Why I love dance - ruminations of a non-dancer

My first introduction to dance was similar to many of my genre - picture plump little-girl bodies stuffed into pink leotards with hair scraped back (amid cries of ‘ow mommy! That pulls’) into an almost but not quite perfect bun, cream-coloured tights which hide the last vestige of toddler fat still lingering on tubby thighs, and ballet pumps with meticulously hand-sewn elastic straps - all lined up at the barre in first position. Some older dancers are strategically positioned at the front and back of the line, their buns somewhat neater. A severe-looking dance teacher paces in permanent turnout from one end of the line to the other (her bun is perfect) and barks out continous instructions of ‘stand tall! Bottom in! elbows lifted!’ as the tiny ballerinas strive to please her in even the simple execution of their first plie of the day.

Now add to that picture a slightly less tidy body; a ladder in her stockings she has desperately tried to stuff into the back corner of her leotard is just visible in the folds of her tightly clenched bum, and a few wild brunette curls which simply will not remain attached to her clip-infested head framing her face. She stands confidently at her spot in the line, oblivious to the fact that her elbows are slowly drifting towards her sides and her bottom is almost touching the torso of the body behind her as she mimics the bend of the ‘big girls’ in front.

That was me – the slightly chubby, happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic but somewhat co-ordination challenged 5-year old who loved to dance but wanted to do things 'my way'. My ballet career can be fairly briefly profiled – I started at age 4 with my best friend at the time, completed one exam which I passed with an unconvincing C+ (I am certain the ‘plus’ was implemented to keep competitive parents happy), my career highlight being a brief solo as a bluebird in the ballet school end of year show.  When, at age 6, my best friend announced early retirement, I wasted no time in following suit and hanging up my insole-worn baby pink ballet pumps. To the trees and the swimming pools for me!

This rash decision is one I often look back on with regret. I am convinced that with a little perseverance and a lot more stretching I could have become a fairly proficient ballerina. As I grew older and lost my baby fat my build lent itself more towards the long lines and lifted feet of a trained dancer – to the point that I am often asked in my rooms whether I am a ballet dancer and am met with surprised remarks of ‘oh but you look like one!’ when I respond to the contrary.

What was missing back then? Why was it so easy for me to quit? I have asked myself this question often in the years since that day, and only very recently come to a conclusion which satisfies me. 

It was not just a lack of commitment to the cause. Commitment can only motivate you to a point, even more so as a stubborn 5-year old without the insight of a mature adult brain. It was more than that – it was a love for dance, a deep passion that could keep me plugging away at it until I perfected every position, every pirouette, and every port-de-bras. Without that slightly irrational drive, a dancer’s arabesque can never go from being average to spectacular, her jette can never go from satisfactory to incredible. She can never endure the hours and hours of endless effort just to achieve perfect turnout! Dance, in all its forms, requires hard work and even more so when it starts to hurt.

I learnt this lesson of perseverance despite all odds later in life, not through sport but rather through some fairly challenging life experiences. And in a somewhat recent moment of illumination I concluded that this is why I now hold dancers in such high regard – it is because I can identify with that struggle. To work at something until it is absolutely perfect, to keep going even when your muscles are screaming at you to stop, and to walk away knowing that you will gladly do it all again  tomorrow – that is a form of deeply rooted love that I would like to be the driving force in all areas of my life. Love and commitment grow together. Perseverance is a character attribute built through struggle, and from that struggle, true passion grows.

Romantic notions aside, there is always more to a passion than simply that ‘warm fuzzy feeling’. For me, my love for dancing has grown as my life path has brought me more into contact with it, primarily through my profession. As a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, I have worked with dancers ranging from amateur to professional, and all styles imaginable. This has made me increasingly aware of the raw physical challenges this art form presents. No other sport requires such a balance of flexibility and strength, control and explosive power. Dancers must reach longer, bend further, jump higher – all while engaging with their audience and being acutely aware of their co-performers. Seeing how my work can contribute to keeping these artists strong and able, has been both an inspiration and a joy to me.

This blog is a way to share my passion with you; and if it is your passion too, to grow your awareness and appreciation of the body, dance and Durban.