My soon-to-be third grader, who is 8 years old, just approached me about enrolling in a tap and hip-hop class (insert tears of joy here). I’ve suggested dance class before because he is always joyfully dancing around and has a natural sense of rhythm. In many ways he reminds me of some of the kids I use to teach dance to. He’s always declined and on occasion has told me, “I already know how to dance.” No confidence issues here, Folks.
Firing up the search engine for hip and tap classes in the East Bay made me think about when I started in dance class. When I was 3 years old, covered in a shades of pale pink from head to toe, complete with a tutu, my mother lead me into a local dance studio. I’m pretty sure she pushed me through the classroom door, where for the next hour (which surely seemed like a lifetime to both myself and the teacher) I clung to a corner of the room under a barre and cried while a very patient assistant with a kind smile tried to coax me out to the center of the floor. Nope. I wasn’t buying what she was selling. I wanted my Mother and wanted nothing to do with standing in first position. I’m pretty sure the drama of it all left a lasting impression for all parties involved. Case closed. We did not return to the ocean of pink.
My Mother shared that story with me many years later while helping me get tights on for a dance competition. It was one of those moments where your heart smiles and you think, “Who would have thought?” It wasn’t until I was my third grader’s age that my Mom suggested a jazz class. Of my own free will, I waltzed into class and I was hooked. Jazz was my gateway drug to the arts.
Dance class brought something out of this shy girl. As soon as she stepped on stage, she beamed with confidence– a confidence that carried over into other things she did (and continues to do). I would often get comments on score sheets about how I “light up on stage” and how I’m a “natural entertainer.” I think for many years, especially my elementary years where I struggled academically, it is fair to say I was most at home performing on stage.
Nothing about my experience was typical in dance- just as the evolution of my dance career wasn’t by any means typical. I didn’t start off in ballet. I didn’t start when I was 3 or 4 years old. I wasn’t tall and certainly didn’t have a ballerina build. I was always more muscular, strong and have a longer torso than legs. I didn’t sport a bun (that happened after I became a Mom). I remember going to a convention and seeing Mia Micheals and thinking, “Hey! She has strong legs like me!” As I grew older and wanted to become better, I branched out into ballet and technique classes. But, it was always the music, not the dance, that moved me. To this day when I hear a song, I see a dance. Much like some musicians see music in colors.
I started teaching as an assistant for jazz class at the age of 14. That assistant teacher that tried to coax me into ballet class as a 3 year old grew-up to own her won studio. She offered me my first dance job. I worked for her for 13 years– and worked at other Chicagoland area studios too– a total of 16 years. I choreographed for shows and musical theatre. I even taught a Saturday class when I moved to Minnesota. I don’t teach anymore, but a song or two are still left in my heart. Despite my aging legs, my feet fall into place in any technique class to.this.day. I’m pretty sure I can still drop it and pop it with many of which are now half my age.
Those early days of dance, both victories and rejections, would strengthen my resilience for future years– the ability to jump in and make new friends, the passing of my mother at 47, a stressed relationship with my family, returning to school as a married woman and mother, walking cultural tight-ropes, the courage to love fearlessly, raising babies, moving across the country, parenting with courage and never giving up on myself. In later years, I would learn that life wasn’t about balance. No, life itself is a dance. It’s the constant push, pull, tug, sway, pivot…ever shifting, keep on moving…the front and back, shift of balance that keeps us moving. I mean, think about it. When you balance, you’re often on one foot- you aren’t moving. Like the heartbeat, life doesn’t happen in the highs and lows. No, life happens in between the marks of the pulse… the movement from one point to another. It’s that sweet spot where we are able to peel back the layers, expose our vulnerability and share connections which engage the mind, body and spirit.
In a world where society pushes for kids to start things younger and younger and often leads us to the impression that if you haven’t started playing baseball when you were 3 years old, perfected your axel by 6 years old, or graduated by 22 and landed your dream job…your hopes are already washed up and have little chance at success… I’m living proof that it’s okay to start “a little later.” For many years, my livelihood was teaching dance… despite starting at 8 years old (gasp). I finished college “a little later” too (with honors). Maybe it’s because I started later in dance that I wasn’t burnt out by 13 years old. Maybe it’s because I wanted to return to school that I achieved much more than a degree– but an education.
As I shared with a friend in my kitchen a few weeks back, you CAN discover your passions and purpose at any age. It’s your story. You have the power to reinvent yourself if you don’t like the story. Life is canvas- it is up to you to find the tool that suits you to create and give life to that canvas. There are no rules on the steps, the order or the pace. In case you think you are too old, or you’ve missed your “chance” to make your mark on this world, here is a little inspiration from some folks that are 40 and older to show you, it’s never too late.