I'll turn 40 this year, an age beyond which I never imagined dancing. It's got me thinking a lot about where I started, and what's kept me at it up to this point. I've already retired from one company, the New York City Ballet. At the time, I had no intention of dancing again, and I was happy with my decision—content with the roles I'd performed and at peace with those I hadn't. (There's always a living room for the ones you missed.)
Not long afterward, however, I was strongly feeling the absence of some of the things the life of a dancer provides: Gone was the beautiful music that filled every room I walked into. I wasn't surrounded by my best friends all day and night. And I became uncomfortably aware of being tethered to earth—why wasn't anyone picking me up and throwing me around?! I've never been particularly fond of "working out," but I was surprised to find myself missing the sheer physicality of dancing. I missed the challenge of showing up at the studio, every day, attempting to perfect something virtually impossible to perfect, and the fulfillment of sharing that struggle with kindred spirits.
I now find myself dancing in a much smaller company, L.A. Dance Project. There are only 12 of us rather than 100, and our dancers come from all different schools of training. We perform many different styles, some of which I'm well trained for, others of which I've never been trained for at all. It's a completely different experience, yet fulfilling in many of the exact same ways. Some days I feel like a total novice, which can be frustrating, but it satisfies my urge to continue learning new things.
Coming back to the stage has opened my eyes to everything that dance gives me, and what I crave from it most. Dance provides an outlet for personal expression. I most enjoy when I am allowed this freedom through response and connection to music. And a dance company is a source of great camaraderie. I'd much rather be onstage with another person than alone. There is no better feeling than being part of a group of individuals hurtling together toward something so challenging in pursuit of a higher place, briefly attainable, if we are willing to push ourselves far enough.
I know I have far less time to dance ahead of me than behind, and I wonder if I've given enough, and gotten enough, from being a dancer this second time around before I can retire…again. There is always more to discover, not just about technique or music, but about yourself and those who dance alongside you. Another reason to love it, another reason to keep at it while I still can.