Life: The Ever-Changing Dance
by Alena Gerst
One of the reasons we love dance, watching it, doing it, thinking and talking about it, is because it is one of the purest expressions of our bodies and souls across time.
When we are babies and little kids, we naturally move to music without even thinking about it. I am raising my children in the city so we walk almost everywhere. I will never forget one day when my daughter, about a year old and newly walking, was toddling along the sidewalk in our neighborhood. A car drove past us with a loud thumping base. My daughter stopped in her tracks, listened for a second, and then immediately started bouncing to the rhythm. I had to laugh. I was feeling slightly annoyed with the loud volume of the music. But what I saw as an irritation, for her, was an opportunity. She got it right.
When we start taking dance lessons as children, the hope is to learn more techniques and ways to move our bodies. We want to absorb others’ choreographic creations, and ideally, develop strength, stamina, and a repertoire to eventually create our own.
As we age, our bodies change, our needs change, and thus our dances do too. At one particular time in college, I was feeling especially lost and confused about life. On a whim, I put on my dance clothes late at night and went by the studio on campus. My gamble worked out; I found an employee who was willing to unlock the studio door for me. Writing in my journal and talking with friends was important. But on that day, what I needed more than anything was a space to dance. I put on some music and danced until, finally, I felt like I had “said” all I needed to say. Until at last I could clear my head, lie down and sleep.
As a professional, I don’t think I was ever such an effective and passionate dancer as I was when I was teaching dance to young dancers. Breaking down the steps, the techniques, demonstrating myself, and observing others’ interpretations of my choreography was the privilege of a lifetime. The challenge to choreograph for a variety of abilities and bodies felt like a spiritual and creative pursuit unlike any other. To take the time to live with specific music, to pair body movements with sound, to tell a more complete story, will always be among life’s greatest gifts to me.
As a young couple, my husband and I loved taking dance lessons so we could learn how to move together. As a parent, dancing with my children, is one of my greatest joys. And even more joyous than that, I love watching them dance, in the studio, on a stage, in our living room.
Dance For Yourself
If you are a young person reading this, dance for yourself. And then, if and when you feel ready, let people see you dance. Make an effort to show those who will appreciate your self expression. Surround yourself with love and support as you learn and develop your abilities. As you mature, your dance, and choreography if you choose, will become stronger. If you keep at it, your spirit will strengthen too, as you begin to ready yourself to not only accept accolades and applause with humility and grace, but to withstand critique as well.
Eventually, your strength as a dancer gives way to nuance. Vigor becomes colored by experience and wisdom. In the performing world, we call it “seasoning.” Some dancers lament growing older, as the body requires more time and attention to warming up. You begin to accumulate injuries, and you learn about yourself and your body with each recovery. Inevitably, you will find you can do less physically than you once could.
But take heart. As you become a seasoned dancer, your body will tell a different sort of story. It will be a tale that most everyone can relate to. Life changes for all of us. So your dance will change too. The most important thing to remember through the years is that you can always find joy, expression, and even healing through dance. As an observer, you will appreciate the beauty of dance even more. As a dancer, you will continue to express yourself with your body, just as you always have.
There is a time and a place to dance en pointe, to hoof, to fouette, to round-off-back-hand-spring into splits. There is also a time to slow it down, and just live in the music. Just as there is a time to run onto stage and give the choreography all you’ve got, there is a time to let the music move your body naturally and intuitively, or to be emotionally and profoundly moved as a member of the audience.
Just think, when you were a baby, learning to move your body set you free. You are a dancer. We all are. What will you do with that freedom?