More than once, I have been asked why I dance.
More than once, people have seen me practicing, stretching, rubbing an aching muscle, hurrying from a class to another activity, and they ask me why I do this.
More than once, I have sat at home with a support bandage around my ankle or my knee, doped up on painkillers, and I have wondered why I do this, and I have asked myself – is it really worth it? I have sat in traffic for forty five minutes to get to class when it usually takes between five and ten to drive there, and I’ve wondered if it was worth it. So many times, I have considered just asking my sister or my parents to turn the car around and take me home again.
And I never do.
Dance is more than just a physical activity. It’s more than just a hobby, and it’s more than something I want to make my career. I’ve often joked that dance is the socially acceptable form of self harm, and to a point that’s true – when you need something to sharpen your mind, there’s nothing like a few minutes of posé turns en pointe!
But I don’t think that’s why I do it.
I dance because I can always get better. I can always do a step differently, turn my foot out more, lift my leg higher, jump further off the ground. I can always be more in time with the music and I can always be more musical. Even when I am technically perfect, there is always some way I can put more feeling into the steps. Every class is another chance to make it better, and every class it will be different.
I dance because it is a chance to forget everything. For the length of that class, it is dance that I am thinking about. I’m not thinking about anything that’s gone wrong that day, I am thinking about the steps and how they work and how it feels and how my muscles should be working. It is a chance to distract myself and to leap away from anything I don’t want to think any more. Dance is a way to take away all your feelings and be only the dancer.
I dance because it is addictive. Even when I am injured – whether that is a simple sprained ankle or something less explicable – it is hard to stop myself from dancing around, spinning on one foot while I am waiting, stretching when I’m bored.
I dance because I am a perfectionist. I will start something and I won’t ever say – that’s good enough. That’ll do. I will never be happy until it is, to my mind, as good as it can be. With dance, I am never going to hit that goal, and so I must carry on until the day I do.
I dance because there is so much I can do that I can’t at the moment. There is always so much to learn, and so many variations on everything I have learned. There are so many ways to use it – in a performance, whether solo, a pas de deux, a small group, a large group; as a choreographer; as a teacher – and I will never have done them all.
I dance because I feel like when I am dancing I am using more of myself than I ever am at another time. With writing, my brain is stretched. With music, my ears, my brain and my arms have to work hard. With ballet, I am leaping through the air. I am concentrating on the choreography. I am listening to the music. Everything that I can use, I am using, and that is something I cannot do in any other way.
I will never be the dancer that other people are. I started too late and my body is not built in a way that will make me a principal of the Royal Ballet. I injure very easily and I will never be able to get my leg to a 180 degree angle. My school is small, and with only one boy we will never have pas de deux classes. Unless I manage to get into one of the vocational schools, I will never progress to a performance standard. I know this. I am not resigned to it, but I know inside that it is true.
I will never find it easy to dance. I will never find it painless. I will never remember steps after seeing them once or be able to replicate whatever I see others doing.
But I dance because I have not yet learned how to stop.