As a little kid I had mixed feelings for dance class. Ballet was an interminable hour-long affair where I was stuffed into itchy pink tights to do pliés at a wooden bar that was nailed to the wall. Tights were the absolute worst thing I could imagine at that age – such is the oppression of a middle-class girl growing up in the rural Midwest. Performing on stage was not my strong suit back then. I recall feeling physically ill while waiting in the wings and being so nervous under the lights that I would come close to blacking out. I would choke, forget choreography and resort to watching my fellow dancers’ feet, copying their movements to keep my sanity before the music mercifully ended. Costumes were riddled with sequins that would itch my limbs without relief (side note - you don’t know pain until you know what sequin armpit rub can do to a person).
The one thing I loved about dance class, even as a kid, was the music. Not all of it, but every now and then the teacher would put on a record (she had a record player, which made me feel like we were in a museum – this was the era of cassette tapes) that would make my heart thud in my chest along with the beat. This is where dance snagged a hold of me. Movements choreographed to music. Songs that existed on sheet music and in waves of sound, transposed onto another dimension when dancers made it come to life. I felt a profound connection to the song “Stray Cat Strut” one year (our costume included cat ears) which speaks volumes about my emotional depth at the time, not to mention “Conga” by Gloria Estefan – imagine costuming with lots of neon colors and spandex.
I quit dancing when I was in high school. The most dancing I did after that was several years spent sweating to loud pulses of electronic music in South Beach nightclubs. I didn’t really think about dance until over a decade later. I was coming to the end of a handful of years spent drinking and partying in a ski resort town, bumping from one job to the next and pursuing approximately zero creative outlets. In the fall of 2011, I saw an audition notice for the annual community dance performance (you can visit Steamboat Dance Theatre here) and felt a pull within me.
Over the past 7 years, coming back to the dance community has brought me on a fantastic journey. During my low points (breakups, heartache, grief) the meditation of movement came to soothe my racing mind. I choreographed entire numbers that mimicked my struggles and put them on stage for the world to see. My initial horror at the idea of public catharsis turned to joy in its power to heal and help me process my own confused brain waves.
In 2014, after having my heard shredded by love lost, I learned to fly in aerial silks. In the early days of this process, my biceps would feel week and shuddery, and I would cry in the bathroom after rehearsals when I just couldn’t haul my body upwards any longer – my grip on the silks would fail. But months went by and my grip strengthened. My heart grew calm. I was confident flying through the air. Just before showtime that year, a journal entry of mine reads, “so we take our daily baggage – heartbreak, work, stress, life changes, injuries, self-doubt, illness, confusion, fatigue – and we wrap it up in silk and we hang it from the highest rafters. Or maybe it hangs from us, as we spin and flip and let our limbs loose. Up there, we are weightless.”
There is a pool of darkness in the wings off stage where we await the curtain pullback to perform. Back there, dancer’s faces reflect complex and fleeting emotions of trepidation, excitement, and passion in the muted glow. These days, I walk on stage and I do not feel fear. I feel many things besides fear. One of which is lucky – I feel lucky that my body is strong enough to gyrate uncontrollably to music. I feel honored to share the stage with men and women who have busted their asses into shape for this. I feel excited to have this much fun with this many awesome people in these incredible glittery costumes. I feel love, so much resounding love and appreciation, for this family-within-families of creatives who don’t dance on Broadway (or anything close to it) but can damn well light up THIS stage tonight.