The music begins, unfurling on the night air. It hits me, awakening my feet, rushing up my legs, out to my fingers and the very top of my head. My neck lengthens, my shoulders pulling back as I cast a glittering smile across the audience like a net to reel them in. Smoky shadows from the looming Courthouse spread in a pool to the edge of the stage where brilliant spotlights throw back the darkness. A connection snaps into place and I feel them sit up a little straighter in their seats as I begin to give the music form. These movements are as familiar to my body as breathing, and as necessary to my continued existence. Is this why it is called live performance? Every neuron fires twice as fast. Little things come sharply into focus; a cigarette end glowing brighter for a second before smoke muffles it, three blonde heads flashing through the trees with shrieks of laughter floating behind them like sharp-edged clouds. I am an artist in my chosen medium of air. I paint an afterimage on the backs of my audience’s eyes that they will never forget.
I was born to dance. This is an indisputable fact and I have never tried to question it or mutiny against it. I would never want to. The epiphany hit me with the force of lightning the year I turned nine. While over at a friend’s house, she had persuaded me to go with her to a beginner class for a recreational form of tap dance called clogging. On that cold winter evening in the gym with its hard floors and horrible acoustics I felt myself come alive for the first time. My body took a deep breath and my senses sharpened. Hearing, touch, and even smell dilated, even as my focus funneled down to the lady with the microphone in front of the class. She was built as solid as a rock, with a bouncy brown ponytail emphasizing every movement she made. Studying how her compact body reacted to the music and awed by her depthless energy and creativity, I began to move myself in emulation of her strong, powerful motions. I realized, in that first flush of triumph as I conquered my first dance steps, that I was having more fun and feeling more present and aware than I had ever felt before. The first glimmerings of my future opened up before me that night. I glimpsed a vast and slightly frightening array of possibilities that before then had been hidden from me. The entire rest of that week I ached to return and learn more. I was hungry for a feast and had only tasted the appetizer. Dance was my new religion. It was self-expression and a womb to crawl into. It was meditation and crazy, self-aggrandizing fun. I was in love for the first time. I needed to teach and choreograph and most of all dance more than I needed to eat or sleep or breathe. These were my ambitions; flowering in the back of my mind even as I haltingly absorbed the basics of clogging.
As a natural progression I soon joined the performance troupe and discovered the electric thrill of alive audience. The shimmering give and take, as I put every ounce of my soul into the performance and received the audience’s energy back a thousand fold, took hold of me. I gloried in the excitement, the jitters and the heightened awareness of this new experience. Every time I performed the material seemed new, choreographed by me for this audience only. Performing for the old or the sick had its own warm reward as I saw joy light up their faces. I wove my own love and caring in to the dance and to my surprise their sweet smiles healed me. These sweet, lovely people have remained my favorite audience. This is the reason that I do what I do. I am never as whole and happy as when I am giving myself heart and soul to the audience.
A middle school friend of mine convinced me to take a ballet class with her and so I began at the local dance studio. I realized that I had the talent for more serious forms of dance. My blinders blew off and suddenly I was looking out on a never-ending horizon. I took jazz, tap, modern, flamenco, belly dancing; I threw myself into learning any form of dance that caught my fancy and began to choreograph, meshing many different forms of dance.
Mikhail Baryshnikov once said “I do not try to dance better than anyone else, I only try to dance better than myself.” Every time I feel the brilliant spotlights of a stage illuminating me, I do my utmost to outdance my previous performance. This art form requires the personal growth of its artists, and has taught me how to grow in my day to day existence as well. My work ethic was instilled in me early on by my eagerness to expand my repertoire, my willingness to find perfection in every placement of my hand or tilt of my head, and the concept of teamwork has never been alien to me. I have never been afraid of the pain this art form brings because I know that every little bit of repetition and straining of leg or arm will only help me realize my goals that much sooner. Interpreting the music of any genre and giving it physical form gives me a bone-deep sense of satisfaction and feeling of rightness. This is my purpose in life. Dance frees me and centers me. It is my defense against the confusion and chaos of life on this earth. It is my refuge and my joy and I thank fate, chance, luck, or any higher power there might be, for my talent, for the opportunity to pursue what I love, and for the joy it gives to me and to the audience.