I was chubby. No really, I was. I had just returned from a 6 month stint of living in England with my favorite Aunt. She just so happened to be pregnant at the time, and pregnant people like to eat, as do preteens going through puberty. Long story short, upon my return home, I was chubby. Not that I really noticed that much. I mean I knew that I had gained a little weight but it didn’t really bother me. I guess I just had really good friends and family who overlooked my roley-poley self.
I didn’t think much about how I looked. That is until I found myself in my first ever dance class wearing a form fitting leotard and surrounded by stick thin girls and wall to wall mirrors. How did I end up in a dance class? 13 years old seemed a little late to start a dancing career when the other girls in my class had a good 10 years of experience on me.
Every week I entered my 1 hour musical theater class with renewed determination and vigor to do the best I could. Those first 30 minutes focused on acting and improv exercises. It was pretty obvious to me that I excelled above the other girls. I think it was obvious to them too. It felt good to be better at something than other people. I wasn’t incredible, by any means, but I had more experience and it showed. But in that second half hour that was focused on upbeat, jazzy, musical theater style dancing I shrank to the back of the room behind everyone else and hoped that no one would notice my inability to mimic even the simplest of dance steps. Every week I left my 1 hour musical theater class more frustrated and feeling worse about myself than I had an hour before.
But I kept going back, week after week, and I slowly got better until I was ready for our end of the year recital. I can still remember the power and adrenaline I felt on that stage under the warm lights. I left the stage panting from exertion and excitement. I sat backstage and watched the other girls who were in multiple classes do quick costume changes and rush back on for yet another dance. At that moment there was only one thing I was sure of, I wanted to be back on that stage as much as I could and I would do whatever it took to get there.
^^Our song that first year was ‘Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend.’ This was after a whole year of dancing.
When it was time to register for classes for the next year, I went a little above and beyond. I signed up for hip-hop, jazz, musical theater, and tap. By the time the end of the year rolled around I would be in as many dances as I could manage. The only problem was by this point I was in 9th grade, which by age put me in the senior dance classes despite my skill level.
My first class at the beginning of the year was hip-hop. I was nervous at having to once again squeeze into a leotard and stare at myself in a room full of mirrors and thin girls. I soon realized that although I had no idea what I was doing, I wasn’t the only one. I spent every free moment I had practicing the steps I learned in class. I chasséd and grand jetéd down hallways, I chaînéd and pirouetted around the living room. Any empty hallway at school was begging me to leap and turn down it. Just because I wasn’t good yet didn’t mean I couldn’t be.
I only lasted for two tap classes. I quit, not so much because I was embarrassed, but more because I felt bad for holding the rest of the class back. While they were tip tap hopping around the room, I was attempting to tell my feet how to shuffle ball change. My feet didn’t really listen to me. But that didn’t stop me from practicing. Even after I quit the class I tried to master that first across the floor combination–toe, scuff, heel, toe, heel, ball change. I’d be sitting at school scuffing and shuffling my feet under my desk. I’m sure people thought I was crazy.
My least favorite part of class was after the warm up and before the routine portion where we did some kind of across the floor combination to work on basic skill. Everyone would line up and take turns doing the combo from one side of the room to the other. Sometimes we were in twos or threes but often enough we would go one at a time. I hated everyone looking at me cross the floor and mess up the steps. I was mortified at the thought that I’d be the only one in class who didn’t understand how to do something. I watched the more experienced girls with envy as they mastered some of the most difficult combinations with ease.
^^All that dancing really helped my transform my body.
Between dancing 3 hours a week, practicing in the meantime, and my freshman year gym class at school, my body had completely transformed by the end of the year recital. I lost that extra puberty weight that came in part from eating too much Cheez-Whiz and Sprite during my stay in England and developed coordination and flexibility that I’d never had before.
The following year I once again stepped it up a notch. In addition to hiphop, jazz, and musical theater, I joined ballet. Although I learned my lesson from the year before and even though I was old enough to be in senior ballet, I decided to hang out with the middle schoolers in junior ballet to not embarrass myself too much. I even started working at the dance studio selling shoes, answering phones and assistant teaching in 3 year old ballet and tap classes (and by assistant teaching I mean preventing kids from hitting each other and taking them to the bathroom).
Over the years I continued to get better, although I was never great. Somehow dance became my life even though at first glance my abilities were nothing to write home about. I loved the way it felt to move my body in a way that fit to music and told a story. I could feel the music moving through me and it was beautiful to me, even if it didn’t look that way to anyone else. It was a way for me to let out inner feelings that I didn’t know I had and wasn’t able to articulate with words.