Each summer for the past three years, I have asked a group of young dancers where they are with dance. I leave the question open-ended in order for them to answer however it resonates personally. My goal is to create a yearly check-in by which to chart how these young women grow through dance.
Below are Felicitas’ shifting perspectives over the past three years. I eagerly await what direction her path will lead in future years and what role dance will play. – Emmaly Wiederholt
2015 – Felicitas at age 17
My story did not end where I thought it would. I thought I would return to dancing with optimal health and a renewed spirit in the fall, but, it took me much longer to get to that place. Throughout the school year, I did not belong to any studio in particular but rather studio hopped to take the best classes I could find. Really, I just took open classes all year long. There are benefits to this: meeting new dancers regularly, choosing when to take class, and taking from new teachers. For a while this routine satisfied my dancing needs and I found it exhilarating to meet so many new people in the dance world. However, it was only a matter of time before I grew stagnant in progression and felt stuck in a rut. I was not improving the way I wanted to and I felt constantly overstressed during class from working so hard. Teachers noted that my upper body was very stiff and I needed to relax more. But, I just pushed on, working my muscles to extremes that were unhealthy and, ultimately, unproductive.
The other downfall to being a wandering dancer was that all the pressure to challenge myself was in my hands. Open class doesn’t offer the personal attention I needed to improve. So, sometimes I managed to motivate myself in class, while other times I felt terrible about my technique and couldn’t look in the mirror any longer. I was mentally and physically beating myself up with the stubborn hope that that would be the solution. If only I knew what I was getting into.
My physical health started draining. Surprisingly, I had not yet fainted or injured myself, but it took getting to such a crucial state for me to realize I will not be dancing much longer with the way I treat myself. I had become so self-critical nothing seemed to be good enough anymore (even if it was!). I was my biggest critic, worst enemy and toughest teacher.
But everything turned around very quickly. I did whatever it took to regain my health so I could dance again, and that happened easily with lots of cake and sweets. Lots of it. As good as it was for me to gain weight again, I hated the person I was becoming. Looking in the mirror brought me to tears because I felt like I was losing everything I had worked so hard for. I thought I was losing my integrity, my strength and my beauty. More so, I was scared beyond belief what it would be like to dance in this new, unfamiliar body. So I tried it out.
At first it was very uncomfortable. I couldn’t move as freely as before, I felt heavier, and I furrowed my brow at everything I did. I was still the same harsh critic, just in a bigger body.
I decided to try something new for once: I looked in the mirror and admired what I could. I touched the muscle in my legs, felt my arms, twisted and turned to see all angles of my being. I complimented myself and smiled at what I saw. Yes, I felt pretty foolish, but these moments of self-love are what changed me. Dancing started becoming more enjoyable because I only focused on loving it. I became more comfortable with how I move and realized how powerful and strong my body really was. Most of all, I was finally thankful for my body’s abilities in dance because those are specific and special to me, no one else. I am beautiful when I dance, and I know it.
No, I cannot do 32 fouette turns or hold my leg up by my head, but I can move in ways that others can’t! I realized it’s not about being able to do it all or doing it perfectly; it’s about doing what you can do BEST. Dancing is a personal art; you do it however it fits you naturally.
Now, I dance with ease. I practice loving myself daily and admiring all the great things I can do. And in my eyes, this is the greatest improvement I have made all year long.
2014 – Felicitas at age 16
I had a surge of motivation in the winter time and was craving more out of dance. I started working harder during class, doing strengthening every day, routinely jogging for cardio endurance and becoming very fit in the process. This lasted until the end of June, and my body was becoming a strong lean machine, or so I thought. I actually started to over-train too much and did not allow my body to rest, resulting in a major fallback for my dancing. It got so bad to the point that I was restricted by my doctor to stop dancing for a while until my body regained its normal state of being. To me, not dancing for several months sounded like torture. But I realized that if I wanted to keep dancing, I must take a break and rejuvenate. So I did. I spent my days stretching and holding myself back from going to the studio. It was a lot harder than I expected!
Eventually my body started to heal naturally, the rips and tears in my muscles were mended, my energy level rose, and my body was able to move again. Once I was allowed to take a dance class, I went in fearing that I had lost all that I had worked for. But to my surprise, I did not lose anything. I gained instead. I realized that I had been abusing the art of dance by treating it as only a physical sport. I had lost my connection to artistry and passion by becoming blinded by my fitness goals in dance. Taking that first class brought me tears of joy because I finally had understood the blessing I have been given: the ability to dance. Not many people have this blessing, and it makes me appreciate the art all the more. Now, every time I step into the studio, a sense of gratitude flows through me and I enjoy myself when dancing. This has brought me to a stronger sense of my artistry and passion for dance.
2013 – Felicitas at age 15
This past summer at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance has really made me interested in the diversity of dance and I’m eager to learn more and more. I’m currently very invested in dance and my growth in it, and hopefully will continue that through a professional career. I would say I am totally in love with dance, and it continues to be something I want to do!
The only thing that scares me is college and dance and how that all works out.