I have written almost 200 blog posts since the end of February 2017. Of those blog posts, 20 (10%) include a reference to my love and history of dancing. This love seemed to be born in me, and nurtured throughout my youth. Even as I get older, if I’m not dancing on the floor to music, my mind is dancing to the music I create with words. That dance performance can be spied through the brisk movements of my hands as they quickly move upon my keyboard.
I once wrote how significant music was to my family. As early as I remember each weekend my family gathered for a large dinner, and would then retreat into the music room for a jazz jam session. Though I sometimes joined in the playing by strumming a metal vinyl record holder, more often I twirled around, waving my arms, stomping my feet, and moving my upper body, and smiling with glee. From that young age I could feel the music in my body. It was like electricity.
Everyone knew I loved to dance, including all of the neighbors on the street. They’d peek outside their windows, watching me dance down the street to what was secret music playing in my head. Occasionally, I’d bang the light pole for percussion, and it would maintain a sustained ringing sound. I’d twirl around the pole as if performing among a group of Indians around a camp fire.
At eight years old, my mother decided to enroll me in ballet. I loved it from the very first class. I remember my first recital at the large War Memorial Theater in Trenton. What excited me most was that my paternal grandfather was in the audience. He was my favorite grandparent and the most musical person of the family. I have sweet memories that live through today of sitting on his footstool as he practiced his guitar. I remember watching him play his trombone and then letting me give it a try. He always smiled as I danced, proof that I was truly one of his kin. After the recital, I jumped on his lap and he presented me with a bouquet of flowers with his signature huge smile. It would be only months after that that he would be gone from our lives. I learned what true grief was for the first time in my life, but I continued to dance, not just for me, but for him.
A few years later my mother found a mechanical music box in the attic that my paternal grandfather gave my sister. My sister was already married and living elsewhere, so I treasured it as if it was mine. I turned the key to wind it up, but nothing would happen. That disappointed me greatly, but I would play with it anyway. Then one night weeks later I woke up at maybe 3 am to the sound of music in my room. The song was “Never on a Sunday”, and as the music played you would see and hear the taps of the geese lifting up and falling back down. I thought that was my grandfather sending me a sign from heaven. Giving me kisses, like the song requests. This song would mysteriously start to play on its own at least three more times after that.
Ballet lessons continued for eight more years. During that time, I became extremely serious, and towards the end took seven lessons per week, plus an occasional Jazz or Modern class. I even stayed after classes and practiced in the studio. The music made me almost elated at times. I’d feel my dance and the music take me to another world, like I was dancing for God. I remember doubting if the other dancers had reached such a height in their artistic experiences.
I was in the advanced adults class performing completely on point (toe shoes). My instructor had been a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet under the acclaimed director and choreographer George Ballantine. You can imagine how much I dreamed of becoming a professional dancer myself. This dedication was strictly mine. My parents started to complain about the cost of classes, shoes, and clothing, as well as the obligation to drive me to and from classes almost daily, but I pushed them hard to comply.
My instructor arranged for me and a couple of other dancers to audition at the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City. That is the school that eventually leads to positions in the professional company. I was ecstatic at the chance! My instructor drove us in that day. I believe I did very well, except for maybe being a little less flexible/limber than some of the other girls. I also think I might have misrepresented some information on the application. Of course such a school looks for students with wealthy parents. My parents were middle-class, but in response to my family’s total annual income I recall writing something grossly below reality. How did I know how much money they made?
I did not get accepted to the School of American Ballet during this first audition. My instructor told me that the feedback she received was that I needed to work on flexibility. So for the next year I stretched and stretched as often as I could. My flexibility improved, but was still not as impressive as that of some girls with nature flexibility. Another major obstacle I faced was beyond my control. A growth spurt!
Just as a young boy’s voice changing can affect their singing, growth spurts can do a number on many aspects of a person’s dancing, particularly balance. When I auditioned the second time for the school in New York City I was rejected again, and was totally crushed. My parents then decided to tell me that they never would have allowed me to live in New York City anyway, even though I would have been in a supervised boarding house. This disappointment sparked the first major depression of my life. I stopped going to ballet classes because I’d isolate in my bedroom. Then the instructor and my mother had a major disagreement over money, making me feel like I was no longer welcome at the school.
By leaving ballet, I lost all of my ballet friends. I had no friends at the public high school. I was grieving this and the death of my childhood dream. The depression turned into a frantic breakdown. I began to suspect I was mentally ill for the first time. This was all at almost 16 years old.
My breakdown soon led the public school to recommend I transfer to a private school, and I did. My mood episode shifted. I believe I then experienced at the minimum bipolar hypomania, but eventually it calmed.
Music and dance remained significant in my life for years to come. You can read about me dancing several hours straight in Mental Chaos Across The World (Part 1). When I returned home from my travels as a young woman, you’d see me dancing for hours in my living room after work. Music and dance were a constant until something horrible happened (see A Story of Musical Hallucinations – When Music Mostly Died For Me).
In recent years, I have begun to listen to music a bit more, but never like I did in the past. And when I do, my body hardly moves. Years of depression, mild traumas, and medication sedation are likely the cause for that. Only on occasion, when my energy level spikes out of nowhere, does my walk turn into a sprightly skip and signs of dance appear again. But they are fleeting experiences.
As I wrote in the introductory paragraph, my dance has taken on a new form; the dance of words in my mind and through my fingers onto a keyboard. I do hope this new kind of dance continues, or if not, I hope my body will again move creatively again.