I recently started taking dance classes again after an almost two year hiatus and found that, happily, my technique and ability has not entirely disappeared. However, my re-emergence into the "dance scene" has brought up some questions that I'm finding hard to answer. Although my body is still cooperating I know that there will be a point in the near future when it decides it's had enough. How do I really know when it's time to give it all up? Now to some this might not seem like much of a dilemma. "Quit when you want to quit" some might say, after all it's just an hour and a half a week. But to those dancers out there like me, you know it's just not that simple. I have literally been dancing all my life. I started ballet classes when I was three and never looked back. Like most dancers, dance is my religion. It's in my blood. I never worried about this type of thing during my hiatus because I had every intention of returning to the studio (which I did). But now I've had to start choosing between yoga classes and dance classes since my limited free time does not often allow both. Both provide exercise, strengthening and beautiful movement but dance is a punishing art that is slowly breaking down my body. In contrast, yoga is stabilizing and rejuvenating. I probably wouldn't even have made my body last this long had it not been for yoga. And now that I've started dancing again I feel guilty when I miss a class, as though my dedication were in question. I know this is all in my head. Nearly 30 years of dancing suggests that I am dedicated to the art.
The thing is, I've worked so hard all these years and it seems blasphemous to just walk away. While dance has given me many opportunities and provided a lot of joy and happiness it has also been a source of disappointment. Throughout my childhood I spent many hours at the studio in classes and rehearsals. I was one who always knew the routines, remembering changes in choreography and spacing. I may not have been the best dancer but I certainly wasn't the worst, and yet I felt I rarely got any recognition, no featured parts or solos. My high school was home to a large and well known production called Dance Theatre. I was a principal dancer for all four years, was often called on to remember choreography for 20+ dance numbers and even run rehearsals as an upperclassmen. But when all was said and done, I still felt overlooked. I was left out of routines that most of the other principal dancers were cast in, including the three other girls who, with me, were the only dancers to become principal dancers as freshmen.
I continued to dance through college and when I moved to New York City I sought out Broadway Dance Center to continue my dance training. BDC is a competitive studio that has a lot of professional dancers taking classes. I found my niche with a few specific teachers, and even performed in some studio showcases. I finally found one teacher whose style I particularly liked, who had her own dance company. For many years I took four to six classes a week with her hoping to be asked to join her group. I even expressed interest in dancing for her. I worked as hard as my body would allow and yet was never asked to perform, all the while watching other dancers become part of her company. It was frustrating and disappointing.
Now, at 32, I no longer expect to be asked to dance with her company nor do I have the burning desire to as I once did. But the competitiveness never leaves, and the yearning to perform never entirely disappears. That is why we dance, to perform. After all, it is a performing art. I have performed on stage in musicals and dance concerts but perhaps it's not enough. Perhaps I can't walk away because I feel like I will be wasting all my years of blood, sweat and tears in the studio with nothing to show for it. Perhaps I believe I will be letting myself down. Perhaps I never want to say "I was a dancer".