This weekend, I had the pleasure of performing in my first ever Student Dance Showcase. The Student Dance Showcase is a dance show put on once a semester that is separate from the Dance Department itself. In this show, student groups perform in many genres, including tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop, swing dance, Morris dance (traditional English dance involving swords!), samba, and more! I went to Student Dance Showcase last semester, and had so, so much fun watching. The shows are always extremely well attended by a very loud, supportive audience. You can just feel the love oozing from the audience, and it’s a truly lovely feeling. It’s much different from any performance I’ve ever participated in, but in a good way.
If you’re a regular reader of this here blog, you may remember a post I wrote about swing dance and my identity as a dancer. If you haven’t read it yet, it can be found here. Basically, earlier in the semester, I was grappling a lot with my relationship to dance. For those who don’t know, I started dancing ballet at the age of five. In high school I was an apprentice with a local ballet company in my hometown of Albuquerque, NM. In addition to having class almost every day, I usually had rehearsal every week night and spent 8 hours at the studio on Saturday, and spent all Sunday working on homework. I performed in three professional productions a year. My ballet studio was like a second family to me and as hard as it was sometimes, it was extremely rewarding and I don’t regret being a semi-professional dancer in high school, especially because I learned so much and spent so much time with people I love doing what I love.
For all the above reasons, I knew that leaving my ballet world behind and coming to college would be difficult. I planned to dance here at Oberlin, and I have been, just not necessarily in the ways I expected. Last semester I took Contemporary III, but this semester I didn’t end up taking a dance class because I didn’t want to be over-ambitious with the credit hours. I take ballet class at a studio in town, and once a week with Ballet Oberlin, a student group. At one point earlier on in the semester (about when I wrote my swing dance post), I was really upset about the lack of performance in my life. Performance has always been so important to me. I even wrote about performing on stage and introversion—two huge aspects of my life up to this point—in my Common App essay. I hadn’t experienced a lack of performance for ten years, and I felt like a huge part of my identity was gone. I didn’t know who I was without performing. I think part of this was the fear that no one would know who I was if I weren’t performing. My Oberlin family hadn’t seen this part of me, even though I considered it a huge part of who I was. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
So you can understand how thrilled I was when I got a Facebook message from a fellow student asking me if I wanted to perform in a ballet piece they were choreographing for Student Dance Showcase. Of course I agreed immediately, because the idea of performing ballet in front of an audience was exactly what I needed in that moment. Fast forward to this weekend: I performed in two shows in a piece called “Julie-O,” to live cello music (and once to a recording) with 9 other dancers. So many people afterwards, including people who I’d never spoken to before, complimented me and told me how happy I looked on stage. I looked happy because I was happy. I get such joy from performing, and I always have. I had forgotten how much I missed it, and it felt incredible to be validated for something that historically has been so important in my life. For perhaps the first time in my Oberlin career, I felt visible.
The other day, I was introduced to a friend of a friend. When he asked me to tell him about myself, the first thing I said was that I dance. As I kept talking to him, I realized how odd it was that I had said that first. In the pie graph of my Oberlin involvement, dance makes up a pretty small slice. Here, by virtue of living in a residential college in a small town, the primary facet of my identity is “student.” It’s not bad, just different. So, as I talked to this person, I thought inwardly about how my outward actions don’t really reflect how I view myself (hello there again, cognitive dissonance). For that reason, performing in Student Dance Showcase was so important for me. It was a way for me to be in my element again, and I’m incredibly glad I had that opportunity.
After Friday’s show, I ran into someone I shared a class with last semester. He asked me how long I had been dancing, and why I hadn’t decided to pursue it professionally. I said something along the lines of “I wanted to go to college to explore other things, but dance is a really important part of my life and I always want it to be present, even if that isn’t professionally. But you never know, I might end up going back to it someday.” He said that made sense, but told me to keep an open mind. And I intend to. After that brief exchange I thought a lot about why I hadn’t pursued dance professionally: there are a lot of reasons, many of them logical and rational, but part of me wondered “If performing makes me this happy, why am I not trying to do this for the rest of my life?”
I didn’t come into college intending to major or even minor in dance, which is perhaps surprising given how important as it has been in my life. This is partly because the dance world is fiercely competitive, and even if I could make it professionally, the dancer’s career is very short, like that of other elite athletes. This is also because I have a lot of other goals, academically and career-wise, that aren’t related to dance. But performing this weekend reminded me how much I love to dance in front of others, and I intend to make performance a priority from now on, whenever possible. Picking up and moving halfway across the country comes with a certain amount of identity reshaping, and renegotiating my roles of student and dancer has been a big part of that. I just need to remember, as much as I might miss it, ultimately, dance isn’t going anywhere. It’s a part of me and always will be.