroom dancing has transformed me. She has watched me in every recital from age 5 through high school. But this time she cried when I danced….that had never happened in the past. It was because, she said, she had never seen me dance like that ever before.
Chances are that now at age 34, and at a weight categorized as obese, I am not going to be a professional dancer, like those people I saw in “A Chorus Line.”
But so what?
I can still dance.
Plus, I can still grow as a dancer. I can still be challenged, set goals, and improve. Indeed, I already have, down about 50 pounds from my all-time highest weight, and able to tolerate more cardio than I have in years.
And, I can still love dancing and make space for it in my life. Truly, it is more non-negotiable than ever before. Without it, something in me withers. With it, something in me blooms. Now more than ever, I realize I have a dancer’s soul, even if my path through life alongside dancing looks a bit different than most.
So, that’s why dance matters: Dance is transformative, it makes me want to be a better and healthier person, it stretches me and challenges me in ways nothing else in life does. Dance matters because it makes me come vibrantly alive. Nothing else in this world can move me (literally and emotionally) like dance can. And I think, looking back on my convoluted journey, that one important lesson I’ve learned is that there is space for every dancer, even me. There is a place for every kind of dancer, every shape of dancer, every age of dancer.
Dance matters because it’s who I am at my core.
Dance matters because it brings me to life.
This piece was written for a special project called Why Dance Matters. You can check it out here.