15 August 2022

Quote-Unquote Dancer—A Personal History

I guess the fact that I am an adult who does not identify as a dancer makes me sad. 

The sadness is most likely due to the fact that I'd identified as a dancer for, what felt like, the majority of my life. When I was little, I was enrolled in all sorts of dance, gymnastics, jump rope types of classes and activities. By the time I was in second grade, I was a pre-competitive gymnast and dicked around as a ballerina, dancing as a ginger snap for the local ballet company's production of The Nutcracker, etc. And I had to make a decision between ballet or gymnastics, because I was advancing in both, but doing both was unsustainable at the level that I was slowly creeping toward. And so I quit the tights and embraced the shorty-shorts. I never became a competitive gymnast, but I did compete, recreationally, until I strongly considered quitting after Meet Season at the end of my freshman year of high school. 

During the summer, I informed my parents that I wanted to quit gymnastics, cause, quite frankly, I was tired of being in pain. Between ankle sprains that have left my ankles so stretched out that I roll them, constantly, and feel no pain, the tennis elbow, hyper-extended elbows, ripped palms, and general aches and pains from being a gymnast, I was over it. My adopted parents responded by telling me that I could quit, but I couldn't do nothing. And so, my adopted mom enrolled me in some volleyball club during the summer while gymnastics classes were on hiatus until school started again in the fall. 

I hate volleyball. 

Let's just put it that way. I was plenty good at it, but it was so boring I thought I was going to die from boredom. No offense to volleyball players/athletes. They're fucking hardcore. This is no slight to them or the sport; volleyball simply is not for me. So, then, gymnastics started up again, but I only attended classes with the intent to never compete again. Meanwhile, my adopted mom signed me up for an adult jazz class at her gym with a dance instructor she'd known for years. And I loved it. And I was naturally good at it from the get go due to the lifelong training of using my body through gymnastics. And so, by the spring of my sophomore year, I had finally quit gymnastics and was enrolled in a ballet class, two days a week, and a jazz class two days a week. By the fall of my junior year, I was dancing six days a week, up and down the valley from whence I came, advancing quickly, and then I went off to college with hopes of continuing to dance for fun. 

At Baylor University, I enrolled in a ballet class as my physical education type credits. It was droll and boring, cause it was academic, literally. We hardly danced at all. But that class introduced me to the other ballet dancers on campus, and they also introduced me to the Baylor Dance Company. During spring semester of my freshman year, I auditioned for some theater major's thesis. Apparently, theater majors put on a theater production in order to graduate, and one of those majors was choreographing a dance number. I got a part and met even more dancers. And so, I feel as though I spent most of my time with the fellow dancers I met on campus. It was my main social outlet. Sophomore year was a bit dramatic as a friend of mine had lured me to a different dance company, a "xian" company, with exactly five people. I didn't like it, obviously, so I stuck it out for a week or two, and then I gave it my all for the Baylor Dance Company. By the end of my junior year, I was the historian and had choreographed a number of pieces for our end-of-year show. But I was falling into a deep depression and wanted to leave Baylor. Thus, I auditioned for the BFA dance program at the University of Texas (Austin, duh), cause I had a friend who transferred there, whom I met at Baylor. I got in, but then I needed something else, entirely. Yes, photos, videos and documents exist of all of this.

And then I dropped out of college, altogether, didn't apply to UT, and left Baylor, never to return.

Over the summer, my adopted dad informed me that it was fine that I was taking a break, but I couldn't do nothing. Luckily, my former ballet teacher heard I was in a predicament and informed me of an opportunity in Syracuse, New York, with another "christian" ballet company. Even though I knew that I no longer identified as a "christian," I hadn't really broken the news to anyone, cause my entire upbringing and social circle is ALL CHRISTIAN! Basically, I mean, I think there are some who are not really "christian," etc., but this is not about that. And so, like a "good christian," I lived as a hypocrite, posing as a "christian" within a "christian" ballet company. To be fair, I really thought I didn't have much else in the way of options, cause there was no way in fucking fuck that I was going to live at home all year. 

And then, after a year of torturing my soul (and moonlighting at night clubs all over the city, "dancing" my ass off on the dance floor), I had completed the trainee program to become a full member, and I left to go back to school. 

