Washington Academy of Performing Arts recital, 2005
I have four favorite dance classes that stand out in my mind, and all have been ones where I’ve broken through some sort of barrier (mental or emotional).
My senior year of high school I took a jazz class with a handful of other musical theatre dance majors and one or two ballet majors (I went to a performing arts high school, so we had majors). It was taught by one of the younger teachers – I think he was 24?
After warming up, he taught us a combination he was working on (I think he used it in a piece he set on the ballet majors later that year). I can’t tell you a single thing about that combination, except I had the most perfect dance moment in my entire life while dancing it. The very last time through it, he had me and one of the ballet majors dance it. We pulled the curtains down over the mirrors and he told us not to pay attention to each other, just feel the dance and the music and each others energy. Something about it spoke to my spirit and it’s one of the only times I have every given 100% to anything. After we were done, he looked at the two of us and said we were in perfect unison. I was unaware of her while dancing, and vice versa. It’s moments like that that I dance.
Freshman year at college (as a dance major), I only had one class on Wednesdays. It was a modern class, in a style I had never taken before. We were doing a combo across the floor and I kept getting stuck in the same place and I couldn’t figure it out. The teacher mentioned it and I remember starting to cry. I was so frustrated with myself for not understanding it. I knew what it was supposed to be and I couldn’t get my body to do it.
The next time across the floor, no one else would step to the front of the line. I was annoyed with the students, as per usual, and with myself, and finally got in front. I remember thinking “I have to prove them wrong“. I’m not sure who I was proving anything to, but it was a very distinct thought. And you know what? I nailed it that time. It was like I finally got through whatever was keeping me from just doing it. I was so excited to make it through that – but then a week later I got injured and had to withdraw from classes for the rest of the semester (honestly, story of my life).
Sophomore year at college was a hard one for me, but there was one class first semester that was absolutely amazing. My Tuesday jazz class was taught by the artistic director of one of the main Philadelphia companies. We had class after the jazz majors, so the room was always sweaty, hot, and humid. Roni, the teacher, knew we all came from class, so would just start throwing steps at us from the moment we walked in the door.
This particular class, we worked on the same 4 counts of 8 for an hour and a half. He split us into groups and if I wasn’t on the floor dancing, I was on the side marking it. The second to last time my group went, I found myself losing steps. I told myself not to mark on the side before we went again, because I knew it was from over working them. I stood and really watched the other dancers. I felt the music and thought through the steps in my head, but I didn’t mark them. The last time my group went, I got it. It was fast and furious, but my body got it. As I walked to the side, one of the guys in my class (who was typically an ass to everyone he wasn’t friends with, myself included) said “You go, Katt!” I felt so empowered, because I knew I had done something on the dance floor.
Again, this would’ve been a huge turning point for me as a dancer, if I hadn’t gotten so depressed and dropped out of classes entirely a few months later.
After I dropped out and eventually moved home, I told myself I didn’t want to be a dancer. I told myself I was depressed because it wasn’t what I wanted to do. However, I still took an occasional class at my home studio, because honestly, I didn’t know what else to do. One day in the spring, I took a jazz class. My first in over a year. They were working on the recital piece, so I learned it in the back. The next week I took it again. One of the girls was missing, so the teacher had me stand in as her, for spacing purposes. I think she was just expecting me to mark or walk through it. I did the full dance, almost entirely full out, after learning it the week before.
It was like a light bulb went off in my head and I remembered how much I NEED to dance. My muscles knew what they were supposed to do, without me having to think about it. I think that’s the day my depression really started to lift.
Dance always has been and always will be the thing that keeps me sane. When I no longer have to think about anything other than the art. I think that’s why I love ballet so much. No matter where I go, barre will always be the same steps. I don’t have to think about what I’m supposed to do. I can let my body and my brain go and let the dance work through me.
Does that make sense? It’s not me doing plies and tendus and port de bras – it’s the art, doing those things through me.