Like the 5-year-old girls in blue leotards and pink tights who jostle in the hallways, trying to be first in line for their dance class, my dancing experiences jostle for position in my writing.
Me first, they say to me. Write about that humbling dance class in New York, where you had to learn a routine four counts at time just to keep up. Write about that crisis of ego before your performance in May. And hey, isn’t it time to reflect on the class that you fled, weeping, last year? That was big.
Joy, ego, humility, emotions, breakthroughs, breakdowns. Like the outstretched hands reaching for the balcony in A Chorus Line’s opening number, the Jazz Combination, my thoughts and themes plead: Pick me.
Personally, I have been reflecting on my return to dance because my born-again dancer anniversary passed at end of July. Two years since I stepped into a class that I was longing to take but deeply feared. Two years of change -- physical, emotional and spiritual changes that are tedious to describe, but they collectively grew a stronger and in some ways, a different, person. A person with both new opportunities and new, different problems.
By indulging my introspections -- and sharing them out loud, in writing -- I have become attuned to others' unmet needs, metaphorically and literally, expressed or implied. Like the evening when I sensed a longing in a friend’s voice as she told me that she was looking for a dance class. And when I invited her to class with me, I saw and felt felt the bundle of curiosity, excitement and apprehension that she carried into the studio as she began her first class in 16 years.
Sharing that space with a dancer as she returned to the studio led me to reflect on the importance of a single step. Not a pas de bourrée. The showing-up step: arriver.
Sometimes, simply showing up sets us apart.
One summer when I was in college, I took a one-day clerical temp job. It was 1989. I arrived on time and stayed all day. I sat at a desk in an empty office with a multi-line phone that rarely rang. I took a few messages on a triplicate pad. There was no computer with solitaire to entertain me. No Internet. No cell phone. I read magazines and answered the phone about eight times (maybe) in eight hours.
If frying burgers is the kind of job that inspires you to want more out of life, answering phones in an empty office for people you don’t know is its wallflower twin.
When I got home and told my dad about my job that day, he remarked, “You’re a star employee. You showed up, and you stayed.”
For a long time I thought that adding performance to attendance was the key to success. It took several jobs for me to realize that it guaranteed nothing, except perhaps likeability. I’m pretty sure that simply showing up is not a sound strategy for a satisfying career.
Yet, simply showing up is my dancer routine. There are times when I scold myself for being there. Other times, I know that I must be there and no place else. It is my practice.
Friends ask me how much, how often I dance. The answer is imprecise because the strategy is this: as often as possible. I am 40 years old. To my kids and our company’s interns, that’s old. To my grandmother, I’m a baby. I recognize this is youthful midlife. That said, after a full weekend of dance, my morning footsteps are timid. I walk gingerly as my body awakens and back muscles realign. With hope and luck, my artistic maturity and physical maturity won’t miss each other in this lifetime -- one on the way up, the other on the way down.
All I know for sure is this: showing up for dance moves me forward. Though I don't know exactly where I’m going, I can see how far I have come.
For every dancer, showing up is the first step.
In two years, it’s the only step I’ve mastered, so I will do it again and again.