i remember the first time i was recognized as a dancer. i was eleven years old, at a teachers’ conference with my 5th grade teacher, helping her make a presentation about learning styles. we got to the Q&A portion, and the first woman to pose a question said to me, “you’re a dancer, aren’t you? i can tell by the way you stand.” i blushed, and thanked her, and had never been more proud.
a few weeks ago, i was working at the restaurant where i was a hostess when a woman at a table nearby waved me over. “we’re just wondering - what do you do besides work here?” i gave the nutshell answer: recent grad, looking to get into non-profit management. “really? we were thinking you were in the performing arts.”
“well, i was a dancer.”
from age 5 until my freshman year of college, i was a dancer. i took ballet classes, i danced on a jazz competition team, i dallied in irish step dance, and i was on my university’s dance team for a year. two to three nights a week, i was at the studio. my parents and grandparents drove me to and from countless classes, sat through competitions and recitals, and bought me one pair of specialty shoes after another.
i sat on the floor in the lobby of the studio to do my homework, i went through the particular pains of dancing on pointe and kicking your own ankles with the hard heels of irish step shoes, and i watched far too many of my competitors dance to jennifer lopez’s “let’s get loud.” and i loved every second of it. it shaped the way i move, stand, and even sit in a way that lasts til today. then, in college, i quit. the dance team at my university did mostly hip-hop dance, which wasn’t my thing. (have you ever seen a ballerina try to move like janet jackson? it’s.... it’s certainly something.) dancing was no longer my “thing”, i had to grow up and focus on classes. it was time to pursue a career, and dancing wasn’t it.
i missed it, terribly, and last winter, i summoned all my courage and took a ballet class for the first time in 5 years. it took that long because i was terrified of being bad at something i was used to being good at. in my classes in southern new jersey in my teens, i had been among the best ballet dancers at the studio. i knew that among “real” dancers in new york city, even in a beginners’ class, i would be nowhere near the best. but once i was at that barre, that didn’t matter. i was shocked at how naturally everything came back to me. muscle memory is bonkers, you guys. i made plenty of mistakes (the teacher yelled repeatedly at me as i did a combination across the floor - “it’s a PLIE! not a LUNGE!”) but i was elated by how amazing it felt to be in class again. i called my mom afterward and gushed to her, and thanked her, sincerely and repeatedly, for giving me the amazing gift of awakening this passion for dance at such a young age. it’s something that i know i can always come back to.
that was january 2011. i wish i could say that since then, i’ve been taking classes regularly and am just so thrilled... but not so. i haven’t been back since. i’ve got a ton of excuses, some examples:
“classes are expensive!” about $15 a pop at most of the studios in the city, plus $4.50 for the subway rides there and back. which, for an unemployed lady like myself, is expensive. but i’ve also spent that much on two beers in a night, while unemployed.
“i should be spending my time applying for jobs! dance classes aren’t going to help me get a job.” riiiiight. like i don’t sit around refreshing tumblr half the day.
okay, i guess my main excuse is the money thing.
but enough of that. i am going to make dance a priority again. because it makes me feel amazing. because i crave movement. because my identity as a dancer is the one that makes me most proud, and i no longer want to say i WAS a dancer when someone asks. i AM a dancer.
so, here’s the deal. i’m currently in a spending freeze until i start getting unemployment checks in april. but, when that happens, instead of going out for the occasional beer, i will set aside $15 a week for a dance class. one class a week for the month of april. and i’m putting it on the internet, so it has to happen. hold me accountable, internet, did you hear that? i’m not looking to make it into the NYC ballet here, but i want to reclaim my favorite identity and be a dancer again. on that note, i’m going to go stretch. come april, i’ll be ready to be back at the barre.