Who Am I Without Dance?

Support Magz’s Surgery: https://zrzutka.pl/en/2f7g2y

Malcolm Gladwell says, “It takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials.” What if, after all of that effort, the thing that you worked so hard for/on was taken away from you? What are you left with? Who are you without the activity, the ability, the gift you invested so deeply to develop?

These questions are ones that have challenged me— and dancers I know— when we experience loss. My mind turmoils over understanding my body’s present state in relation to what it was and what I desire it to be. This blog post holds a story about how I first confronted these questions, and how they shaped me to be a friend for another dancing soul.

Dance was my destiny the moment we met in college. One day, my destiny was challenged within a church fellowship group. A friend of mine asked me, “what is the most important part of your life?” I responded, “It should be my pursuit of God, but it’s dance.” A follow up question proceeded, “If God took dance away from you, who would you be?” The who-in-the-hell-are-you defensiveness arose, then quelled, within me. “I don’t know,” is all I could say. Thankfully, God hasn’t taken dance away from me, but They sure have shown me how quickly They could. 

First was the loss of my full collegiate scholarship. Though it was temporary, the loss threatened my ability to go back to school; and Penn State is the foundation that my entire academic dance career is built upon. Second was the allowance for my vessel— a crucial instrument that reminds me of my freedom— to be encaged within a jail cell while the threat of elongated incarceration loomed. And, third was the closing of my eyelids for a midday nap while driving an 80 mph moving vehicle. The car smacking between the concrete and metallic borders like a pinball at the arcade revealed how my ability to live in my body is a blessing that can be obliterated in a moment. This was all in 2010, the same year I had fell in love with dance. The combination of events opened my eyes to how my infatuation with dance had turned into idolization.  

And who could blame me?! What a gorgeous gift dance is! Even with a more mature perspective, I now cherish her as a Chippendale mirror to life. She is a prolific process that places my mind and external flesh under a stressful relationship; thus, conjuring a conversation between my internal flesh (ego) and my soul. This simultaneous physical and spiritual dialogue offers the opportunity for my tri-state being (soul, mind, flesh) to elevate to its highest self. She is a beauty to be admired, indeed. 

Yet, this gorgeous gift is not life itself, and it is most definitely not the Gifter. As an infatuated 19 year old, I was blinded to this reality. Playing with Buzz Light Year without giving Woody a second thought, my narrow focus on dance suppressed my consciousness from the other blessings in my life: education, health, relationships, and more. Resultantly, God gave me over to my heart’s desire by allowing everything else to fall a part. I promised then that dance would never be my one-and-only. Rather, I would use it as a lens to experience my purest self so that I may hold onto it and share it with the world.

Years later, in the summer of 2017, I met an amazing soul in New York City who also came to this earth to experience her highest self through dance. Her name is Magz. We connected through our passion for Hip-hop and Lite Feet dance cultures. She was visiting NYC from Poland in order to immerse herself within a community that she had been influenced by for years. I could quickly tell that dance was much of her life. Anyone who works for the resources to travel across the world to dance shows a lot about how much they value the thing. The way she brightened up whenever she talked about the Street/Club Dance community was also a significant tell. She left NYC after a couple weeks, came back for months, left again, and was on her way to figure out how to come for a third, long-lasting, stay. 2018 listened to many joyful conversations between her and I about growing together in our crafts once she returned to NYC that year. 

It’s now 2021, she hasn’t come back, and it’s unknown when she will. In the middle of 2019, while taking a class, Magz felt a pop in her knee. She suffered a torn ligament that required 2 surgeries. Those joyful conversations became fewer as it seemed to trigger the trauma from the injury. Many times I would inquire about her health or remind her that there are lessons in the healing, and I would receive a, “Please Cue, I don’t want to talk about it right now.” Out of heartache, I turned to God; asking Them to show up in Magz’s life like They have shown up in mine.

Light seemed to shine at the end of the tunnel. Magz had the surgeries and engaged in Physical Therapy. Even when Covid-19 hit and she couldn’t visit the doctor, she still persevered and strengthened herself. Eventually I began receiving videos of Magz dancing with crutches, and then videos without them! As I believed her worst days within the process were over, I received another image from Magz: one of tears, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, and pain. This was the image conjured from hearing her crying words, “I need another surgery.” My heart sank and water welled within my eyes. I was out of encouraging words as I eked out, “whatever is needed, you’re supported and loved through it.”

I spoke to Magz recently as she prepares for her third surgery and recovery process. We conversed about her night out in Wroclaw, Poland. I interpreted insecurity as she spoke about how men she is attracted to are more interested in her friends. “I need to stop having such beautiful friends!” she half-heartedly laughed to stop the tears. She proceeded to make a mature connection between her inability to dance like she used to and her current self-esteem. Dancing as a full abled body was her way to understand the truth about herself— that she is wonderful, beautiful, confident, swaggy, nobody-to-fuck-with, joyful, sexy, and jubilant. She’s not dancing at the moment. So what happens to all of these truths dance has revealed to her? As I took Magz in during our conversation, I could tell her foundation was shaken. 

I encouraged her, as I encourage all of us, to fight for the truths our gifts provide access to more than for the gift itself. For us dancers, that requires us to recognize the substance that the dance process reveals, and to find other ways we can work on that substance when dance isn’t available for whatever reason. I know Magz doesn’t always want to hear it, but I truly believe God is providing an opportunity, through this horrific tragedy, to reveal an invaluable understanding regarding her relationship to dance. I also believe that whoever is reading this doesn’t need to go through something like a life-changing injury or a car crash to place their gifts/skills in perspective. Your dance is not your destiny. It is a window to witness yourself though. Neale Donald Walsch describes it well in Conversations with God, “Your physical form was created as a magnificent convenience, a wonderful tool; a glorious vehicle allowing you to experience the reality you have created with your mind, that you may know the Self you have created in your soul.”

Support Magz’s Surgery: https://zrzutka.pl/en/2f7g2y

photo credit: ALK3r

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