By Cece Cody
The heat of the fireplace tickled my fingers and the cool hardwood below my feet sent a shiver down my spine. I struck my best pose and counted to eight before my dad pulled back the record player’s needle and the guitar strums of “We” by Neil Diamond filled our living room. “Five-six-seven-eight!” Looking up, I realized I was no longer a six-year-old in her living room, but a thirteen-year-old, standing at the barre for the first warm-up of class. My stomach dropped, the spark of joy was gone. All I thought about now was sucking in my stomach, pointing my toes, standing up straight, and perfectly completing the sequence.
It started slowly, this dimming of my love for dance. As each demi detourné became more about individual success and impressing domineering instructors, the less myself I felt. Every step walking from school to the studio felt heavier. The shiny trophies that crowded a shelf alongside my bed lost their sparkle. Then, I fractured my foot. Despite my strained relationship with dance, I was heartbroken. Most of my friends were from the studio and my dance shoes were worn as much as my sneakers, it had become a home. However, as time passed, so did these feelings. I found myself breathing sighs of relief when I didn’t have to squeeze into tights and leotard daily and adored my newfound spare time. Yet this bliss didn’t last. Soon, life’s monotony returned, only my evenings were spent in bed rather than the studio. I realized I craved nothing more than the rush of jetés across the floor. I had to dance again.
Knowing I wanted to return to the barre but wary of old perfectionistic dynamics, I began looking for a different studio. I found The Pretenders Studio, where the mission statement highlighted merging passion for art with service to the community. I was intrigued and signed up for classes, not realizing the life-changing decision I had made.
The first time I arrived, I noticed a palpable difference in the air. Teachers felt approachable, encouraging freedom and self-acceptance. My dancing blossomed with renewed joy and—after a year of classes—my teacher invited me into the company. The training and performing schedule of this small group of dancers was intense…more like the group I’d been in previously. “Will accepting this invitation hurt my love of dance again?” Yet any nerves were quickly quelled. Unlike before, the goal would be to work with organizations to use dance as a balm for the world around us. Instead of encouraging competition and personal success, there was community and cooperation. From making a music video fundraising for wildfire relief, to creating instructional dance videos for hospitalized children during COVID-19, I grew beyond the focused world of life-on-pointe, to one of meaningful contribution to society. One experience that left a particularly powerful impact on me was a day delivering Meals on Wheels.
“You’re a dancer?!” the elderly woman said, as her eyes lit with joy and recognition. She’d been surprised to see me, as I was not her normal delivery person. Yet when I explained that I was working with my dance company, she couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. “Do you have a moment?” she asked, inviting me in. As I placed her hot chicken meal down, she approached with a photo album. She was perhaps a few years older than I when performing around the world as a dancer in a famous New York company. I was amazed by the beauty and grace in the images. As she spoke, she mentioned how she’d retired when the pressure became too much for her physical and mental health. Her words brought me back to experiences at the old studio. “My eyes once sparkled with the same passion I see in you,” she said. “No matter what, never let anything kill the flame flowing through your blood.” We took a picture together and I left with a deeper gratitude for the mission I’d found at Pretenders.
As the warmth of the stage lights trickles into the wings, I feel the chill wood beneath my pointe shoes. I count to eight until the piano chords begin, cueing me to leap from the wings onto stage. I may as well be six-years-old, twirling in my living room. Reviving my passion for dance was a journey, but one I wouldn’t change. Now, as I dance through life, it’s with a newfound purpose: to lift those around me with each and every step.