“i can’t come to your birthday party. i have dance.”

Yesterday I had the great joy to jot down my plans for Wednesdays for the next four months in my trusty planner:

Dance!–7:30

Just seeing the words jumping out on every page made me ecstatic. This whole dance thing kind of happened out-of-the-blue. What started out as a fun new way to get me out of my running rut, has been a huge life-changing event.

I started dancing when I was 3 years old.

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While other kids were watching television and playing video games after-school, I was always the kid that had dance classes. I grew up in dance studios–listening the to loud music, the feet stomping, the moms chattering. Even if I didn’t have class, I would tag along to wait on my sister while she had her classes, just to be there. I was raised by a village of dance moms–some stereotypical, some not–and learned how to apply mascara while most girls my age were still baffled by their training bras. My weekends were filled with dance competitions, hotels, and bonding with the families from my studio. Our summer vacations revolved around the never-ending schedule of dance camps, master classes, and national competition location. I used to hate telling my friends that I couldn’t come to their party or sleep over at their house or whatever because I had “dance practice again”. It was a childhood full of glamour and elaborate costumes. Learning how to be a team player, but also standing out as a performer. Memorizing four dance routines and practicing in any space you could find (did you know you can fit 12 girls in a high school hallway and they will still find room to do pirouettes?). Dance taught me discipline, it taught me how to appreciate culture, it taught me how empowered women can inspire and make people feel incredible things, just with their bodies.

Unfortunately, dance taught me other things way too quickly. In my early years, dance was something that brought me immense joy. It was something I used as a release, and even if I wasn’t the Most Amazing Dancer In the World (title currently held by John Travoltoa, obviously), I loved it. It wasn’t until high school that dance changed for me. After being at one studio for 10 years, we moved to another that had more people, more difficult choreography, and more opportunities for competitive dancers. It was there I really began to excel–the teachers were attentive and serious. The fellow dancers were dedicated and inspiring. The routines were brilliantly choreographed and executed. But then other things started happening. Like, I was told I was too fat for a dance costume (I was 17 and a size 6, probably the smallest I’ve ever been in my life). Or the time I was cornered in a dark studio and screamed at. Or the time I was dancing and not smiling, and a teacher came in my face and said that if I didn’t smile, she’d force one on my face. Or the time I was told I wasn’t dedicated enough because I also did my high school show choir. Or the time…or the time…

I quit dance because of the way I was treated. I let these grown women, who had nothing better to do than persecute and harass young girls, take away something that brought me happiness. I was embarrassed. I developed a case of body dysmorphia that caused me to see myself as a huge, waste of space. I let these women talk to me this way. I begged my mom not to defend me, to not stir any waters. I quit.

I dabbled in dance a bit in college. I took some master classes and courses for credit, but I always kept thinking in the back of my head “You’ll never be as good as the other girls. Your body isn’t right for this”, because that’s what I had been told for four years by people I respected, people who were supposed to mentor me. I was never going to be 6 feet tall and 100 pounds, like so many beautiful dancers. So, I kind of gave up on dance. It felt weird and awful, but what could I do? I had let bullies take prime occupation in my confidence about my dance abilities. So it was done.

Then, one fateful text message from a friend this past February changed it all. “Want to take a hip-hop class?” she asked. It couldn’t have come at a better time–I was getting kind of burnt out from a winter of chilly runs, so I was ready for something new. I was baffled at the reasonable price, signed up, and called my mom to tell her immediately. She was so excited to hear I was going back to dance, even if it was for something just for fun.

When I met my dance teacher, Christine, I knew there was no turning back. In my first class, her energy and positivity was contagious. I smiled the entire time, and when the class was over, I couldn’t believe how quickly it had gone by. After class, Christine stopped me and asked if I had taken dance before. I told her I had danced for 13 years, but quit because my former teachers had told me I didn’t have the “dancer body” and really hurt my self-esteem. Christine’s face dropped. She went on to tell me that she knows this is the case all too often for female dancers, but she wants to be apart of a movement that is ending the stereotype that one type of body is right to be a dancer. Christine is a short girl too (we are the same height, which is not the preferred dancer height), so it was so comforting to hear someone who I already admired, be on my team.

It’s because of Christine that I’m still dancing. I’m in one of her jazz burlesque troupes, and we’re having our first performance at the end of the month. It sounds dramatic, but because of Christine’s vision and support, she has changed my life. I thought that dance was something I used to do–something I would remember when I was old and couldn’t move, I would remember that I used to be able to leap and glide and make people smile through dance. But now I know it can be in the now–it can be current. I can be a dancer and still be short, I can still be a dynamite performer with an hourglass figure. Christine has shown me that loving your body is what makes a good performer. Growing up and realizing that your body is there to support you and take care of you, not be a burden, helps too.

If I could give any advice through my experience, it has to be this–don’t let others steal your joy. People that are unhappy (which clearly, my former dance teachers were) will find a way to make those that are around them miserable. Don’t let it happen. If you find happiness in something, stick to it. Even if you’re not the best, even if people tell you you’re bad at it, whatever. If you have a hobby or an interest that you love, you should hold on to it. Don’t wait almost 10 years to throw on your dance shoes, like I did. Find what it is that makes you a healthy, well-rounded individual and stick to it. Your happiness is unique to you, and that’s what you need to remember. No one else has to deal with your emptiness at the end of the day–you do. Don’t be empty. Be full of life.

And you know what? I love telling people why I can’t hang out with them on Wednesday nights.

“I can’t!! I have dance!!”

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If you are feeling motivated to take a dance class with Christine (which you should because she’s the most amazing dance teacher in the world), check out her web site http://www.christinegarvin.com . New dance classes are starting in September, so do it!

You should definitely come see my jazz burlesque troupe perform on August 23rd at Scandal’s. It will be a night to remember. The fun starts at 7 and costs $12 if you buy your ticket from me ahead of time. Check out this flyer for more info, or go to the web site.
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