The title “dancer”

I remember the first time I was called a dancer. My first year taking ballet as a teenager, my first teacher, Sherrie Siebert, told all of us in the class we were dancers.

Only I didn’t feel like it.

I was surprised to be called dancer by my modern dance teacher at the University of Alabama, Edie Barnes, when I went into her officer to inform her I was going to have to drop her class because I cracked my ribs.

I caught me out of the blue. I felt like I just stumbled around in her class.

And I have a lot of respect for her. She took a mediocre dance program that was modern dance-oriented, and turned it into one of the most respected ballet-led programs in the country.

I remember being in class one day a couple of years ago when Mr. O asked the class full of company kids what a dancer looked like. He then pointed to me … and said “that’s what a dancer looks like.”

And it meant a lot.

It wasn’t that I was the most graceful, talented, or athletic. But I outworked everyone in class.

I think sometimes we think the title dancer is a title you “earn” by dancing at a high level with a respected company.

But it dawned on me on the way to class today that being a dancer is more about our approach, and how we think of ourselves when we dance.

I was asked by a neighbor as I carried my dance bag out to the car if I was going to the gym.

The answer was no. I was going to the studio.

I wasn’t going to exercise, although I did indeed get a very good workout.

I was going to practice my art.

No, I’m not Baryshnikov, Carlos Acosta, Ethan Stiefel or Jonathan Cope.

I’m too old and not talented enough to ever reach their heights.

But I go to class to practice, to work hard, to try to create something beautiful when I do get my time on the stage. And, of course, there are times in class when I feel as if I’m dancing for God’s pleasure, even on the many days that I stumble.

I know I can give Him a good laugh.

I credit my current teachers, Mr. and Mrs. O, Susan K. and other teachers at the ballet school for pushing to the point where I do feel like a dancer.

The last couple of weeks, we’ve done more dancing than we’ve done all summer. And even though I still struggle with turns, I realize more and more I’m doing steps now that it takes years to perfect.

“Don’t think it, dance it,” were the words Mr. O told us today when he gave us a pretty complicated combination.

Amazingly enough, I was able to do that, and did it as well as some of my company dancing peers.

I’ve realized today how truly I’m blessed.

I’m blessed to have teachers who truly take me serious as a dancer. When I thought today about whether to dare about signing up to audition for the company, I’ve realized I’ve danced more roles and participated in more ballets than any other “Open Division” student since the O’s arrived.

And while I’ve sort of bemoaned the lack of fellow adult dancers, and the lack of other male dancers this summer, a conversation today with some of the company kids in class about various teachers at the school reminded me how truly wonderful those kids are and how I’m blessed to dance with them.

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6 responses to “The title “dancer”

  • The Dancing Rider

    I understand. so much, your “bemoaning” as you refer to it. I had the same in skating. But also the kids – and I see they’ve lifted you.

    Loved this entry. I like why you dance, and I’m happy for what you’ve achieved thus far!

  • RO

    Lovely entry, very inspiring! I recognize a lot of myself in your story. I don’t often feel like a dancer and if people ask me if ‘I’m a dancer’ I answer no, because like you said I feel like I don’t deserve that title because I’m not a pro or someone who did a dance related education. But your entry shows that everybody who loves the art and practices it with all his/her heart can call him/herself a dancer!

  • The Traveling Dancer

    The title of dancer is something I struggle with everyday. “Oh are you a dancer?” “Hm sorta, kinda, not good enough yet” is how conversations usually play out. Thank you for writing about this because I feel like there are usually two parties – the ones who take on the title dancer right away and those like myself who won’t take it till they’ve been accepted into a higher level, until they dance comfortably en pointe, or whatever other bench mark they or society has created. Maybe there’s a third camp, the better camp, where you call yourself dancer because you push yourself, believe in yourself, and work harder than you thought possible. I don’t think I’m quite there yet but I think that is a much more attainable goal. 🙂

  • asher

    Reblogged this on my beautiful machine / danseur ignoble and commented:
    One more today.

    I think I’ve written about this in the past — and I know that at what point we get to call ourselves dancers is a frequent topic of conversation in the Adult Ballet World.

    I think JustScott really sums it up beautifully, here — and we can all use a reminder from time to time.

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