Of all the extra-curricular activities that were available to me as a child, dance was the one that stood out most to me, the one I excelled at and loved the most. My involvement in dance started at the wee age of 3 and ended in my decision to “retire” just last year (more on that later). I danced for over 20 years. There was a five year hiatus during my college years, and a year here and there when I took a break but dance had always been a part of my life. Naturally, it taught me many lessons, some easy, some difficult, but all beneficial to my growth as a person and I don’t regret a thing.
Like many other activities, dance required discipline. As we were always practicing for upcoming exams, in the case of ballet, or preparing for performances, as was the case with my other dance classes, a certain level of discipline was demanded from all dancers. Well, all dancers who wanted to sit exams or perform onstage. If you broke the rules you were simply out of a dance, or the entire show, it all depended on the gravity of your offence. Lateness, insubordination, breaking rules were met with proper punishment. As we all loved to perform, the most effective punishment was often not to allow us to do so. The teacher was the boss and we dare not defy her.
Personal Hygiene and Neatness
This next one is kind of awkward to talk about, but it must be said that some of the earliest lessons we learned were how to carry ourselves. We were always taught that our hair and attire should be neat and clean, our costumes should be properly ironed, our underwear should never be visible, and pieces of our costumes should never, ever, ever look disheveled or, God forbid, fall off. I fondly remember one of my teachers telling us that we should tuck our t-shirts into our underwear so that they would not come untucked while we danced. The lessons we learned about personal hygiene were more for the consideration of other dancers. Imagine up to 100 dancers in a studio at one time after school all gathered together in close proximity lifting legs, lifting arms, lifting each other. Now imagine if these dancers are not only dripping with sweat but emanating an unpleasant odor, yuck! So as I said, our instructors taught us from early out that we should take pride in our personal hygiene so they could save themselves and our fellow dancers from the horror of a frowzy studio.
The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat
Now I know dance is not a sport but that feeling when your group wins a gold medal at Festival, gets a standing ovation or a raving review, that’s the thrill of victory. That feeling when you want to be chosen for a dance so badly you can taste it, and the choreography asks you kindly during the audition to sit down and watch for the rest of the night, that’s the agony of defeat. And dance, and life, are filled with these moments.
Life is not Fair
Some people will be better than you, sometimes with all the hard work and effort you put in, there’s still someone out there who will walk in the studio and do what you could never do. They will get picked for the dance, you may not. This is just like in school, someone will get A+ and hardly ever study, you may study all term and the best you’ve done is a B. Its not fair, I know. But in the end they are going to choose the person who makes their work of art look the best on stage. Its important though to never stop trying, working hard, and being proud of your own individual achievements.
Confidence is Key
Dancers who step on the stage like they own it always do better than those who seem a little unsure of themselves. With dancing its all about the body language, that’s what tells your audience whether you know your stuff or not or whether you are happy to be there or not. I’ve seen dancers forget steps and confidently make up a solo, the audience could not tell. Those who dance with confidence get picked first and get looked at most on stage. Head up, great posture, looking the audience in the eyes, rather than looking down at the floor with shoulders slightly hunched. I must admit this was not one of my strongest areas but knowing how important it is is the first step to working on projecting confidence in my daily life, especially in cases where I’m really not sure what step is next.
When to Give Up
As I alluded to earlier, I decided to finally stop dancing last year, although the decision was long in the making. Dancing wasn’t my profession, it was a hobby, and there was only one reason I kept going, because I loved to do it. In the latter years however I felt as though I had fallen out of love with it. Performances, which were once the highlight of my entire year, now became a burden, a stressful time, full of drama. Dance became something I dreaded that robbed me from the things I’d rather be doing. I kept hanging on for a few years after I started to notice this, and I did it for three reasons. The first was that I didn’t want to be a quitter. It has a really negative connotation doesn’t it? I’m quitting. I didn’t want to be a failure. The second reason was that dance had become a habit, something I always did, part of my identity. I did it because I always have, like brushing my teeth everyday. The other reason was more about the family I had developed. I didn’t want to let the others down. They were so encouraging, they made me want to stay, try and work things out with dance. But alas, I decided that staying because I’d always been there, and staying for others, were not good enough reasons to stay and I suppose I’ll eventually get over the feeling of being a quitter. You only sacrifice that much of your time and effort for one reason, because you love it, and I just didn’t anymore. So I left.