Taking class used to be automatic in my life as a dancer, as I was taught to believe that consistent training was essential to success and validation. Class also used to be a source of joy and community, as well as a way to discover the many ways my body could express itself. In recent years, my motivation and passion for taking class began to fade away. Class began to feel like a burdensome obligation. Whenever I would think about taking class, regardless of the style or teacher, my body would tense up, my stomach would be in knots, and a wave of anxiety would overwhelm my nervous system. I had the desire to go to class, but after a while I would talk myself out of it. Class no longer felt safe, as many open classes began to feel like an embodiment of ego, rather than places of community and growth. I began to realize the amount of harmful practices that I witnessed and endured throughout my years of training was no longer tolerable. Class began to feel like a means of self-promotion and trying so hard to prove something. They were no longer fun; rather, they were just another aspect of the job that fostered so much exhaustion and bodily pain.
It was devastating to lose this desire, because class was an integral part of my identity as a dancer. I was conditioned to believe that if you’re not constantly training, then you are not serious about the craft. It felt fraudulent to claim labels like dance artist, choreographer, or teacher because those words did not resonate with me. The only time I felt safe moving my body was in the privacy of my own home. I realized that solitude was necessary to re-discovering the ways in which my body wanted to move without the constant comparison and pressure to conform that can occur in dance classes. I also grieved the feeling of losing connection with others that dance class provided for me in the past. The separation from community was just as devastating as my lack of enthusiasm and motivation for training. I missed exploring togetherness through movement but was also wrestling with a lot of accumulated trauma from toxic environments throughout my dance career. But now, my relationship to dance is more complex than it’s ever been. Throughout my break from training, my body has never stopped wanting to move. Around this same time, I got a job at a grocery store. Initially I intended for it to be a way to supplement my income to support my dance endeavors. The pandemic quickly shifted my intentions, as I was suddenly thrusted into the role of an essential worker. It was honestly a sigh of relief, because I no longer needed to try to justify why I didn’t want to be in class. In-person classes were put on hold, and much of my energy was consumed with trying to survive a global pandemic.
My current status as a grocery worker has surprisingly aided in healing my relationship with dance and helping me ease back into taking class.
One would think that working in that environment would just consist of stocking shelves and ringing up customers at the register. I have found it to be much more complex and fulfilling, while also paralleling concepts that I once enjoyed about dance. I can’t speak for the entire grocery industry, but my store specifically has cultivated a sense of community, collaboration, and creativity. There is a consistency of daily tasks with plenty of surprises and happy accidents along the way. The flow of breaking down pallets every morning might feel as monotonous as a typical plié combination at the barre. A stack of blueberries could tumble to the floor, sort of like falling out of a turn for the 100th time. Just like dance class encourages a balance of refining skills you already know, while also obtaining more knowledge, I have seen that growth happening within me at the store. I have found that my dance training, my adaptability, my willingness to take risks, and my ability to find enthusiasm in the monotonous have actually aided me in working at the store. Above all, it has been the people I work with who have reminded me of the joy of being around like-minded individuals with common goals, while also having their own strengths and separate interests that add to the colorfulness and diversity of the environment. It helps that the majority of my co-workers are creatives or active supporters of the arts, so gaining wisdom and support for the ebbs and flows that one might experience with feeling frustrated or stuck within your craft is not a foreign concept to them. Working in a healthy environment that cultivates hard work, while not taking oneself too seriously, has shown me that it’s possible to be dedicated to what you do without it becoming a burden. Working at my store has taught me to create more balance in my life and has modeled behaviors that I think are deeply missing in many spaces within the dance industry: equity, transparency, trust, integrity, autonomy, and permission to learn from mistakes, rather than be constantly shamed by public callouts in class.
A few weeks ago, a trusted friend and colleague posted that she was teaching an open grooves class in the park. I had been working up the nerve to ease back into taking class, and this particular day just felt right. I felt safe in knowing that my friend would hold space for me and create an environment that was welcoming and affirming. It helped that the class was not in a studio. The thought of entering a studio terrified me and triggered a lot of hurt I was still healing from. The class reminded me that dance doesn’t always have to be so rigorous, stressful, or serious. It reminded me what dance can look like when divorced from perfectionism and comparison. I finally found the joy of dance again and remembered that I have the freedom and choice to move my body the way it wants and needs. I realized that I don’t need to take a million classes every week to be serious about my development as an artist. Being intentional about what classes I take and who I take from is actually more important than the quantity of classes I take or the frequency with which I take them. I now view class as an opportunity to acknowledge my body’s capabilities are and to walk away with some knowledge that I can apply to my life, even my grocery store life. I am more focused on taking class for pure enjoyment. I am no longer caught up in comparing myself or chasing someone else’s approval. For the first time, I am dancing for myself and finding an authentic community that is nurturing in the process. This is a major milestone that I hope will propel me even further into expanding myself as an artist in ways that I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams. It’s been a wild ride, but I’m grateful to be walking away from shame and burdens and coming back to myself through the joy of movement.