Leading Me Here

Ten years ago I was living in NYC. I loved it. Good and bad, I loved every bit of it. Every blade of grass in the Sheep Meadow in Central Park. Every bookstore. Every pretzel cart. Every step stepped where history was made and interesting people walked before.

Ten years ago I was pursuing the life of a dancer. I loved this a little less. I had a hard time finding where I belonged. But I loved the volume of dance, the accessibility to dance, the appreciation of dance. I loved figuring this out.

One day, ten years ago everything turned upside down. My journey back to my apartment on 175th from midtown was the loneliest of my life. I walked with strangers. I could call no one. Thankfully, I had spoken to my family in Michigan before I left the store in which I worked. Black fighter jets flew low overhead. I remember wishing that if I walked long enough, I could walk into my dad’s lovely backyard in Michigan. I visualized it. I thought about stopping in Central Park. I continued on. I eventually made it to my apartment. I entered and closed the door. I put my back to the door, and slid down it in tears. Years later, without the tears, this slide was the first significant image in my graduate thesis solo. The next image represented my world turned upside down. I am in the fetal position. It is the picture in the header of this blog.

Days later, ten years ago, things re-oriented themselves but nothing was the same. Perspective. Now I had it.

Ten years ago, I realized I needed to give back. I needed to teach. But I wasn’t exactly ready yet.

Nine years ago, I moved to LA to be with my love and to dance with one of my best friends.

Eight years ago, my husband and I returned to Michigan so I could attend grad school. I thought earning my MFA and teaching at the college level would be a way to give back. Teaching in higher education seemed the way to reconcile my goals: teaching and giving back.

Six years ago, I completed my degree and interviewed for college jobs. I learned a lot. The position I ended up taking was one in a visual and performing arts magnet high school. Had I seen the posting, I probably wouldn’t have applied for it. It wasn’t what I thought I wanted. As it turned out, it was what I needed.

Four years ago, as I was completing my K-12 certification a glitch surfaced, forcing me to explore “back up” plans in case I was not able to return to my high school gig due to a paperwork error. I accepted a job in higher education, at a liberal arts college.

For three years, I really enjoyed the job. I appreciated the time it allowed me to experiment in teaching and the freedom it provided me to approach my content area from unique angles. The school was small enough change could happen quickly and since I was the entire dance faculty, program meetings were a breeze. My students were nice, polite, responsible. Several were deeply invested in what we were doing. Many, I think, sincerely enjoyed our time together even though they were in my class to fulfill a gen ed requirement. Again, I learned a lot. And then it ended. The College had to make some decisions and they ended up cutting programs. Dance, unfortunately, was one of them.

One year ago, I returned to the high school job I left years ago. Much has changed. I still love the staff. I still enjoy the students. We embraced change and beautiful things emerged. The kids of this district need an outlet and an opportunity. If dance can be a gateway to any of those things, I feel it is my responsibility to help.

One week ago today, I accepted a position teaching at the K-8 visual and performing arts magnet in the same school district. This time, I need the change. I think this position is slightly more stable. This position is more challenging to me since I’ve not taught this age group in public ed before. And boy, is this staff supportive of arts integration! I feel a little guilt over leaving my high school students. We had big plans for this year. But I also know that I made the right choice.

I spent three days last week working with new colleagues on dance integrated lesson plans and performance plans. I need this.

Now, when I think about teaching in higher ed, I enter an internal debate. Is that really what I want? Or is it my ego talking? I think right now it might be my back up plan. Just as I did when I was dancing, I am always looking for my next gig. It doesn’t mean I am not committed to the one I have, I just never know when it might end.

Now, as I think about dance, dance training, and related topics, I see things far differently than I did when I was pursuing the life of a dancer. I see the need to support the whole person. I see the necessity in looking at attributes of dance rather than focusing on attributes of the dancing body.

There are times I wonder what all of this has done to my identity as a dancer. Or my reputation. I have spent time wondering how much dancing one needs to do in order to still be considered a dancer. Or is about performing? Is it about daily class? Is it about the dancer’s spirit? How much dancing does a dance writer do?

What I have realized is that I am no longer pursuing a dancer’s life. I am living it. Life changes. It adapts. Even for dancers. Our relationship to dance shifts. The purpose of dance in one’s life morphs. And it is okay.

Ten years ago, if I’d been asked where I would be in ten years I may have said still in NYC and “making it”.

Instead, my house is filled with the noise of superheros flying and falling “like bad guys”, of bad recordings of fake monkeys and elephants from a contraption called “a jump-a-roo”. My dog is asleep on the floor next to me. There are five roses in a vase on the table in front of me that my husband grew and cut for me. Later today, I will spend more time on lesson plans for the kids I meet tomorrow. I have notes to give my very patient dancers for a piece that goes up in two weeks. I’ll make dinner and spend quality time with my family. My life as a dancer has allowed for all of this.

It’s okay.

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7 thoughts on “Leading Me Here

  1. I especially appreciate this line:

    “What I have realized is that I am no longer pursuing a dancer’s life. I am living it. Life changes. It adapts. Even for dancers. Our relationship to dance shifts. The purpose of dance in one’s life morphs. And it is okay.”

    Dancers put so much pressure on themselves to “make it”. But what is that definition? Your article cut to the heart of that.

    I’m no longer dancing “professionally” because I chose to stop dancing with the professional company I was in, and instead focus on my teaching…..but I too am still a professional…..one who connects with her audience (her class) in a new, and I’d say, more profound way.

    Thanks Heather, for finding a way to put words to my thoughts.

  2. Hi Heather, reading this I feel like I just relived the last 10 years with you and again feel so blessed that our journey’s have been intertwined in so many ways. The image of you sliding down the door is still fresh in my mind and it is interesting to think about it (for the first time) from your perspective and consider it as your memory- it’s like looking through a 2 way mirror. I just remember being so relieved that you had made it home and then shocked to see just how difficult that journey was for you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts/idea’s/feelings- you are not alone!

    Congrats on another venture- I know you will be wonderful as always!

    Love always- Lari
    P.S. I would love to have you come and set a piece on our company soon!

  3. Hi Heather,

    A life of a dancer is not always easy… nor is it a straight line from point A to point B. However, it’s the love of dance that brings us there in the first place and continues to be the reason why we keep doing it- regardless of the vehicle one chooses. It takes courage to be willing to look at options, which you obviously have.

    Congrats.

    ~Grier

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