D A N C E L I F E

Life in my dance world was


bittersweet.


Bitter when it was time to head to the gym, pull out 100’s of pounds of equipment, because my sports program doesn’t put enough funding into the gymnastics team, and start warm-ups, even though I was already sweating profusely at this point. Bitter when I tore my rotator-cuff during my senior year on varsity just one month before the county championships. Bitter when I could barely walk from stress fractures, shin splints, broken toes, and twisted ankles.

Sweet when I met one of my lifelong best friends on the high beam. Sweet when I won 4 county titles in floor exercise and balance beam, and went on to compete with Olympic level gymnasts at states, (despite knowing that I didn’t have a prayer’s chance in placing). Sweet when I knew that the dance life was where I belonged.


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Pas de deux from "The Nutcracker."

Imagine your eyes feasting on the pageantry in a scene from Swan Lake, beautiful, elegant dancers moving about the stage with incredible ease and grace. The prima ballerina and danseur are performing a pas de deux, the most romantic part of the piece. She leaps through the air, and is caught mid-air by her partner. Then she twirls one, two, and three…six, seven…too many times to count. A stunning display: yes. An easy feat: no.


muscle.gifWhat lies beneath. "With over 600 muscles, 206 bones and countless nerves, ligaments, and tendons in the body, it is almost impossible for dancers to escape being injured. Many injuries are caused by constant stress and over worked and fatigued muscles…Many dancers do not give in to pain because they do not want to stop their training.” MB Academy of Dance http://www.mbdancers.co.uk/

Now visualize red, bruised knees, bloody feet, broken toes, a torn-rotator cuff, twisted ankles, sprained, cracking wrists, and a cracked tail-bone. Your body hurts, but your ears hurt worse because they are currently being inundated with the 6:00 A.M. wake up call that you scheduled in your alarm clock. You’re awake now, but it feels as though you didn’t get any sleep because the sugar plum fairy danced through your dreams all night, literally. Rehearsal for the upcoming annual winter recital is starting in an hour. Your day consists of eat, dance, dance, eat, dance, and maybe sleep.

While Swan Lake is the type of scene that might first come to mind when you think of a dancer, strenuous work and frequent injuries are what compose the majority of a dancer’s career. Many little girls dream of becoming the prima ballerina in a dance company, but most dancers will never make it to that coveted position. That’s because it takes years and years of vigorous training in order to earn the title of dancer in the classical forms of dance.

The world of dance: a beautiful, brutish creation full of physically deformed enthusiasts throwing, twisting, and morphing their bodies through space. There are several reasons that people want to be in this world. Gaining the ability to seemingly defy the laws of physics and physical boundaries by performing a 720° cat leap, or balance on the tips of the toes on your right foot as the toes of your left foot reach up and graze your forehead; the potential for this type of physical achievement is often the motivation to become a dancer. People also use dance to express their emotions through their bodies. Happiness, depression, anger, and elation can be seen through the medium of bones, muscle, and tissue; organs that, without dance, would not have a story to tell otherwise.

The stage, whether its a theatre, nightclub, or even a bedroom, is the dancer’s world. In this space, a dancer can do whatever they want and create a completely separate world for a moment in time. For example, dancing legend Gene Kelly always created a different world on the silver screen with his dancing. The unique human ability to show emotion is key to dance, because without it what we know as “dancing” would not exist because it would not be necessary.

I was thrown into the wildly competitive and strenuous world of dance at the age of five, and from that time loved every minute.

The most memorable times in my dance life so far where the years that I spent practicing and competing in gymnastics. The floor exercise is heavily dependent on dance, and that was my specialty event. I began when I was 14 years young; however, I was considered an antique according to gymnastics standards. Nonetheless, I was able to use the dance skills and training that I had previously acquired for the floor exercise and move my way up the gymnastics rankings. I was already a level 7 competitor at the end of my first year.



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Me, accepting the gold medal for the floor exercise competition.



As my dance life experience has shown, there are many different ways in which people are a part of the dance world. In many cultures dance has always been used as a medium through which man may transcend the physical world through the use of his body. African tribes “used dance as a part of religious ceremonies, funerals, harvest rituals, rites of passages, and mating. There were tribal ring dances and war dances,” (Ward). From the time when danseurs performed for the rich during the Renaissance and all the way through the Hippie era, people have continued to dance so that they can show emotion whether it be to celebrate, express praise, disapproval, happiness, or honor. So, even people who have had no formal classical dance training can create their own dance life, and experience a part of the dance world.


Tribal inauguration dance performed by dancers from the Tiriki clan of Luhya people in western Kenya.


Experiences in the dance life can enhance our everyday lives. Judith Lynne Hanna, a Senior Research Scholar in the Department of Dance and a Mentor for Intercultural Performing Arts in the Individual Studies Program at the University of Maryland, says that as social animals, humans work with one another to have their needs fulfilled, and “dance is one of the resources they may draw upon” (5). According to Hanna, dance is physical, cultural, social, psychological, economic, political, and communicative behavior (4-5). People dance to improve their health and physique, develop relationships, worship gods and idols, make money, express opinion, and convey messages. No matter how you choose to dance, and how involved you want to be in the dance world, your experience in the dance life will be beneficial.



begley.jpgBallet, tap, jazz, modern, and eventually artistic gymnastics where my world and continue to be a part of the one that I have created for myself today. Even though I did not initially get to choose being a part of the dance world, (my mother did), the dance life is an inseparable part of me and now I am inseparable from the dance life.

(Photo at right from http://garden-art.com/gardendance/images/begley.jpg.)

Works Cited:
Hanna, Judith Lynne. "To Dance is Human: A Theory of Nonverbal Communication." University of Chicago Press: 1987.

Ward, Sheila A. "Why we all should learn to dance: reflecting on the African cultural heritage.(Editorial)." JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance 78.5 (May-June 2007): 3(5). Academic OneFile. Gale. University of Richmond. 19 Feb. 2008









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