Career Advice

Why I Dance: Melissa Toogood

The reasons why I dance constantly shift and change. Sometimes gradually, sometimes all of a sudden. Sometimes the same reasons are all there, but their value changes from one day to the next. 

Toogood in Pam Tanowitz‘s Heaven on One’s Head. Photo by Ian Douglas.

Dance is an art form that isn’t fixed. If no one is doing it, it doesn’t exist. Performances are sometimes memorable and sometimes forgotten. Each day is an opportunity to begin again, to reinvent yourself, to confront yourself. You’re never really done. Sometimes it’s hard, it hurts and I don’t feel like doing it anymore. But then I go to class anyway, and, so far, I’m always glad that I did.

As a child I loved to draw, make collages and build things. I played sports and was really good at math. I don’t ever remember not dancing. By the time I was a tween, I was staunchly protective of it. Dance wasn’t just what I did, it became who I was. Looking back now, it makes sense that dance was how I felt I could enter the world. I now draw with my limbs, my spine and my focus. But in dance I can redraw it, color and shade it differently each day. My love of sport stems from a passion for physical rigor and a deep competition with myself that I don’t necessarily want to have with others. My mathematical, problem-solving brain is fully expressed through space, energy, rhythm and navigating relationships with other bodies.

Both as a shy child and an anxious adult, movement has calmed me, centered me, excited me and brought my walls down. My whole life, dancing has been an honest exchange of humanity that has comforted me. I love the repetition of it, like a meditation. And to dance with someone is to really see them and to really let them see you. Live performance is deeply intimate. To be out there is exposing and therefore terrifying and thrilling. 

“Dancer” is not the way I describe myself anymore. I’m a person who dances. It’s become less about perfection and more of a chance to play with who I am and what the audience thinks I am in each moment. It remains an excavation, a discovery, but I think—I hope—my dancing has become more layered and complicated. And more about sharing an experience.

Through the rigor of dance, I’ve realized something deeply human about myself: I’m both fallible and triumphant. Each day I’m confronted with my mortality but rejuvenated by my body’s resilience. Dancing allows me to feel deeply, and gives me the courage to share my strength and vulnerability. 

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