Growing Up As a Dancer: Why It Is the Best and Worst Thing For Someone

 

Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice, and, above all, don’t let anyone limit your dreams. – Donovan Bailey

This is a paper I wrote during my first semester of college. I really wanted to share my experiences of being a dancer, both the good and bad experiences. I did not provide any names in the story in order for the people involved to not be identified. If anyone I know reads this please know that I love you and I look back at my dancing experience and appreciate everything that happened. So here goes nothing…

Let me tell you a few things about dance. First off, dancing has been my passion ever since I was two years old; something about putting on cheap plastic tap shoes really gets to a person. Second, dance is the one thing that will teach you how to hate yourself instantly. Sure, dancers are beautiful on stage when they’re performing but there are hundreds, most often thousands, of hours put into that performance. Even if choreography is taught over a matter of days, everyone starts off with no knowledge whatsoever.

My first class ever was a Kids Combo class. This meant that I would be in a room with a bunch of other toddlers, learning the basics of tap and ballet. Growing up at a dance studio meant that my peers would become my new family. If there was ever something wrong, your dance family would always be there for you. Teachers were not only role models but they were your biggest support systems. This was the reason why I fell in love with dance. I was surrounded by the people that I loved while everyone was doing what they love. It wasn’t just an after school activity.

Once you reach a certain age, dance becomes more complex. I don’t just mean that you begin to move on to a higher difficulty but you also move into the realm of never being good enough. Dance started to feel as if it was no longer my safe place, I was being judged on how I looked rather than being judged on my skill. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t skinny enough. I wasn’t tall enough. My first year of being on a competition team felt like such an accomplishment. All of my friends and I were put into the same group to compete at conventions and competitions. We were still a family while on stage and that feeling was the most powerful thing I have ever felt. We were dancing together and our happiness was shining through while we performed. Nothing could bring us down, not even a loss.

I began dancing more, twenty or more hours a week at the studio. Somehow managing to keep good grades and enjoying my one true love: dance. Every night I would go to class and continue learning new things. I found that contemporary, along with being a very emotional and angsty form of art, was very brutal. Everyone would get bruises and floor burns from learning how to distort their bodies in these new, articulate ways. I found that ballet was very serious. Every word was new and from the French language and would take a lifetime to master. I found that hip hop would teach one to understand both fluid and sharp movements that would improve the other art forms. I found that musical theatre would teach one how to play different roles and portray different emotions while on stage. A strong stage presence is of utmost importance. I found that tap was crucial for musicality. If you cannot understand rhythm, you might as well find a new hobby. What I am trying to say is that sure, some people are really good at one particular style but in order to excel, you need to know it all to be amazing.

I was putting everything I had into being the best I could be. The years that followed were to be full of not getting back into my competition group, losing friends I thought I would have for a lifetime, and beginning to feel like I was worthless. Although I began to feel like the whole world was against me, I never gave up. I kept spending all of my time at the studio, pretending I was happy. I wanted to prove to everyone that I could do it.

Then it happened. One day I was invited onto the Elite Competition Team. Everything I ever wanted was happening. I was a mere sophomore invited onto a team of strictly juniors and seniors. All of my friends that I had competed with in the past were in the group below me. I felt like I had finally proven to everyone that I really was good enough.

My first week of classes that season, I gave it everything I had. I had started from nothing when I was two and by the time I was fifteen I had finally made it. I wasn’t going to do anything to have that taken from me. I went to the first rehearsal and immediately felt like an outsider. My best friend was there but he could only do so much. The girls were staring at me, as if I would never be one of them. I had to stand my ground. There was a reason I was placed in this group, I just had to prove it to them.

The next week I showed up to class and the studio owner asked to speak to me. After everything I had been through, there was no way Icould have prepared for the next words to come out of her mouth. She told me that the group that I had worked so hard to get into, “wasn’t the right fit”. All I knew was that I couldn’t cry, not in front of her. I still had four hours left of class that day and I had no idea how I was going to make it through. It was pure torture. Everything I strived for was taken away in the blink of an eye and my heart felt like it had been ripped out of my chest. My love for dance was my biggest downfall.

Dancing no longer felt powerful, it felt like a chore. Although I thought I was good enough, I never had been and I thought that I never would be. I stopped going to class and I began to feel as if all of the effort I put into dance was a waste of time. Later on I found that it wasn’t the teachers that hated me, the senior girls voted me out of their group. It wasn’t fair to them to invite a new person onto their team, especially during their senior year of high school.

Being kicked off of the team because a fewprivileged teenage girls were unhappy with a new team member infuriated me. I began talking about the incident with many of my other dance friends whenever I had the chance. I was the person that was rejected for the worst reason ever. People began to grow old of my complaints but I couldn’t help it, I was too upset and confused. I had never done anything to those girls to make them not want me there. To this day, although I became friends with one of them, I still feel the rejection whenever I think of the situation.

The next few years weren’t the best. I didn’t have a group of friends to rely on. I didn’t have the same relationships with my teachers. I stopped attending classes and began focusing more on school. I realized that I was never going to make it as a dancer. Only a handful of people are successful in the industry and I would never be one of those people.

I stopped competing in regular groups with my studio for my last two years of high school. I was invited into the Elite Tap Competition Team the same year I was rejected from the other team. This was a very small group of dancers, about seven, who were hand picked by the studio owner, only the best of the best tap dancers at the studio. That was my happy place. I could tap, which was the one form of dance I loved the most and I was surrounded by the best people I could have around. There was endless laughing and it was truly the best part of my dance career.

Although I learned so many forms of dance and started from nowhere, the one thing I really learned from dance was that no one can tell me who I am. As a dancer you grow up believing you can achieve anything and then they just knock everyone down except for the favorites. During the times of not being good enough, I struggled to find who I was. Although dance was the worst thing for me, I learned how to be confident and understand who I was as a person. I could perform so well that I made people cry, or laugh, or feel angry, and so much more. Sure I didn’t have perfect technique or the perfect body type. The one thing I did have was the ability to capture the audience’s attention and have them feel something. That is the purpose of dance. It is not for the dancer, it is for the audience. The choreography is an art that is put together in order for the audience to get something from it. If I can put memories of pain and happiness in my mind while performing, I can make everyone that is watching feel the same.

The most powerful moment, out of all of my performances, was when I was performing a contemporary piece. The dance was titled “AuRevoir”. The choreographer picked it as a goodbye piece for her leaving my studio. That was the year my best friend was graduating. Around that time, I had been angry about how he was a bad friend but dancing that piece on stage made me feel terrible about things I had said to him. I felt saddened by not spending our last year together in happiness. At the beginning of the dance I was supposed to turn towards him, then we would grab each other’s faces and stare into each other’s eyes. At this exact moment I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. I felt how wrong I had been. He looked into my eyes and I looked into his and we both stood there as tears began to fall. As we continued dancing, water was streaming down my face and I knew theaudience was experiencing the pain I felt. I could see it in their eyes.

Dance isn’t about having a career. Dance isn’t about proving to others you are worth it. Dance is about feeling a desire for what you enjoy doing. Dance is an art form that is meant to be shared with an audience. A dancer feels an emotion and portrays it. Now that I have come to know that, I believe that I am a very successful dancer.

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