I was three years old when I was tossed into my first dance class. I remember pipe-cleaner tiaras and leaping over carpet squares. I remember itchy tights and ringlet curls. I remember tap shoe bows and wishing I was one of the "big girls."
Dance became my everything until it was my nothing. I was all in until I was told I couldn't be--rather could be, but only with certain conditions. It's a culture the dance world has so easily created: being a certain way, looking a certain way, performing a certain way, and if you aren't that certain way, too bad, so sad, find another passion.
At 17 I was told that my body was not good enough to be a dancer, but it could be if only I lost weight. So I did. But I developed an eating disorder. And even then my body wasn't enough. For the longest time, it was hard to look at myself in the reflection of a dance studio mirror. What I saw was someone who wasn't thin enough, but too thin, someone whose body was changing through recovery, and someone who wasn't the same dancer she was at 18. It was hard. Everything in my being wanted to dance--to feel the pure joy of movement and creation and art. But everything in my being also wanted to run far away from the dance studio. My mind was at war with my body which was at war with the reflection.
I wish I could tell you there was a moment that it clicked--that I learned to love dance and love my body for its ability to dance, but I don't think a singular moment ever happened. It was a process and a beautiful one at that. It was learning my limits that I so often neglected when I was younger--physical limitations, aging limitations, mental limitations-- and then honoring them. It was closing my eyes and laying in the middle of the dance studio and letting the music echo through my bones to feel the breath of the beat. It was looking myself in the eyes in my reflection of the dance studio mirror, tears welling up, repeating "You are so incredibly worthy."
The four walls of the studio became a sanctuary of healing, and I began to dance again. Not competition dance. Not dance team dance. Not perform for others dance. But dance. With joy, and energy, and passion, and with no intention of pleasing anyone or anything but the craving of my soul to move in a way that felt like freedom.
So to the dancer that was told her body wasn't good enough. Dance anyway. Don't conform. Don't lose sight of who you are in the process of pleasing others. Dance simply because you have to dance. Dance because there is a desire in your body to move in a way that sings to your soul. Your body will change with time, age, and life. Your limitations might change. But your body is worthy of movement.
I hope that one-day dance studios will be a place of joy and celebration of the bodies we are born with. And I hope that bodies are welcome in all shapes and sizes, no conditions. But until that day comes, dance anyway.