It’s more than jazz hands and shuffle ball changes. It’s more than pliés and pirouettes. It’s more than the escape from the everyday.
It’s the people. It’s the community. It’s the support.
Two weeks ago, my doctor suggested that I replace my spinal cord stimulator with a new device. He asked me to consider taking a few months out of my life again to try to make things better. So that the consequence of dance isn’t crying myself to sleep while I wait for the pain to go down. So that there are less days when the act of putting on pants is pure agony.
On Thursday, I wallowed while considering new cyborg body parts. On Friday, I dragged myself to the barre. As I peeled off my jeans and hoodie that hid my ballet attire, I started to breathe and smile. We talked about muscle knots and custom leotards. Annoying bosses, traffic snafus and check-ins about statuses we had seen from each other throughout the week. We got it out and then we danced it out. As we stretched, put out layers back on and dispersed from the studio, my world was right again. On Saturday mornings, the crowd is different, but the community is the same.
My tap classes are no different. When I arrive before class at Joel Hall, the advanced students wave when they notice me. I find our tiny dance prodigy and we try to watch the last few minutes as taps fly at lightening speeds. As the advanced class winds down and the few brave souls that join in enter the studio, everyone is all smiles. Even when we have no idea what the answer to a jazz trivia question. As we circle up, my brain goes into over drive and my feet seem to only be able to do toe taps and heels. It doesn’t matter – there is always something good to be said about everyone’s attempt and always something to learn.
When the class changes again and the pros leave the studio and the rest of the intermediate class trickles in, there is more catching up. Fits of giggles when we royally mess up. Cheers of triumph when anyone does something better than the week before. Our teacher, Mark, doesn’t give up on us, even when we are sure we can’t do the step. With constant pain and paresthesia, I learned how to do pullbacks. And there were many a protests that I couldn’t do them. When I start to lose balance and reach for the barre, I am encouraged to keep moving (or chastised just a bit if I am using it as a crutch and don’t really need it).
As we end, we share our upcoming performance dates – it’s a mighty talented crowd of dancers, actresses and singers. Since no one is there to dance in a bubble, we’ve started building friendships that exist outside of the classroom. The mirrors are cracked, the floor is well-loved and the windows are tiny, but the community makes magic there. If my mind starts to wander to the what-ifs, it’s not long before I end up off a bit and get called back to the moment from an out of sync rhythm or missed step.
As I write this, the theme song from Fraggle Rock has started running through my head…”Dance your cares away, worries for another day…” Each trip to the studio leaves me feeling just a little bit stronger and just a little bit braver.
I even found an unlikely family in my Tap Too (the nickname given to my Tuesday night Tap II at American Rhythm Center) class. My first class a pair of strangers offered me a ride home because I live just a couple blocks from one of them. We have parties for birthdays and holidays at least once a month. It is with these women, many of whom have been dancing for years, that I can see how completely dance can influence a life. That I am not the only person that it has saved. There are cancer survivors. There are women defying aging. There are grandmas and moms (including my mom). There are daughters and friends. A tribe that spends 75 minutes working through steps until we get them just right. Celebrating each other’s accomplishments and holding up anyone who is struggling.
When I go home alone and lay down to charge, I know that in less than a day I will find myself back in one of these places where there is an army of souls keeping me going. I know that nothing is so scary that I can’t do it. I know that I am not alone.
The point, is not to brag about how lucky I am to have found this community, or “squad” as the kids these days call it. It is to encourage you to find your squad. People who treat you to a judgement-free zone but aren’t afraid to tell you the truth. A gang to back up your crazy ideas or just to make you laugh when your whole body wants to crumble and cry. A place to go when you need to get outside of yourself and experience the riches life and art can give you to bring you out of the dark.
If you are looking to dance in Chicago, I keep an up to date list of classes & studios where I take / have taken classes.