Saturday, September 27, 2008


Growing up I didn't dance. This was not because I didn't like to dance. It was because I was shy and had been told by a more assertive cousin that I was without rhythm. I rarely danced in public until I went away to college. During my freshman year I took a modern dance class to fulfill my P.E. requirement. In that class I discovered that not only could I dance, but I was fairly good at it. Over the next four years I developed a dancer's body and a dancer's sensibilities. I continued to perform with a small regional company after graduation and even took classes during graduate school.

There were problems from the start. I had been a very thin and extremely sickly teenager, and my physical problems continued throughout my twenties and thirties. In my late twenties I had to stop dancing altogether because I just didn't have the stamina for it anymore. Meanwhile I married a man who couldn't dance and didn't like to embarrass himself, so even my social dancing days ended.

Over the years I had surgery to correct my chronic health problem. I developed a thyroid problem that caused me to gain and lose weight capriciously; I adopted a child and changed careers several times. The career changes necessitated my going back to graduate school twice. All this led me to where I am now. Looking at me you see an overweight middle aged slightly frumpy Black woman. No one would ever believe that I used to be a dancer.

I remember reading years ago about a therapist in New York who specialized in helping dancers get over the trauma of ending their careers. I remember thinking how silly that was. Life goes on. People who use their bodies must realize that they can't go on forever. I didn't think about dancing again except in passing.

But this afternoon in a moment of idleness I engaged in a very dangerous pastime. I googled a long lost friend. Therese was a dancer with me in college. She had had an interesting life even then. She was in her mid twenties and I was 19 when we met. Like me, Therese came to dance without a lot of prior training. But she was really good. She was also strikingly beautiful with pale skin and masses of curly red hair. When I typed her name into the Google search box, she came up immediately. I clicked on the link and there she was. She is still dancing. In the pictures she looked as if her body had barely aged. There were beautiful shots of her soaring through the air. She does aerial work now. She looked strong and graceful and completely at home in her body. As I looked at the pictures and read about Therese's life, I found myself overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and loss. I remember what it felt like to be able to move that way. I remember being able to rise off the floor and fly across a room. Sometimes, when I dream, I still can.

These days I take Zumba classes. I follow along with the class leaders and ignore the fat lady in the mirror. I spend a lot of time on treadmills and elliptical machines. I fight against my endocrine problems trying to hold the line against morbid obesity. Most of the time I'm okay with this, but sometimes I'm hit by just how much I miss that other version of myself -- the one who was light and strong and graceful; the one who could fly.