Last night I returned to my first love, Dance. I dusted off my old tap shoes and enrolled in a class at Stajez Cultural Arts Center. In spite of having chronic pain, I continue to choose to dance through the pain. Dance always has been an escape from self-doubt, sadness, anger, and anxiety. I believe in the value of creative expression, and it's ability to heal the mind body and soul.
My Dance Journey.
When I was a toddler, Solid Gold was one of my favorite television shows. Every Saturday night I would sit in front of my black and white television set just to watch Solid Gold lead dancer Darcel Wynne dance and practically leap off the screen. (I know I'm old) To this day, I distinctly remember pointing to the screen and saying to my mother “I want to do that!” Two weeks later I was enrolled in my first dance class.
Although my body was held hostage by the constant pain of sickle cell, my spirit wasn’t. I found refuge in the art of dance. My very first dance class was held at Mary Anne’s School of Dance in Boston MA. Every week my mother would take the number 15 bus to Fields Corner. A quick walk down the hill from the train station and up the stairs to the studio I was ready and willing to dance my heart out. I will never forget Mary Ann... “SHUFFLE STEP! HEEL-TOE! SHUFFLE STEP!” She yelled as she violently tapped on the floor. All of this while sitting and smoking cigarettes. After class, I would nag my mother to take me to the bakery downstairs for a glazed donut.
In 1988 I attended classes at Uptown Dance Center in Dudley. The instructor was Leta Tavares. Those who were close to her would affectionately call her Lovie. I fell in love with her for two reasons. She was an African American Woman that reminded me of Darcel Wynne. I found her spirit to be vibrant and contagious.The second reason was she was a real dancer. I have seen her work on several TV advertisements in the late 80’s. Every Time one of the commercials would come on the screen, I would run and point her out. I was ecstatic to be around a black dancer. That was such a big deal in the 1980’s. It would be another twenty-five years for Misty Copeland to be the first African-American woman named principal dancer the world-renowned American Ballet Theatre.
In 1989, my mother took me to class to find the studio closed due to a fire. I was devastated. It took us a while to for us to track Lovie down. By the fall of 1990, I was back at Uptown Dance Center. This time Lovie was pregnant. My admiration and respect for her grew even more. This woman taught her students while in her third trimester. I have a vivid memory of her teaching and showing the class how to do backbends. Her 9-month pregnant belly protruded high in the air as she walked on her hands and feet simultaneously.
Every Saturday, I would plié and relevé at the bar. During class I considered myself to be normal. However, reality set in when the pain hit my body like a full speed Mack truck.. Dance offered me something the hospital and doctors could not. Dance gave me a sense of accomplishment, a realization that I could be as good at something. I would often daydream about what it would be like if I did not have sickle cell. I saw myself dancing at Alvin Ailey and possibly taking Broadway by storm. With my illness, I found it impossible to even make the Uptown Dance Center’s Company. I was always an understudy. During each class, I would learn every part and wished one of the girls would trip or get sick so that I could have a chance. I never did. Later on, I realized it was because Lovie was always worried about me. There were days that I would beg my mother to let me attend dance class right after I was discharged from the hospital. That made my mother and Lovie completely nervous. However, they both realized dance offered me something the hospital could n’t, a sense of accomplishment, a realization that I could be as good or better at something I loved just like a “normal” person.
Dance was more than an escape from reality. It became the foundation for my self- image. I was more than “the sick girl." Although there were times that I would dance through the pain, Although my dance dreams weren't fully realized, dance is a significant part of my life. My vice was a therapeutic component that helped heal my soul.