going to my niece’s dance concert a couple of weeks ago brought back so many memories for me. i reflected to my mom and sister after gracie’s performance that i felt my experience with dance rivals all treasured, character-building experiences in my life. i want to record and share this significant life story – so here’s a start: (i wish i had more pictures and more time and capacity to explain what this experience means to me...)
when i was just six or seven, my mom signed me up for ballet. i was excited at first, but quite quickly became disenchanted. before long, i was begging my mom to let me quit. i had a strict teacher and i just didn’t want to work so hard. i remember that my mom encouraged me to keep going, telling me that “hard is good,” but i persisted until she succumbed, and we didn’t re-register at the end of the school year.
by sixth grade, the unquitting neighborhood girls i had started taking ballet with were getting quite good. they’d tell me they couldn’t play because they had dance class, and then they’d giddily talk about their upcoming concerts and their new leotards and the promise of pointe shoes. i found myself longing to be in the dance studio again. even though i’d be levels below my friends in classes with much younger girls, i asked my mom to re-register me. something real and deep was pulling me back to the barre and the parquet floors.
one crisp fall evening, i went to the east high dance concert. my mom worked with the youth at church and several of the girls from our congregation were performing with the high school dance company. as i watched the show, sitting in the musty auditorium, i was spellbound. i remember chills running down my legs and not wanting it to be over. about three-quarters of the way through the program, i leaned over to my mom and whispered to her in the dark, “one day, i am going to be up there.”
“oh, sweetie,” she responded, “those girls have been dancing since they were toddlers. you have to be a really good dancer to get into dance company.”
i know my mom was lovingly trying to manage my expectations with caring realism. but when she said that, a fire ignited somewhere inside me. with fierce determination, i said to myself, “just you wait, mom, i will be up there one day.” i decided then and there that i was going to become a dancer.
that moment watered my seed of passion for dance just enough to get it sprouting, and it sure did grow. i added jazz and hip hop classes to my schedule, and i began spending nearly a dozen hours each week at the dance studio, which came to feel like a second home. under the strict eyes of my teachers, i decided to give each class my all. and as i did, i just fell in love with conscious movement of my body. i felt inside of myself, in control, expressive, beautiful. i was always the oldest and tallest in the class, but most of the time i didn’t care. i just wanted to be dancing. and all the while i dreamed of being a member of east high dance company.
at the end of my freshman year at east, the time came for auditions. my friends and i prepared with frazzle and excitement. i knew my skills weren’t as strong as my peers because of those years off in the beginning, but i was hopeful. and when i danced in front of the judges who would choose which dancers made the cut, i gave it my all. when auditions wrapped up, they told us the names of the new company members would be posted at the end of the week on the door of the school dance studio.
after the final bell that friday, i walked around the corner to the door with a pounding, rushing, anxious heart. i read the list over and over and over. the names of all my friends, in alphabetical order, over and over. i realized fully that my name was not on the list just as my vision was too clouded by tears to see the poster anymore at all. i was crushed.
i sobbed into my mom’s shoulder and re-analyzed my every move in the auditions and moped around for a few hours. and then, that same tingling fierce determination i felt years before in the dark auditorium crept back up through my veins and into my dancer heart. i wiped my tears and got back to work.
and every day of my sophomore year of high school, i danced. i worked on my turnout while i did homework and i practiced turns before bed. i auditioned for my dance studio’s performing company and made the cut. i came early and stayed late at the studio and focused my whole mind and body in class. all the while my passion for dance grew and grew.
my super strict ballet teacher had a tall wooden stick that she pounded the floor with to help us keep the beat. she was tough and stern and she only gave correction, quite never compliments. but one monday while we were at the barre transitioning from tondues to degages, she stopped the class, and asked me to demonstrate the pattern we had just practiced. after i did so, with a thwacking heart and eyes aflame, she said, “i want to commend charity on her hard work. see how much you can improve if you focus and work hard all class, every class?” and then she began pounding the floor again with her stick. i thought i might pass out of pride.
i performed with the studio company at various venues (including disneyland!), and in the spring we had a big concert at the performing arts center at the university of utah. i loved performing and poured my whole self into the concert. but i still had my eyes on a different stage. the one at east high school.
audition time came again at the end of the school year. i was confident. i let my passion come out my fingertips and my toes. at the end of the week, all those who had auditioned (maybe 40 freshman and just a couple of other sophomores besides myself) came to the school studio and picked up an envelope. inside was a letter informing us if we made it, or if we did not.
i had asked my mom to come pick me up that day, and she was waiting in her white car in the front of the school as i came running out the door clutching my envelope with my dear friend andrea, who had made the company the year before and had acted as a kind of dance mentor to me. we climbed in the car and my mom looked and me wildly and told me to go on and rip it open.
i read the text out loud and immediately tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. i don’t know if i have ever, ever felt such pure, pure triumph. in that moment this immutable, essential fact of life was engraved on my fleshy heart: there is great power in hard work.
my experience over two years as a member of east high dance company was positive in a million ways. performing on that stage was even better than i imagined it would be. my passion for dance bled over into other parts of my life, and taught me about passion for mortality. i was enriched and shaped and built.
six years after that pivotal night when i decided to prove my mom wrong, i sat in the same auditorium and watched eight of my dear friends run through a rehearsal of the dance i choreographed for east high dance concert 2004. it was the first time i’d seen the piece, which i had poured my heart and soul into creating, performed on stage with costumes and lighting. my whole self was electrified. it was a determined dream come true.
i became a dancer. the lessons i learned in the process built my sense of identity and character more than most any other life experience i have had. and although i don’t have as much opportunity to dance now as i did as a teenager, whenever there is music playing, my body is moving and my heart is merry. because i became.