Nothing matters when we’re dancing
Before I was an opera singer, I was a dancer.
A friend and I were recently discussing our respective experiences in dancing during our younger years. She asked me which role I had in the Nutcracker, and I tried to explain the annual showcases that my dance studio put on in lieu of more traditional ballets.
Dance has been on my mind a lot lately, what with my recent obsession with Dancing With the Stars. So, I found the photos from my dancing days and decided to do a little tribute to my time as a dancer. This is mainly for my own personal benefit and enjoyment, but also for anyone who has ever been surprised to learn that I used to dance, or had trouble picturing me as a dancer. It’s also for those of you who like to stereotype me as the quiet, shy, reticent little girl who needs to “get out more.” You know who you are.
I started in one ballet class when I was in 8th grade. By the time I graduated from high school, I was dancing on pointe, and had branched out into hip-hop, latin ballroom, and jazz.
All of the dances pictured in this post are ballet dances. I’ll post the hip-hop and latin ballroom photos separately.
I was never as good at dancing as I wanted to be in my mind. My instructor shared this paradoxical principle of dancing: “If it feels comfortable, you’re probably not doing it correctly.” It was hard learning to distinguish between technique that felt comfortable and technique that felt correct. In spite of dancing and also participating in gymnastics prior to that, I’ve never actually been particularly flexible. I’ve also perpetually struggled with shoulder and neck tension, and a weak lower back. Consequently, I had trouble achieving lines that were long and beautiful – it was like I couldn’t extend my body quite enough. Even when I knew the choreography, it often didn’t look quite “right.”
Some dancers are gifted with bodies that effortlessly look beautiful when they dance. They have a natural grace that enhances their movements, adding an extra aesthetic touch. I was not one of those dancers. I didn’t instinctively know how to move my body and would often discover, when looking at pictures or watching video footage of our dances, that movements which I thought were graceful and lovely were actually just awkward.
It was a great learning tool. Nothing gets the message home better than actually seeing what you look like when you think what you’re doing looks good and it actually does not. It helped to highlight specific skills that needed work. On the flip side, it was also encouraging to see pictures and video footage where I actually looked okay. Every performer needs a little positive affirmation that something is working.
And when I actually worked hard at what I was learning, and spent time outside of my classes practicing, I saw a noticeable improvement in my abilities.
One thing that I was good at was falling. I don’t mean that as a joke, either! Our dances often involved choreographed “falls” that required us to slide to the floor from a standing or even a leaping position. Surprisingly enough, I was actually able to allow myself to “fall” well, so that it looked natural and graceful. For whatever reason, I wasn’t afraid of the gravitational pull, but instead managed to embrace it and harness gravity to help me accomplish what I wanted.
Or maybe it was just because I’m 5’2″, so I didn’t have as far to fall.
Anyway, I loved dancing. It occupied the greater part of my afternoons and evenings during the week. It was my P.E. throughout high school, and also one of my primary social outlets. I have great memories of my time in the dance studio, and even if I was always a little bit on the self-consciously mediocre side, I still loved trying new dance styles and stepping out of my comfort zone in order to learn more. I’m so thankful that I had that opportunity.