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A Constant in Times of Change

With any significant life change comes what I like to call the cleanout phase. The cleanout mechanism is like an instinctual behavior we perform to survive the ‘new’, to adapt to our present environment, to cope with change. And this doesn’t mean physically getting rid of outdated belongings, but change also elicits getting rid of habits, hobbies, and relationships that you may have outgrown. Now, of course, there are some things that we will always retain throughout life’s changes. It may be family members or friends; it could be a special belonging or a hobby. For me, it was dance.

I’ve been dancing for nearly as long as I’ve been walking. One of my earliest memories is of being onstage at my first dance recital at age four. I was so young that I didn’t even understand the concept of feeling nervous before performing in front of people. My strongest memory from my first recital was staring directly at the nearly blinding white stage lights–paying no attention to the people sitting in the auditorium seats, just soaking up every drop of happiness that I was absorbing from this new experience. And it was this feeling of pure joy that sparked my love for dance, a burning passion that I continued to fuel as I danced into my young adult years.

As I grew up, dance began to hold more significance to me, and I began to require more serious instruction. When I finally convinced my mother to let me switch studios, my dance schedule quickly went from three or four hours a week to almost twenty. I was now a competition dancer traveling around the country dancing in front of judges and receiving formal criticism. This was an entirely new world of dance for me. I was no longer just dancing for fun, but for self-improvement and in pursuit of bringing my studio awards and trophies. In my first dance class at The Studio, I quickly realized that everyone around me was stronger, more flexible, and more technically precise than I was. For the first time, I felt incompetent in a dance studio. I did not look like the other dancers; from their bodies to their movements to their dance apparel, I looked fundamentally different. I could not pick up on choreography quickly at all, in fact, I didn’t even know what some of the instructions the teachers were shouting out meant. Many times, I came home from class and cried. The girls were less than welcoming, the teachers were strict, and the technique required of me was way over my head. But this discomfort did not last forever, and my self-consciousness eventually turned positive. By the time I graduated high school, I matched my dance peers in flexibility, technique, showmanship, and even confidence.

My passion for the art stretched beyond a high school extracurricular and into my college education. One of the first things I did as a freshman in college was sign up for a ballet class. I had barely made any friends yet, and I was far from knowing what I wanted to major in, but ballet had already found its place in my new routine. No matter what happened in my life, and no matter how tough dance was on me in return, I could always be found at the barre in my pink tights and black leotard moving to music.

My relationship with dance was far from simple, in fact, it was tumultuous at times. No dancer wants to admit it, but behind each one of us, there are moments of hardship, sometimes an entire history of struggle. The dancer’s eyes that audience members see glistening under stage lights are the same ones that cry when her feet are bleeding from hours of hard work or when her body doesn’t reflect that typical ballerina build. There have been many times when dance has broken me, both physically and emotionally. Many dancers would second the saying “There cannot be beauty without pain.” One of my old ballet teachers used to repeat this to us in pointe class, which was always the most painful hour and a half of my week. Over my seventeen years of dancing, I have endured one hip surgery, three stress fractures, and several pulled muscles. While recovering from my most recent injury, in my eighteenth consecutive year of dancing, I was forced to ask myself one of the most difficult questions I’ve ever had to ask–is dance worth all the damage it’s doing to my body?

The passionate four-year-old aspiring ballerina in me begged to push through it and continue to dance. But the twenty-two-year-old college student with new dreams decided that it was time to move on from this beautifully destructive art. It was a terrifying decision, as I have identified as a dancer since age four. Even through all of life’s awkward phases, uncertainties, and tragedies, dance had been there for me. It was something I could always rely on as if it were an old friend. And now all of a sudden, at age twenty-two, about to graduate college, when everything else around me seemed uncertain, I forfeited one of the only constants in my life.

Dance has this uncanny ability to make me feel both confident yet insecure, beautiful yet broken, and powerful yet powerless. Only after considerable space from my dance career can I now recognize the paradox of this beautifully destructive art. Years of dancing brought me wonderful moments of happiness and gratitude, but also days of pain and hurt. It could destroy my confidence just as quickly as it could build it. Yet maybe the true beauty in dance was being there for me when nothing else was. While my passion has subsided and I’ve seemingly moved on, I’d like to think that someday in the future, I can find that blissful, fun-loving four-year-old who loved dance so fearlessly. Although my formal training has ended, I’d like to think that someday in the future, I can take dance out of the box on the shelf that I’ve labeled “the past.” And while I abandoned dance when my body couldn’t take it anymore, I’d like to think that someday in the future, if we reconnect, dance shows me its kindest, gentlest, and most loving side.

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