Dance made me who I am. I am thankful for all it taught me, the long-lasting friendships I made, the absolutely incredible dancers I got to perform with and the unforgettable performances. That’s not to mention the teachers and mentors I had the pleasure of working with. With all that said, I am equally thankful that I quit when I did. Quitting dance allowed me to meet even more people, experience different things and acquire new perspectives. More than that, it opened my eyes to what a great experience being a dancer was and how I can use that in all areas of my life.
At almost 10 years old I fell in love with dance for the first time.
My class got invited to watch a dance performance at the Royal Swedish Ballet School in Stockholm. It made such a great impact on me, that after this performance I was convinced to become a ballet dancer, despite no previous experience. I convinced my mom to sign me up for the auditions at the Royal Swedish Ballet school. By “convinced” I mean that I signed the papers and handed her them to give me the final signature to approve it. A couple of months later (after getting through multiple rounds of auditions) I got an acceptance letter from the school, making that the happiest day of my life at the time. I dedicated the upcoming eight years to ballet and dance. Every day a new opportunity to work harder than yesterday. They never accepted less than the absolute best.
In eighth grade, I made my decision. I would dedicate my entire life and career to performing as a professional dancer in a well-known company. After several auditions throughout Europe, I started at Tanz Akademie Zurich, Switzerland, in August 2016. I got accepted to one of the best dance schools in Europe. Hence, moving one step closer to my dream job. Unfortunately, this dream didn’t last long. After only two months, and an incredible amount of pain, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my lumbar spine. The director of the school sat me down and made the process short: “this injury will not heal. If you dance, you will kill yourself.” In other words, pack your things and go home.
This conversation happened on a Friday, by Monday I left the school and traveled back to my family’s home.
I never thought I would step foot in a dance studio again. Determined to not give up on my dream, I went through months of physiotherapy, doctor’s appointments, rest, tears and a whole lot of hard work and dedication. An MRI then confirmed that my back healed. I could officially go back to dancing! Yet again, I auditioned at the old school I attended prior to moving to Switzerland and got accepted. After nearly being off ballet for a year I managed to get back in shape and started dancing. The road to recovery felt like it would never end. But it finally did. I entered the dance studio stronger than ever, mentally, physically and emotionally. I managed to prove everyone who didn’t believe I could come back wrong. I spent the upcoming summer dancing at the American Ballet Theatre’s summer school.
But as the weeks in New York passed I found myself thinking about what I find important in life.
Every so often you question what happened in the last 10 years and what the next 10 years would look like. Where do I see myself in ten years? What do I really want to accomplish in life? What really is my dream job? I can’t say I knew the answers to all these questions, but I realized one thing: the career of a dancer is too limited in comparison to what I really want to accomplish in life. A higher education called me; I wanted to pursue writing and explore what the world offered outside the four walls of a dance studio. I also wanted to travel without constantly worrying about breaking in new pointe shoes and I wanted free time.
I realized that I loved ballet so much because dancing itself gave me an opportunity to push myself to the fullest to give the audience a unique experience that they will carry with them and remember for the rest of their lives. As much as I loved, and to this day miss the early mornings and late nights in the studio— you can only dance for so long. My body went through a lot over the years: a surgery, a spinal injury and broken toes. I loved, and still love, dancing. But I realized that quitting dance when I had accomplished so much didn’t mean I didn’t love it, it just meant that the sacrifices and the pain it caused me were no longer worth it.
When I tell people my story, I often get these questions: Do you miss it? Do you regret quitting? Do you wish you didn’t dance at all?
My answer? Yes to the first question and no to the others.
Dance taught me more skills than I can ever explain and I use these skills in my daily life. More than that, during times of pressure and stress: job interviews, presentations, public speaking, I remember all the lessons dance taught me. Thanks to dance, I know how to prepare for these situations, how to tackle them and in most cases, do well.
A good dancer makes the audience feel something but an even better dancer tells a story to the audience. Although I no longer pursue dance at a professional level, I love storytelling in all forms. Effective storytelling is contingent on an artful performance with major themes, supporting nuances and perfect timing. Since I quit dancing, my medium shifted from the stage to paper. As a performance artist, I learned to read crowds, adjust and tune my movements to better communicate with them. The same principles apply in the age of social media, marketing and public relations: one needs to understand the audience, adjust and tune communications for better connections and influence. If I never danced, I wouldn’t know that I want to pursue these things as a career. Don’t get me wrong, I am still deciding on my exact career, but pursuing dance brought me closer to realizing what I value in life. At some point, the blood, sweat and tears were all worth it. But they no longer served the same purpose anymore.
To the dancers I know: I admire you, I occasionally even live vicariously through you.
But, remember to take care of yourself, you only live once, with one body, mind and soul. Treat it gently. To people with similar experiences as me: you can feel lonely, confused and lost in losing your identity as a dancer, but you are not alone. The day will come where you can use the discipline that made you excel as a dancer to find new passions in life and trust me you will. To everyone else: Admire this beautiful art form, knowing what you see is the fruit of countless hours of dedication, labor and careful attention to the most minute details. Most importantly, check in on your dancer friends. We are taught to conceal our emotions with a happy face, but that doesn’t mean we’re always okay.