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Still a Dancer

Dear Reader,

I’ve put a lot of thought into what this first blog should be and what it should say, but I finally decided that I needed to introduce you to the dancer writing the blog. So, here’s my story…

Movement, as funny as it may sound, is part of my DNA. When I was a baby and music came on, I would scoot, clap, and wiggle. As I grew older, I added turns, jumps, and skips to my repertoire. Then, I turned three and eventually learned that I could take classes where instructors would teach me how to dance. After several weeks of begging my parents to let me take Ballet, I started with the traditional combo classes and never looked back.

I’ll spare you the long story of breaking my leg when I was four, auditioning for The Nutcracker for the first time when I was six, taking my first master class (with Wade Robson) when I was seven, dancing at two studios when I was ten, and going on pointe when I was eleven. As important as those details are to me, they’re not the most important details of this story.

It’s critical to note that I never lost my childlike love and passion for dance as I grew. I became more determined to balance school and dance, trying my best to excel in both. When I entered high school, I began to think about how I wanted to pursue dance in my future. Did I want to go to college? Did I want to audition for companies? Could I still dance on Broadway if I couldn’t sing? If I grew another inch, would I still be able to be a Rockette?

The reality in life is we can’t plan everything. Life will throw us curve balls.

I was on the second half of fifteen when my body started telling me something was wrong. I lost some of my hair, my stamina declined, and I felt sick while I danced. Dancers have a heightened ability to understand their bodies, but I completely ignored what mine was trying to tell me. I was too scared to listen. This didn’t last long; both my parents and my dance instructor (Miss Patty) noticed the changes and lovingly urged me to go to the doctor. I finally had to admit there was a problem.

After numerous doctor visits and several blood tests, I still didn’t have a diagnosis—I was supposedly healthy. I continued dancing, turned sixteen, and kept working towards my goals. Unfortunately, I knew there was still something wrong with my body.

I was referred to a cardiologist and went through even more tests. This time, I had my answer. I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which is a fancy way of saying I had a blood pressure irregularity. When my symptoms were at their worst, I would experience an episode where my heart raced, but my blood pressure plummeted, and it took a while for my circulatory system to regulate itself again. After an episode, I had no energy, and sometimes I couldn’t even get out of bed. It took several days for my body to fully recoup.

The doctor put me on a steroid and a salt supplement, and told me that I could not dance at a pre-professional level while my body healed—I was allowed to dance only two hours a week. News like this should have seemed like the end of the world. The art of dance was work for me, but it was like breathing, I couldn’t live without it. However, in this particular time in my life, my whole focus was on what would make my body feel better. At least this was my attitude in the doctor’s office.

I was committed to dance the two hours a week while I did everything in my power to get better. Yet, I knew my body needed a full break and my mental health couldn’t take my self-criticism of losing even more of my technique and abilities. So on my way to dance class, I made my mom turn the car around because I had made one of the toughest decisions in my life. I had decided to stop dancing. I cried the whole way home.

We cannot plan the curve balls that come our way, but sometimes those are just the obstacles sent to guide us to where we need to be. Everything happens for a reason, and this change in my life became a blessing in disguise. I was able to achieve my goals academically, go to the University of Denver, meet extraordinary people, and have amazing opportunities I never dreamed were possible.

Dance is a big part of what made me who I am today. I am grateful for the opportunities I had to train and to perform. I will cherish the memories and I will remember the energy and emotions I felt in the classroom and on stage for the rest of my life.

I had to say goodbye to the dancer I once was, and I mourned her loss because it was the death of my childhood dream. However, what I failed to realize when I was sixteen is that I am and will always be a dancer. It is in the ways I think, create, develop ideas, and problem solve. I haven’t performed on a stage in seven years, but I am a dancer. I am an artist who decided to change her medium.

I am also a collection of all my past experiences. When I learned how to dance, I didn’t recognize the lessons I was learning outside of the studio. Dancing has taught me about leadership, discipline, creativity, focus, dedication, accountability, collaboration, the power of support, the importance of self-confidence, commitment, communication, passion, perseverance, and it has given me the ability to take and respond to constructive (or not-so constructive) criticism. These skills gave me the confidence to accept the changes in my life, to persevere and continue to grow, learn, and heal.

I was also extremely blessed with an incredible support system. My parents, school teachers, friends, and of course Miss Patty were there for me each step of my journey. I would not be where I am today without their love, kindness, and encouragement.

A note to my fellow dancers: In life, there will be times when you struggle and when you shine; but you’ll see as you grow as an artist and as a person, dance will still be with you in each of those moments. You’ll always be a dancer.

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