My mother put me in a dance class when I was about 4 years old. She wanted to buy ballet slippers so badly. She thought I would look adorable. I am sure I did. At age 8, I was getting a little bored with ballet and my mom was getting a little tired of running around dropping me off at ballet on some days and gymnastics on the other days. She told me straight up that she wasn’t going to do this anymore and I needed to make a choice. (She also stopped making my lunch at this age too. One day, she handed me the peanut butter and jelly and said,”Here. Make your own lunch now. I’m done.”) “You have a choice,” she said. “Ballet or gymnastics.” Since I was getting a little tired of ballet, I eagerly said “Gymnastics!” My mother looked at me and said, “Wrong choice.” I have shared that story with many parents who were moaning and groaning to me about driving their child here and there and everywhere. “She wants to do so much and I want to give her options!” they would say. “Umm, she’s 10 years old. You are the one driving.” They do not want to hear this. But I digress….
So ballet it was for me. I complained about it for another year or so and then I transferred to a new program at the Baltimore School for the Arts called TWIGS. It was the best thing that could have happened to me. My new teacher was incredible, not that my former teacher was bad, but Norma was different. Before Norma, I was lucky enough to have studied under Wendy Robinson, who directed the Baltimore Ballet School, originally the Maryland Ballet School before becoming a faculty member of the Peabody Institute. Wendy had studied at the Sadlers Wells School and danced with the Sadlers Wells opera and ballet companies in London before moving to the United States. It was quite the ballet experience for me. But Norma was different. And it was because of her that I fell in love with ballet, I mean, really fell in love with it. And I decided that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
However, once I became a high school student at BSA, I was introduced to modern dance for the very first time. All of a sudden, my thoughts about dance shifted. A new and wonderful world opened up to me and it was like nothing I had known before. The carry over from ballet was incredible and there was so much to learn and try. So much movement on the floor, so many different positions with the body. My love soon shifted from ballet to modern dance and at age 16, when I realized as much as I wanted to be that beautiful ballerina on the stage of New York City Ballet, it was not going to happen. Modern dance took the front page and I embraced it completely and have so ever since.
Over twenty years later, I am still embracing it. Yet, two years ago, I thought that my dancing career was over…for good. I had to make a very tough and sad decision. My body was in pain. I was in pain. And I stopped dancing. For good. No more classes. No more rehearsals. Nothing. I was in too much pain to continue. I had pushed through the pain all summer, through a dance performance in June, rehearsals in August and September and the performances in October. I was done. My body was suffering. A back injury in 2005 had resurfaced after a couple years of being pain free and things were going downhill fast. I headed back to physical therapy, this time with a therapist who specializes in helping dancers. It was just what I needed. Someone who knew my body. Someone who would take the time to really focus on ME. I was in therapy for about two months. Four months after I had been cleared of PT, I found myself flat on my stomach in the most horrific pain I had ever had to bear. I had started dancing again about two weeks prior, thinking that I was better, that I had healed and that I could simply pick up where I left off. Not so fast.
There I was again, in pain, unable to move. Once again, I thought, that’s it. My days as a dancer are through. My doctor gave me a prescription for a back brace and more PT. I said NO to both. No bandaid for me and no more PT (another bandaid). I relayed all of this in “My Back Story” so I will not bore you with more about this. In a nutshell, I took matters into my own hands and got my a** in the gym and learned to lift. Learned to use my body. Learned to feel weight in my hands, on my back. Learned to pick things up correctly and put them down. Learned that despite appearances, I was one weak a** woman and I needed to get strong. Did I fix my back? Yes…and no. I still have arthritis. But I know now what I need to do for my body to keep it healthy. I understand the importance of foam rolling, of mobility work, of training hard and knowing when to back off and when to keep going. By August of 2010, I was feeling good. By January of 2011, I started to dip my toes in performing again. By May of 2011, I took my first modern class in almost two years. I cried during the class at one point. The emotions that were inside of me overwhelmed me and brought me to tears. I was moving again.
By August of 2011, I joined a new company, Deep Vision Dance Company. The Artistic Director of the company was at first a little wary of bringing me on. “How is your back?” Nicole asked on more than one occasion. “Good,” I would say, over and over. I would be lying, of course, if I said it was perfect. It was not. But because I am stronger overall, I know how to work with my body and with its limitations. No, it does not move the same way the other dancer’s bodies move. I am 16 years older than the youngest member of the company. I am the oldest member, older than the director. I am an older sister to all of them. And while I may not move as fluidly as they do, I am strong and I am sturdy and they trust me to lift them, hold them, move with them. They always comment on my strength, how I hold myself in class and in rehearsal. They admire this and respect what I have to offer the company.
The weekend of October 21, 2011, I had my first professional dance concert at Towson University as a member of my new company. Two years ago to that very day was what I thought was to be my final dance performance….ever. In that final performance, my back was killing me. It took me two hours to simply warm up enough to get through it in one piece. I made up my mind right then and there that I could no longer put my body through this torture. Fast forward two years and there I was, standing on the same stage, ready to dance again. And not just one performance. Three performances, two on one day. I spent the week leading up to the concert foam rolling, stretching and doing a ton of mobility work. No lifting..it was my de-load week anyway and my body needed a break. Dress rehearsal went well as did all three performances. I landed on my shoulder wrong on Friday night but instead of worrying about it, I grabbed my lacrosse ball and my giant rubber band and got to work. The two performances on Saturday went off without a hitch and my shoulder stayed in one piece. It is still a little funny even now, but that is to be expected. I am not worried about it. I am staying positive. I am being smart. I picked up with my training this past week and instead of back squats on Tuesday, I did front squats instead. My shoulder just did not want to get into the other position, and I did not force it. Here is a short clip from the piece we performed. It is called “Fractured Spectrum”, and was choreographed by Nicole Martinell. Check it out:
I would be lying to you if I said that I do not hurt anymore. I do sometimes. When I come home on Friday nights after a training session earlier in the day (deadlifts, RDL’s, glute bridges) and a 90 minute dance class followed by a three hour rehearsal, I am beat. I am tired. I am sore. I ache. But you know what? The next day, I get up, I foam roll, I teach, I walk around and loosen up. And by Sunday, I am ready for some conditioning and another three hour rehearsal that evening. And by Tuesday, I am ready for my next training session. I can recover. I have my issues still. We all do. But how we choose to deal with them is another thing all together. I am dancing again. I am performing. I am re-discovering how to move. And I am not done yet.