As writers, artists, and musicians will tell you, being able to express yourself through a form of art is the most beautiful and personal experience you can go through. Being able to share with the world exactly what you are feeling on the inside when there are no words that could possibly express your true feelings and self without directly stating it, is an amazing ability that we can go through.
Around the age of three my parents brought me to my first dance lesson. I don’t remember a lick of my first experience with dance but from the photos and videos my parents have saved, I can tell there was an instant connection.
I laugh about how serious I look in all the photos. My parents told me that I had to have my hands, feet, and face in the right positions because I wanted to become a professional dancer and be on television (typical three year old dreams). I remember there being one exercise that I would look forward to at the end of every class. In order to get past the crazy kid phase of causing destruction with every jump and flick of the hand, we would all sit in a line, listen to pretty ballet music, and delicately pretend we were opening a jewelry box, putting on our expensive diamond earrings and necklaces, sliding on our beautiful gold bracelets, and finishing off with a shiny tiara (so in other words, the exercise was to teach us etiquette so our costumes wouldn’t fall apart when we got to wear them cause let’s be real, growing up with brothers means being graceful isn’t the first thing a kid think of).
I ended up dancing for seventeen years, working with three different dance studios before finally picking the one that fit me the best. I had the opportunity to dance and grow with so many amazing people that I am beyond grateful to call my family.
When my team and I started highschool and all the drama that comes along with those stressful four years began to crumble upon us, our director would pull us all into one of our studios, turn off all the lights and make us spread out on the floor and lay down in a comfortable position with our eyes closed. She would slowly walk around us as we silently rest on the chilly marley floor and softly instruct us through breathing exercises. She eventually would being to speak about our practice and why we are dancers. She would say ‘we hold in so much energy, love, hate, fear, desires, anxieties, and ambitions that we begin to sink into ourselves. We are dancers because we feel so much and THIS is our release.’
What she was saying was right. I would come to class with my mind in a spin, heart racing with rage and eyes ready to release an ocean, but I would leave with a clear mind and a soft heart.
After the exercise she would tell us to find a seated position and slowly blink our eyes open. To my surprise I would find a small puddle where my face had been laying on the floor where my tears had accumulated, and when I looked around the room to my teammates, I saw they noticed the same where they were lying.
We then would all stand up, make a large circle and hold hands as we silently breathed together and let out a few sobs as we felt a strong connection and energy flow through us. We then understood that we are a family and are there for each other even if we don’t want to speak of our own personal struggles. We could feel the pain and negative energy flow from one another as we walked into class, but when we would move together and create a story with each other as a piece of the puzzle, it was like we were repairing ourselves and filling in each other’s gap that were created before we step foot in the studio.
Something I’ve come to appreciate from the studio that I grew up dancing in was that you don’t have to be skinny to dance. The group of girls that I had the liberty of dancing and growing with were strong and beautiful ladies. We were all different with different sizes, shapes, and tones. Our director would begin class with the question ‘did everyone eat before coming to class?’ because she wanted to show the judges at dance competitions and all the other studios in our area that our priority was about health instead of slim bodies that can fit into tight shorts and a beaded bra. Our studio was praised for our energy and strength as we were very athletic and could handle fast paced dances among trick that required a huge amount of teamwork.
We were required to take a conditioning class twice a week where we worked on our strength to be able to support one another. We had classes on nutrition and dealing with stress to make sure we were all in tip top shape both physically and mentally (something I think all studios should require).
For us and for our studio, dance was more than showing up on stage without tights, in little shiny costumes with our butts hanging out, and showing off as individuals. Our goal was to make the audience feel something as they watched us dance as a team.
My senior year, and last competition I was in, was the best year for me in dance. We went into an intense and popular competition up against so many amazing and technical studios that definitely looked the part of a competition studio. We watched the other studios go before us and wondered if we had even a chance of getting an award. We weren’t trying to look like sexy teenagers who shook their butts until they’d fall to the floor. Instead we were fully clothed, wearing shorts, a tank-top and a button down on top of that. We didn’t try to stand out through sex appeal but allowed our movement tell the story instead of confusing the judges with too many tricks and awkward transitions.
Our style was very different from the others, but to our surprise it worked in our favor. I remember sitting on stage with my teammates as we waited for our studio named along with the awards we won to be called. We didn’t expect much but still hugged and laughed with each other as if we won first place as the other studios around us sat quietly with nervous and anxious expressions on their faces. When our name was called followed by Elite Platinum, we were in shock, but when our name was called again as Grand Champion, we were beyond ecstatic. Somehow the fully clothed group of girls with a dance that showed more emotion then tricks ended up winning the entire competition! What a way to end your high school dance career!
So the truth is, dancers are dancers because they have a story to tell that can’t be expressed through words. When there is an emotion that is strong within us, our first instinct is to move and let it take us for a ride. It’s hard to listen to music without fitting in choreography, and we often get weird looks as we walk down the street and take a second to point our feet, check our posture, or to crack a few joints that ends up sounds more like a tree limb cracking than a group of young girls wearing bright red lipstick and hair in a perfect bun popping a hip or knee.
We dance because that is simply all we know how to do.