I’m reading a book set partly in the ballet world (Astonish Me, Maggie Shipshead) and eavesdropping on three young men, dancers too, on the A train tonight, talking about how their new choreographer actually respects them, how this dance is different from the others before it. How this choreographer saved them from walking out that day, from quitting dance altogether.
Dancing is a commitment. If you ask me I’ll tell you I was a dancer as a kid, but as an adult it’s pretty clear that what I did back then wasn’t dance, it was mime. Routines, memorized. Sometimes when the lights were just right, bouncing off the sequins dangling from our headbands, it was more than that, maybe, but only sometimes. At my tiny dancing school in New Jersey in the 1980s, dance was a jazz warm-up set to Janet Jackson; a series of back walkovers set to (still inexplicably) an old, slow, sad song called “Send in the Clowns.” Dance was French braids backstage, blue eyeshadow, long rides in our minivan, clouds of hairspray. Dance was missing out on school field trips to Ellis Island because there was an important dance competition in rural Pennsylvania, and we needed the day for travel.
I was a dancer until one day I decided I wasn’t, and that was that. Preteen me realized I was never going to be a professional dancer, so why continue? High school me realized I was never going to cheer in college, so why continue? I suppose that’s just who I am; I wake up sometimes and realize something that had been a part of me has broken away in the night. What did dance bring me, I wonder. Besides great memories and a flair for being onstage, what did all those years do for me? So what that I still perform tap routines when no one’s looking? Was it worth it?
I’ve still never been to Ellis Island, even though I’ve lived in New York for years, and the answer is still yes, will always be yes.