Today is my birthday. I am thirty-six years old. I still feel “more experienced” than my years suggest. This has always been true.

Within this year of being thirty-five, there have been things have gone well and things that have not. As Kurt Vonnegut plainly stated, “So it goes.” But it has been a remarkable year of personal growth, change of perspectives, and even some surprises.

It has been busy.
In recent months, I have been taking two classes at Michigan State University in an effort to renew my teaching certification before it expires this June. On one hand, this has been daunting due to the schedule demands of working full-time, serving on various committees, and raising a family. On the other, my soul has been fed in a way that parenting, wife-ying, dancing, writing, and teaching simply don’t nourish in spite of their own richly satisfying offerings.

It has been validating.
I always appreciate knowing that I know what I am doing because life is a serious of experiments and negotiations. So when I read the words of others that validate my own thoughts and experiences, I feel encouraged and inspired to delve deeper. This is happening in my teaching. And, well, in my living.

It has been re-engaging.
I have what I lovingly refer to as a “tribe of women” that have helped me through life. This is not to say that men haven’t had profound roles in shaping my course, but I have found the kinship of women to be important to how I navigate. Some have been actual teachers, others supporters, mentors, friends, colleagues and so on. Some would easily identify themselves and others would have no idea how influential they’ve been to me. Or how inspiring. But this year I have found great friendships again or anew that have made this year special.

It has been conscious.
I have lost a significant amount of weight. What everyone says is true,….I have more energy, I feel better about myself, blah blah. Being a dancer, I have a whole subset of issues with weight that have presented along the way but ultimately, it has been about me. I am re-identifying with myself and less so, it seems, to my roles. Now that my youngest is about to be 20 months, I am ready to shed the “baby fat”. And I am ready to do that. I won’t ever really be “a dancer” in the way I once defined it, or as my technique class and rehearsal/performance schedule demanded it, but I embrace that dancing is still at my root. I am letting go of some of the demands the profession of dance has imposed upon me, or that I imposed upon myself in response to the profession, and returning to why I started doing this in the first place. Simply, I can’t NOT do it. Ironically, I feel more interested in and eager to dance than I have in a very long time.

It has been fulfilling.
My husband and kids are truly remarkable. Period.

It has been unpredictable.
On Thanksgiving, I participated in my first 5K. This really surprised me. Even while I was driving to the race, pinning on my number, running, and eating a banana, I couldn’t believe it was real. I couldn’t believe that I, in fact, was doing any of these things. In fact, if you had asked me on Wednesday if I had plans to run one, I would have said no. Even though I have been casually running on and off for over a year, this was a little impulsive. It was also necessary. I learned a lot about myself on Thursday; the best being that I don’t know everything about myself yet.

Here’s to thirty-six.

Little Boxes

The beginning of the academic year always brings back a flurry of my own memories as a student. As an undergraduate dance major, I entered my program as a jazz dancer who watched modern dance, always thinking, “that is what I want to do. That is dance.” I suppose at that point of my training and pre-professional career, I considered jazz to be dancing, and modern to be dance. Maybe in some ways, I still do.

As I progressed through my BFA, I was encouraged to dabble in all, specialize in few, and to try to understand who I was as an artist. This was hard for me. I enjoyed the dabbling in all although admittedly performance always took priority. I tried really hard to figure out where I fit and where I wanted to go next. But, the specialization was a particular challenge. Easily, I was a jazz dancer who could also “do” modern. That was the box I inhabited, somewhat agreeably as jazz was my first language and had provided the most opportunity for me. But it was also where I felt most other people—–faculty and peers–kept me boxed in. In my class, there were three BFA majors in three sturdy boxes: “the ballet dancer”, “the modern dancer”, and “the jazz dancer.” Three unique movers, three distinct personalities, and three pre-conceived identities more rooted in how we entered the program versus how we finished it.

As I moved around the country in pursuit of a dancer’s life, the box that contained my undergraduate experience was essential baggage that helped and hindered as I transitioned to the professional dance world, and with it, the “other” real world. Once out on my own, I realized how much of the rest of me I’d boxed up during college in order to concentrate and condition myself for the world of dance. Professionally, I struggled with strategy. Should I focus on jazz, making jazz contacts, securing jazz gigs, and then attempt to transition to modern? Or, now free of the jazz stigma, should I start with modern. Already, I was aware I needed balance and frustrated at how that might roadblock my way to success (as I then perceived it) in either discipline. It took a while for me to see that my new sturdy box was one of a multi-dimensional person and artist that could forge in many different directions and still claim success. My perception was what needed to change, not my identity. My box simply needed to upgrade from the size of an egg-crate to one of, oh I don’t know….a dishwasher? No room for a refrigerator box yet, I was still living the gypsy life and rent in NYC is expensive.

Standing on 52nd Street in the days following 9/11, waiting to start my shift as a visual merchandiser for a large retail chain, it hit me. This isn’t for me. Working 40-plus hours and hoping to have enough money and energy to take class, audition, and do all that comes with my “dance habit” (as later one of my graduate professors lovingly referred to it) was not cutting it for me. Even though I had had opportunity to perform, had networked and made valuable and impressive contacts, and was starting to make it happen, I was not fulfilled. Suddenly, my life felt frivolous. Dressing windows by day, auditioning and taking class by afternoon and night no longer seemed the responsible thing to do. How was this helping anybody but myself and what exactly was it helping me do?
I soon met my husband, who happened to be living in Los Angeles, where coincidentally one of my best friends, the aforementioned “the modern dancer,” was living. I packed my boxes and drove across country to a slightly redesigned dance existence and with my perception of success still under construction. There, “the modern dancer” and I started a short-lived pick up company. My pursuit of a dancer’s life was now veering from performer to creator and even more quickly back to academia with graduate school calling. More boxes, more notions, and dimensions were developing.

So, to grad school I went, where I was now the modern dancer who could also“do” jazz. The bottom of my original box and opened and now become the top. I was struck to find much of the same stigma, but viewed from a different angle. An angle in which jazz was not as readily respected yet in a pinch, was a highly valuable skill to have. It still afforded me unique opportunities within a predominantly modern dance program. Yet, due to the quality of my jazz training and the depth of my classic jazz experiences, I was now somewhat of an authority of what seems to be a dying art form in spite of its popular existance.

Since graduate school, I have tried on other cardboard dwellings: teaching dance in the public schools, higher education, community college, private studio, masterclasses, and more. I have performed for repertory companies, pick-up companies, and free-lanced. I still choreograph mostly modern works and take pride in my ability to bridge concepts in multiple genres and ideologies. I am supremely thankful for my background in Dance and having worked with and been influenced by people with deep understandings of the difference between dancing and dance, regardless of genre.

I am no longer simply inhabiting a single box, but able to stand proudly on several for a better view of the dance world, the other real world, and most importantly, to use as leverage in order to help someone else. It is from this perception of success that I write to you of my experiences, viewpoints, and other ponderings.

Originally published by Dance in the Annex.