I was going to be a dancer, a choreographer, actually. There’s always a dance percolating in the back of my head. It’s always there, but I don’t often think about it. Two recent episodes, a work event and my (ahem) 30th high school reunion, have got me thinking about the career that wasn’t…
Nine years-old makes for a late starter in the world of dance. After years of dancing around my house, doing group choreography in my head, my mom finally put me in dance class. When she did, what did she enroll me in? Jazz? Ballet? Nope. She signed me up for Hawaiian. It was cute. But you know what? It was a great choice! It allowed me to learn three dances for recital instead of just one. And being an unusual subject, there were opportunities for my class to perform at community events like festivals and fairs.
I may have been late to the game (or the stage?), but I was getting experience, and I was dedicated.
By age 14, I had added the core subjects of ballet, jazz and tap, and was spending six days a week at the dance studio, either learning or helping teach. I traveled to New York City, Washington DC and elsewhere on the competition track.
When it was time to enter high school for 10th grade, a friend of mine suggested I audition for the “Rockettes,” the pompon squad. Honestly, I didn’t even know what it was. If you don’t know what pompon is either, it’s a precision dance troupe that performs at high school sporting events. All I knew was based on the try-out routines: it was an unusual style with lots of sharp arm movements and high kicks.
I made the squad.
And that one moment would affect the rest of my life.
If you see the “rah-rah” type in a disparaging light, think again. I learned so many life-skills: how to work well with others, how to teach, how to organize an event (for that matter, a season of events), how to harness my creativity and apply my ideas.
I was one of only three incoming sophomores on the team that year, a team that was almost entirely seniors, but I quickly earned their respect. At the end of my first summer camp, the hard-core learning/bonding experience that is, I was chosen by camp staff as the best individual out of about 200 at the camp. I was shocked and honored at the time, but really didn’t grasp how unusual a thing it was. In hindsight, it’s unbelievable to me…I had only been doing pom for a month or so…that is totally nuts! After camp one of my team captains invited me to help choreograph material, a task not normally bestowed on newbies.
I was hooked.
My first year on pom was my last year at the dance studio.
Three years of pompon led to eight years of coaching pom…and three state champion titles. This is where I was able to really sharpen those choreography skills.
It was what I was born to do…be a professional choreographer.
At least I hope not.
Because it didn’t happen, and that ship has sailed—so what did happen?
I enrolled in college as a dance major, but I was really put off by the program; I wasn’t challenged. Not thinking long-term (Just stick it out and get the degree under your belt, woman!) I switched majors…to earth science, of course! No really, it made sense! I was coaching, I was getting my dance on there, so why not become a science teacher (a topic I love) and keep coaching?
I had never burned out of anything before, so it didn’t occur to me that this was a fairly narrow plan.
So when I stopped coaching, I had no real way to keep choreographing. I didn’t have the credentials to be taken seriously in the dance field, and I didn’t know how I could force my way in. So I gave up. I bailed on my teaching plan too. I got a job in marketing.
Which led to…event planning.
The ability to be creative across disciplines, to think logistically and visualize moving parts, these are critical to coaching and choreographing, but they also are the tools of an event planner.
Fast-forward about a million years to August 2016. I work at a charter school (planning events) and am a member of the newly-formed Spirit Committee. We are organizing the annual Community-Building Day when staff gets to know one another through activity. We are loosely going with an Olympic theme, discussing a variety of team challenges, both physical and mental. Each committee member needs to be in charge of a “station.” Nothing really appeals to me, until we get to…synchronized swimming. What? Are we making people get in the pond? No. It’s synchronized swimming minus the water. What the heck is that? It’s precision dance.
I kind of couldn’t get my head around it.
Believe it or not, I almost didn’t put myself forward, which is ridiculous. But my confidence has taken a few blows over the years, and it seems impossible, but it’s been 22 years since I last taught or choreographed. I worried I didn’t have “it” anymore, but I took that mental deep breath, and offered to take that station.
It proved to be one of the best things I’ve done for myself in quite some time.
I was able to take four groups of non-dancers, pick a song, teach them how to count music, and create a short, simple group dance with formations (we were after all, synchronized swimming!), and prepare them to perform…all in 30 minutes. And you know what? They were great! It was so much fun! And it came back so naturally. Good ol’ muscle memory! …well, it was more brain than muscle. It doesn’t matter what it was, I felt like the old me again. It makes me tear up.
The lingering effect: I feel more confident than I have in years. And for that I am grateful.
I have to believe that there are reasons for the choices we make in life. But I also have to wonder if leaving dance behind was the right thing for me. After all these years, I still think in dance. In my head, I’m choreographing, multiple times a day. It’s just what I do…but it has no place to go. While those dances are stuck in my head, I’m creating in other ways. I do graphic design as well as event planning at work. I write two blogs (duh!), and am learning coding and web design. Will anything ever take the place of dance? I sure hope so!
Now it’s your turn! Do you have a “what if…” in your life? Is there something you always thought you’d do, but life had other plans? I know I’m not the only one, please share in the comments below!