Black Leotard and Pink Tights

1 January 2019

The moments in life when your heart drops to your knees and your breath catches in your throat are the most inspiring moments in life. When I step on stage before a dance it feels like I can’t breathe and it feels like my heart is going to pound out of my chest. It feels as though all the emotions and work that I put into a piece are all converging on one moment. Dance has changed me, improved me and protected me throughout my entire life.

I was five years old when I decided I wanted to dance. I still don’t know why I decided dance was something I wanted to do, but I did. My mom signed me up for classes at the local studio right away. When I was younger and naive I loved dance because of the social opportunities it provided me. Every week I would dress in my pink tights, black leotard and ballet slippers and scurry to class.

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At that age, I had no idea that dance would not only save me from demons, but help me find myself too.

When I was thirteen I became obsessed with how many calories I was eating and how many calories I was burning every day. I knew the calories and fat percentages in many foods and I also knew how many calories certain exercises burned. I saw my mother on a diet and I saw celebrities whom I admired who were stick thin and beautiful. That was the key; they were beautiful because they were skinny. I would fall asleep at night with a rumble in my stomach which was disconcerting, or should have been. I loved the feeling because it meant I was losing weight. My friends would say, “Steph! You’re so skinny! Eat!” I secretly relished every single time someone would call me “skinny” or a “twig.” I never was clinically anorexic, I never lost enough weight and I never sought medical help to get diagnosed. It was just a phase, a dangerous one by all means, but a phase. Luckily for me, dance pulled me out of this thought process.

One day, when I was dancing I realized I could not perform like I used to be able to, and worst of all my normally sponge-like memory was suddenly missing. My instructor put a CD on and taught us a combination, she then told us to perform the combination ourselves. I looked in the mirror and realized that I had no idea what the first move in the routine was. I thought that maybe it was just a fluke, so I followed another dancer’s steps. However, I again looked in the mirror and realized that my limbs seemed to be disconnected from my body. My hands and my feet moved independently of what my brain was telling them to do. I was flabbergasted. What was happening? I rushed home that night and tried to figure out what was wrong with me. Slowly, it dawned on me that my lack of nutrition was affecting my ability to memorize information. This realization made me realize how unsafe and unhealthy a pattern I had fallen into.

I am proud to say that I no longer worry about calories, or how many I am burning. Dance is my passion in life and anything that stops me from performing has to go. Dance was, and is, so important in my life because it gives me a place to express myself, without using words. I know that even if I have the worst day I can imagine, I will be able to dance my emotions out. This has made me an extremely independent and determined person. I refuse to let bad situations or mindsets prevent me from living my life.

Dance also allows me to recognize goals. My ultimate goal, no matter what profession or career I end up in, is to make other people smile. I believe that a smile can help turn a rough day around. Dance has helped me achieve this goal because my studio often dances at community functions. When our studio dances at local nursing homes, the smiles on the seniors’ faces are immeasurable in their worth. Even if that smile only lasts a few minutes, the knowledge that I helped improve someone’s day is what I care so much about.
Without dance, I am not sure where I would be today. I am a determined and strong person because of what dance has helped me through. I could still be suffering from an eating problem, but instead I am here and I am healthy, happy and making the most of my life. Through dance I was also able to realize that my goal to make people smile is completely achievable. I am proud that I am a dancer and I am proud of the type of person dance has helped me become.

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