How An ADHD Diagnosis Propelled My Confidence in Dance
To me, dancing is an opportunity to exist in an alternate reality. With my imagination moving galaxies per minute, there's no telling what I will do, when or how—and that's my escape from this world.
It's common for my mind to drift off and borrow ideas from a character in a Disney movie while performing with Wynton Marsalis, or to be thinking about how algorithms work while performing with Mariah Carey on "Good Morning America."
I started performing at age 3. My mother was my first teacher and I was quite the handful. She gave me private lessons at our house and then I would join the rest of the kids at the Sunshine Dance Co. in Queens. But the information I received in classes was no match for my imagination.
No matter how difficult it was, the material was often too simple, so I would take what I learned and apply it to all the things that a 3-year-old wonders about. If you can imagine a boy doing choreography while simultaneously bouncing a red ball to see how much movement he could get out before it hit the ceiling and fell back to the floor, that was me.
Photo by Matthew Murphy for Dance Teacher
If you can imagine a young boy tap dancing in the way he thinks some dinosaurs would have, that was me. If you can imagine a young boy doing choreography to the different patterns of star constellations, that was me.
Doctors said this kind of behavior was called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. That was a buzzkill. My parents declined medications and provided probably the best remedy ever—good parenting. They dealt me a steady diet of everything under the sun: dance classes, drum lessons, choir practice, science club, karate, baseball practice, basketball practice. I didn't stop.
The idea was that if I had all this energy, then my parents were going to use it up while simultaneously feeding the versatility of my imagination. It worked. I went from the kid everyone picked on to the kid who knew how to do everything. It made my confidence in dance defiantly unstoppable.
That drive to conquer things both in and outside of dance is one of my favorite things. It provides the many colors for what I do and keeps my ideas fresh. Dance is my escape from this world to one where there are no rules, no disorders, no judgments and no explanations.
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.