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What Dancing for 15 Years Taught Me About Life

I still remember it clearly. Pastel tutus sparkling under stage lights, hairsprayed buns held together by bobby pins and fingers crossed in prayer. My heart would race as I took position in the wings, securing my pointe shoe ribbons, stepping into the box of rosin so that I wouldn’t slip on the wooden floor. I shook the nerves from my limbs and made sure to run through the steps in my head, trying to tap into the part of my body where muscle memory is stored. Grace, I would say to myself. Remember to perform with grace.

What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I danced, quite intensely, for over 15 years prior to college. Yes, that means I started at the age of three, barely old enough for preschool yet already taking place at the ballet barre then-taller than I was. I absolutely adored my early days at LBW Dance back in my hometown. That room with baby pink walls and ballerina teddy bears was where I first discovered art, learning how to move with my whole self, doing more than just listening to the music-- but feeling it, every beat.

I started with ballet and tap. Then came jazz, lyrical, pointe, and contemporary, a few years of competition dance team, and musical theatre. By my senior year of high school, I was running from after-school musical rehearsal to ballet class until 10 p.m. I’d come home exhausted, covered in sweat, to a pile of homework that had been waiting for me all day. Come to think of it, LBW Dance’s motto is “Learn to dance for the love of it.” In retrospect, how fitting. Even though I felt like I was always playing catch-up when dance took center stage in my life, there was something so fulfilling about knowing I was doing it because it was my passion, my absolute favorite activity in the world.

But it wasn’t always easy. There’s much more than what meets the eye: pirouettes and spandex costumes, red lipstick and flawless figures. Dance is demanding. In some ways, it’s tougher than a traditional, head-on sport. It’s the art of athleticism and beauty in action. My days as a dancer brought injuries both minor and major, some of which still bug me to this day. I’ve developed back problems, from wear-and-tear throughout the years, that are now something I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life. I may have left dance, but dance hasn’t left me. That sounds like such a cliche, but it’s so true; to this day, I fight the tendency to choreograph songs I hear on the radio, and when I see pigtailed little girls holding their mothers’ hands while crossing the street to the studio, I melt.

I stopped dancing because I felt like I needed to give my body the rest I never gave it from preschool to senior year. College was the chance to heal, to stop pressuring myself with every audition for the lead roles, and to focus on other passions of mine. But I miss it more every day, and I can still feel the part of me that claims dance as the most natural way to exist, express, and make art out of the ordinary.

Because dance has the power to fill a room with color. It is poetry at its finest-- interpreting lyrics to a pop song but turning it into a visual anthem to capture any emotion. I’ve poured out so much into my dancing throughout the years: grief and loss, melodramatic moments of losing my first love, the frustration of being too much or not enough, every season of my life preserved in motion.

I haven’t taken a formal dance class in over a year now. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll find myself signing up for something I’ve never tried before-- maybe ballroom or swing-- or maybe I’ll return to my roots, making my way back to the ballet barre for a simple adagio or a classic set of ron de jambe. I’m sure it’ll feel a lot like coming home.

15 years out of almost 20. That’s the majority of my lifetime and yet my life as a dancer feels a whole lifetime away. It wasn’t all for waste though, because even now, I’ll put on music. I’ll dance, for the love of it. And above all else, I’ll let my heart run wild.

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