This week I was challenged to think about a major \”aha! moment\” in my life as a dancer and an artist. The first thing that came to my mind was the moment I truly knew and internalized that I was a dancer and that I could dance well. I wish I could say that moment hit me at my very first recital, as I began sewing the ribbons on my inaugural pair of pointe shoes, or even when I taught my first ballet class. But, unfortunately, that moment was to come many years later.
From a very young age I knew it wasn\’t just a matter of wanting to dance but the fact that I had to dance. I was born with the desire to dance. It is a part of my soul and ingrained in my DNA. And for a very introverted and timid young girl, ballet lessons provided the perfect outlet for expression and building personal discipline.
Soon, however, it became painfully apparent that my DNA had left out what I thought was one very important piece of the puzzle: the perfect ballerina\’s bone structure. No one even needed to tell me. It was just obvious that the other girls had teeny bone structures and I did not. They were taken aside to meet with the head of the ballet company to discuss lead parts and special classes. All the while I danced the same part year after year. It never stopped me from dancing, mind you, but I had begun to believe that because my body would never be ideal, my technique would never be ideal, either. I would pretend I was Suzanne Farrell in class to take my mind off being “different.” I also avoided looking at myself in the studio mirrors except when absolutely necessary. Watching videos of my performances was out of the question.
As my teens progressed, I was asked to be assistant teacher of the preschool ballet class and then suddenly I was in charge of my own class of elementary age girls. That all my hard work had resulted in this honor had not clicked even then. I only knew from my mentors that my work in class was \”clean\” (this I thought was said to less than ideal dancers to add some variety to the criticism) and that I was paying for some of my tuition by taking over the lower level technique class. (And I really enjoyed teaching those sweet girls who were instrumental in my decision to teach for all these years afterward)
It wasn’t until my Freshman year of college, however, that I finally came into my own. My roommate and I-both dance majors-had been chosen by another student to perform her choreography in a showcase on campus. The piece was contemporary and required bare feet-which was entirely out of my element. For some reason, though, this person seemed to think I could handle the challenge and the rehearsals continued.
A week before the showcase the choreographer had the horrifying idea to videotape the rehearsal so we could watch ourselves and do a little polishing. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I wanted to do the best possible job I could with someone else’s choreography.
The dreaded moment arrived as we huddled around the little TV in a dorm room to watch what I was sure would be in the top ten of the most embarrassing moments of my life. But all I could do was stare in shock as the girl who looked just like me danced in my signature black ballet skirt. All the arm placements were not just correct, they stretched and breathed with the music. The crisp turns sent the ballet skirt into a rippling disk at her waist and her feet were even pointed at the appropriate times. She was pretty good!
There must have been a strange look on my face because at some point my roommate nudged me in the ribs. “I can dance,” I said before I could stop myself. The other girls in the room all turned to me with expressions on their faces that clearly stated they thought I had lost my mind. The choreographer had some sarcastic response to the equivalent of \”duh\” and she told us to watch the recording again. This time, however, I saw myself through new eyes because then and there I knew I was truly a dancer and that I was where I needed to be.
This is not to say there were not other disappointments or doubts along the way-there always are in life–but I continued to look back at that instance as confirmation to keep dancing and to keep growing… To dance hard and dream big.
What was an \”aha! moment\” for you as a dancer, artist, human being?