“you have to love dancing to stick to it.” – merce cunningham

it’s been about a week and a half since i’ve posted, and i suppose that’s because i’ve needed some time to let…everything(?) sink in. i took three classes last week (two modern, one ballet), and i just took my first class of this week today (ballet). there have been ups and downs. good days and bad days. and i’m trying to simply come to terms with the fact that that’s just how it’s going to be for awhile. my body is relearning a language that it used to be fluent in, and at this moment putting certain sentences together with the seamless flow that once was effortless now feels frustrating and exhausting–both physically and mentally. however, i had somewhat of an epiphany last week when my modern teacher told me to not concern myself too much with the tiny technical details, but to “find the joy again. if you don’t, you’ll burn right out again.” of course, it was also reassuring to hear her tell me that she couldn’t tell i had come off of a break; “it’s still very much in your body,” she said. being my own worst critic though, i know that i still have quite a ways to go. but BECAUSE i have a ways to go, i have no other choice than to “find the joy again.” i’m going to fall out of pirouettes, struggle to get my leg above ninety degrees, find basic bits of choreography challenging, but if i’m not ENJOYING myself through all the blood, sweat, and tears…then what’s the point? i asked myself that a few times today as my ballet teacher physically molded my body–pulling up on my waist, lengthening my neck, pushing my knees over my ankles so i’d turn out more. i wondered, “why does it matter that i go to these painstaking lengths to make these shapes with my body? am i doing anything to contribute to humanity by worrying about how tiny my waist can get? how perfectly winged i can make my foot? how close to my head i can get my leg?” there were absolutely moments today that i forgot about the joy, and i just felt…bad. being in a studio filled with ninety pound bunheads will do that to you. as a size 4-6 twenty three year old woman, i am very aware that in the real world of normal sized people, i am considered slim and fit. but in this class, i felt like the (literal) elephant in the room. i had to remind myself over and over again that if i kept on with these comparisons and fixations on the superficial, i wouldn’t get anywhere. but a brief conversation with my ballet teacher after class today left me feeling recharged. he reminded me to take it slow. “summer will be the big push,” he said. and summer is what…four months away? that’s plenty of time. for now, i’ll focus on the joy.

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the morning after.

you know that part of the day when you’re required to simply…get out of bed? not so simple when your legs, hips, and lower back are frozen. i took not just one, but two dance classes yesterday–one ballet, one modern. and rather than taking the more practical route and easing myself back into the game, i of course chose to plop myself down in one of chicago’s most rigorous contemporary ballet classes: mike gosney’s class at visceral dance center. two hours of pure technique and nothing to hide behind. back in the day this caliber of dancing would have been a piece of cake; i was used to taking class and rehearsing all day errrday. but when your body’s not as used to flinging itself through space, rolling on the floor, flying into the air, stretching, extending, flexing, and pointing…a mere three and a half hours of nonstop dancing might just render you immobile. but ya know what? it hurts so good. this feeling lets me know that my body was affected by all that moving yesterday, which means it’s still capable of DOING it. sure, i was rusty. my extension was lacking. my turns were inconsistent. my jumps weren’t super high. but that feeling…the feeling of pure joy that surges through my limbs as they slice and float through the air–that feeling was every bit as strong as it used to be. and if that’s not positive reinforcement, i don’t know what is. now if i could only walk up and down the stairs without wanting to cry…

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this is what comes out when i write my first ever blog post at 1am.

dance again…nope, it’s not just one of my favorite JLo songs; it’s what i’m trying to do with my life right now. that being said, maybe i should start at the beginning. my name is joanna. but my friends know me as “The Dancer…or wait, isn’t she a yogi now?” yeah, these titles have been a little in flux lately. but then again, so has my life. i danced tirelessly, furiously, passionately from the age of five until the age of twenty-two, which means the last year/year and a half of my life was spent NOT dancing. if math’s not your thing (and let’s be real–i’m guessing most of you who are reading this are artists…math is NONE of our things), i’m twenty-three now. i spent seventeen years of my life training extensively in technical ballet, modern, and jazz–three of those years at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. and i’ll be honest, those years of pushing myself past my perceived limits inspired me immensely…and then burned me right out. the “tirelessly, furiously” part began to wear me thin (both figuratively and literally), and i started to wonder if the “passionately” part was still even in me at all. and that was the hardest part for me to reconcile, because for those seventeen years i ate, slept, and breathed dance. it was all i knew, and all i ever wanted to know. i saw myself ONLY graduating from a conservatory college dance program, and then getting accepted into my dream company. that was the life i envisioned, and nothing else. i was madly in love with dance…and there lay the problem. it drove me mad. in my own eyes i was never good enough, skinny enough, flexible enough, technical enough…sensing a pattern here? i began to buckle under the pressure of being The Dancer, but feeling like i never quite measured up as one. don’t get me wrong, my dancing years weren’t all mentally torturous; dancing is truly something that i crave to my core. my body yearns to move. so the time i took off–it wasn’t always the breath of fresh air i hoped it would be. who was i if i wasn’t a dancer anymore? is this a mistake? do i just need to toughen up a little? as i sit here writing this now, i realize that what happened this past year happened for a reason, but it took me some time to reach that mindset. here’s what helped: yoga. during my break i became a certified yoga teacher, and that’s when i realized you don’t have to be just one thing in your life. i don’t have to be only a dancer, i can also be a yoga teacher, and who the hell knows what else. yoga brought me back to myself…my best self. and now that i’m here, solid and grounded, i’m ready to go somewhere else. somewhere all too familiar, but somewhere extremely foreign at the same time: i’m ready to dance again. which brings me to the point of this blog. i’m not typically one to shout my little successes and failures from the mountain tops of social media, but this blog will hold me accountable, and keep me honest. honesty has been a hard thing for me this past year or so; i feel like i’ve done quite a bit of hiding. when people would ask me if i’m still dancing, i’d quickly reply, “of course! always dancing!” buuut that was a big fat lie. and i realized it wasn’t so much my friends, family, and teachers i was hiding from–i was hiding from myself, and the reality of change. it’s a brutal one. so, here’s what i’m proposing to myself: one year. one year to get my ass in gear and whip it back into dancing shape. i give myself one year to dance again. and on january sixteenth, 2014, we’ll see where i’m at. i’m not certain what my end goal is–whether i’ll try auditioning, dancing professionally again, choreographing…all i know is it’s time for me to get back in the saddle, and reclaim a part of me i haven’t seen for awhile.

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