Back in Colorado, attending the University of Colorado (Boulder, duh, but ugh, I would've thrown up all over you back in high school if you told me that I ended up at CU! Lame!), I would run three or four times a week and danced on Saturday mornings at an adult dance class hosted by a local ballet company called something like Lemon Cheesecake? I can't remember, and I legit am not going to Bing it rn. The class was full of mostly the elderly, but they were really friendly to me (read, unintimidated by my "skill," which was severely lacking at the time) and expressed their delight that I was joining them. 

After graduating, the bodybuddy/lifemate and I moved to Denver, where we mostly worked out at 24-Hour Fitness. The one we went toalways after midnight cause, imho, it's always awesome to move through this world when it's like you're the only ones occupying the planet—had a studio space, and so, I would move from time to time, but I was so out of dance shape by that point that it would always make me depressed to see how not-awesome I had become. And so, I bought a punch card for a studio nearby, and danced a few times over the course of a few years. Lame. I was strong, don't get me wrong. We worked out like fiends in those days. And then we packed up and expatriated to Seoul. 

In Seoul, I morphed into a yogi, because, frankly, I was a bit ashamed of how much I felt like I had lost as a dancer. Plus, I was going through figuratively heavier identity issues at that time. My body did not look good dancing, and I was literally heavy. But by the time we left Seoul (to return, no worries), I was aching for a dance class, and so, when we arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, I signed up for one, and it was a huge disappointment. So, I tried another class, and it was exactly what I needed. And then, when we arrived in Seattle, I had returned to a concerted yoga effort. And yoga was my main body practice again. 

Until I kept on wrecking my shoulders/neck from not-strenuous postures. 

I could easily understand tweaking my neck &or shoulder doing some contortionist type posture, but I never actually hurt myself doing the crazy stuff. I tweaked my neck/shoulder twice doing a simple forward fold, and after the second tweak, only about six weeks ago, I quit yoga cold turkey. There's something about yoga that just does not jibe with my body (or perhaps it has something to do with white yoga practitioners who have ruined the whole endeavor). Obviously, I still "practice yoga," as I am a supporter of the meditative/mindfulness aspects of the practice, and so, yes, I still practice yoga, but I no longer attempt to keep up with white American yoga. Instead, I have returned to a ballet practice for my body. Ballet has always been very meditative for me, as it demands a lot of mental focus to accomplish, and so, practicing ballet is also a yoga practice, which I must admit, is awesome.  

Currently, the bodybuddy/lifemate and I have access to a private-ish gym in our apartment building, and like the nocturnal beings that we are—as of late—we very muchly enjoy utilizing the space in the dead of night when we know we'll be alone. It's great. The space is spacious enough that I have set up an area where I can do both some barre work and a little center movement. I love it. 

And soon, I will identify as a dancer, once again. It's been a long, slow process of building back ballet muscles, because I also have a bum left knee. During the summer between junior and senior years of high school, while performing at an end-of-intensive "showcase" during a summer ballet intensive I was attending at a "christian" ballet company in Jackson, Mississippi, I dislocated my knee, on stage, for all the world to see, and I "made a scene" as a veterinarian in the audience came up on stage to pop my knee back in place and drag me off stage. After an excruciating plane ride home, I had my left patella tendon screwed back onto my left shin with two titanium screws. Also, as a side note, not a single person from that fucking "christian" ballet company ever called to check on me. I don't want to call it racism, but ... if the shoe fits. 

Thus, I spent the fall semester of my high school senior year in a straight-leg brace, attending physical therapy multiple times a week, dancing to get back in dancing shape (I danced in The Nutcracker that December and then went back into surgery because my scar tissue had grown so much that I couldn't bend my knee all the way, and nobody wanted to forced it to bend while I was conscious), and striving to graduate first in my class (I didn't graduate first, but I won all the scholarships). Obviously, the knee is great these days. I danced pre-professionally for an entire year after the knee, and to this day, I run and exercise regularly. And so, I do not have concerns about the knee, I just know that I must not push it, and that I have to do it right, which means doing the work, at the barre, to get my legs and feet back. As all of my dance teachers have told me, there's only one way to build a ballet/dance body and that is by dancing, because there's nothing else that can use all the muscles you need in exactly the way that you need them. 

So, I'm doing the work, and I've decided to document my process over time.

Someday, I might even choreograph a little one-minute piece that I can actually do from start to finish without dying. In the meantime, here are some more dance vids of the ilk I've expressed above. 

Until next time.    

As a "Dancer"