Saturday, May 22, 2010

serendipitous movement

i have spent almost my entire life barreling into dance headfirst. when i was the tender age of three, my mother enrolled me in creative movement and tap classes at her aerobics studio because i had too much energy to pay attention to anything other than things that were shiny or that i could chase, like dogs or bugs. i was accident prone and mischievous, which is not really a good combination with the frilly dresses my mother preferred me to wear to daycare. inevitably, once i found the glory that is pants, i pretty much gave them up for good so that i could hang upside down on the monkey bars without anybody seeing my days of the week panties.

so when dance was introduced to me as a toddler, the leotards were of great appeal as a form of clothing, because they didn't show anything except for the pudgy tummies of me and my classmates. dance became one of the great joys of my childhood... i always looked forward to my classes because unlike school, i didn't have to read and write and learn math. it was an hour out of my day that i could listen to music and run around pretending i was a princess. and soon after, when i started classes that were more deft in the ballet language, it was the first time i was praised for my abilities in anything; at school i was easily distracted and often berated for my lack of interest in all subjects besides art class, which evidently was only there because the teachers wanted to have a smoke break away from babysitting snotnose little kids.

i was the first in my class to be put on pointe, at eleven. my teacher would point out my feet to other students as what they should desire in ballet. i was given special solos and eventually, cast in company roles by the time i reached trainee status at fifteen. the harder i worked, the more i was rewarded by both my body and my artistic directors, and soon ballet was the only thing i realized i was good enough at to make a career out of. and though i was always jealous of my older brother for his immense capacity for intellectualism, i knew that ballet was going to be my golden ticket to gaining appreciation from my parents and those who would come to see me. my first step in this was getting contracted into a ballet company in atlanta the year i graduated college. it was a principal contract at 21, and i knew this was the start to many great things to come.

i was only half right. in february of my first year with the company i was rear-ended at 70 mph, totaling my car and moving my spinal column in my pelvic cavity, causing severe nerve pain and limiting the mobility of my lower back and legs. my flexibility was cut in half on my right side, and i would have bouts of partial blindness in my right eye if i would move certain ways. i went to sports medicine therapists and spine doctors and with each consultation i lost more and more hope in ever returning to the stage in the condition i had left it. at most, with therapy and possibly surgery, the doctors were telling me that i could only get back to about 80 percent of what i was before the accident.

i had spent my entire life working towards something that was taken away from me in a millisecond. i became severely depressed and began having identity issues... if i wasn't a ballet dancer, who was i? it had defined me my entire life; it was as natural to me as walking. thus began my journey to figure out who i was without the great umbrella of dance shrouding over me.

i began teaching more and producing my own works of choreography. i picked up my old 84 minolta and started taking pictures again, capturing the moments i thought were beautiful. i wrote more, any time i could. i drank more and allowed myself to loosen the strings a little bit on my life. took other classes besides ballet, like hip-hop and lyrical, and actually found out i really liked those forms of dance. i began dancing burlesque and enjoyed the freedom and campiness of the shows. i moved to san francisco, went on tour for five months, moved to boston, and moved to new york. i opened myself up to the options of one day having my own design company for the little bobbles i like to make, like eyepatches and pasties. i let myself grow into someone that wasn't defined by past, instead, becoming someone who is shaped by the present.

in other words, instead of growing interlocked in an art i had studied my entire life, i allowed the passion for the art i loved so dearly influence the person who had been shielded by it to unlock and open up to new ideas and experiences.

just recently i found an old friend of mine on facebook, a girl i danced with for about seven years when i was training. she was always the most promising one in class, the student that was blessed with the body and talent for ballet. when she graduated, she decided to take a job with the new york city ballet, one of the most prestigious companies in the world. i had found out that three years after she took the job, she quit ballet. she ended up going to school and after she gained her degrees, auditioned for the pennsylvania ballet, which is now where she dances. i asked her why she didn't continue on with nycb, and she responded brilliantly.

"i didn't know who i was anymore. basically, i became this sheep, this number... and i needed a break to find my own identity. so i went to ithaca and got a degree, and a year later, decided i was ready to dance again, as my own person with my own style. i wanted to know who i was after someone else defining me for so many years."

lovely. and i think it was the same for me, albeit the fact that my break was not a break i actually thought i needed. however, looking back, i see that it was. i gave myself time to figure out what i really loved, and not just what i was really good at. and i may not be rich and i may not be that well-known for my work, but it just makes me realize further that there are so many cool things to come, ballet or not.

my definition is mine. and that's fucking awesome.


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