As I mentioned before, I started dancing around my junior year of college. I was that kid with lots of energy and flailing arms. I probably did more than my share of arm yanking. I recently heard someone describe toddlers as all will power and no skill. I was definitely a toddler at dancing. I had no money for classes and danced as time permitted, but I was still a casual enthusiast. Then, everything changed.
I finished my undergraduate degree in December of 2000, and spent the next eight months teaching private music lessons, learning how to drive, and getting myself ready for grad school at the University of Pittsburgh. I moved to Pittsburgh in August of 2001, got settled in, and immediately looked for a place to dance. I found instant friends who took me into their little group, maybe because they could see that they weren’t going to get rid of this wild arm yanker, so they might as well train him. I had friends, a new life, school was great. I was on top of my game.
Then, one Tuesday morning, everything stopped. I was in classes when the first world trade center tower was struck. Fifteen minutes later when the second tower was struck, they sent us home. So I went back to my new apartment. No friends, no family, no support. In many ways, my life collapsed around me that day, and I felt my own isolation. I became depressed. If I didn’t have somewhere to be, I was online, the one thread of connection to my world. I constantly checked the internet for news, a habit that I still have to some degree.
Things got worse from there. The graduate program I was in was a bad fit. I didn’t want to be the type of composer they wanted me to be. I tried to connect with some local churches, but felt like an outsider, too old for the college groups and too young for the adult groups. So I went dancing. By the end of my time in Pittsburgh, I was dancing at least four nights a week.
I don’t think the friends that I made in Pittsburgh will ever truly know the impact that they had on my life. Dancing was the one place where I connected with people, where I felt alive and passionate, and where people were helping me find my feet again. I can easily see a life where I had totally collapsed into a full on breakdown. Instead, I grew as a person, lost some of the brash righteousness of my youth, and grew in my empathy for people. I found a home, a family, and a salve for wounds that I couldn’t name.
Lately in the dance community, I’ve seen a lot of arguments. We have differing view points on what kind of music to dance to, what shoes to wear, the roles of leads and follows. Like any community, we’re never all going to completely agree with each other. And that’s a good thing because the diversity of views and the dialogue that can come from that when approached with kindness and respect makes us stronger. But there’s something bigger about dancing beyond all of these arguments and disagreements. Its the people themselves. They walk through the doors with all that they are, good and bad, with their strengths and their weaknesses. If we welcome them in, we might just save a life. Or they might just save ours.