I mentioned in a previous post that dancers are also actors, and after reading Chapter 11 of Understanding Creativity by Dr. Jane Piirto, it all clicked for me.
Like music, dance has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents have a videotape of me when I was about 5, performing at my first dance recital. Many five-year-olds cry at their first performance, or pee onstage, or run away. I did none of the above. After the dance had finished, and the applause had died down, I stepped forward and starting raising both my hands up in a “More, more!” gesture to egg on the audience. The applause started again. People were laughing hysterically at the tiny girl who wasn’t scared of the crowd, but on the contrary couldn’t stop basking in all the attention. My parents were equal parts amused, proud, and mortified.
I was hooked. Never since that performance have I stopped loving the stage.
Of course, as Piirto points out in Understanding Creativity, a stage doesn’t have to literally be a stage. It can be a school classroom. It can be the dance floor at a wedding. It can be anytime in daily life that you get to entertain others.
For instance, this is me at my first middle school dance.
I’d hopped up on the stage in the middle of the gym and started hip-hopping to “Pop, Lock and Drop It” (the classic middle school dance song, obviously, for all 90’s kids). I was a really shy kid in sixth grade, often made fun of for being in advanced classes and having boobs before it was decided that boobs were cool. I spent a lot of lunch periods by myself in the school library. According to Piirto, though, a lot of performers like Meryl Streep had similar experiences as the shy outsider.
But when “Pop, Lock and Drop It,” came on at the dance, I couldn’t stop myself from climbing up and shaking it for everyone to see, and it was like that time I was five again: I’d done something unexpected, and the crowd was eating it up.
No one had known before that point that I could dance, and suddenly it was my identity. It gave me a platform (literally and figuratively) for me to express myself. Most shockingly, it was accepted. Dance made me cool. Which, as you know, was the Number One Priority For A Middle Schooler. Today, dance continues to be a part of my identity. Dance is like acting, because by the basic definition of acting according to Piirto, one self pretends it is another self. At the 6th-grade dance, I’d pretended I was someone confident, spontaneous, fun, and pretty enough to be able to just jump on a stage and start going at it. And just by pretending I was that person, I became that person!
The drawback, which Piirto also touches on, of playing a role: sometimes performing as another person was emotionally draining. When I was a cheerleader, for example, I played the part of an overly hyped, peppy, permanently-smiling superhuman with the ability to do backflips while still smiling even after seeing an ex-boyfriend in the crowd with another girl. But no one was there to watch the cheerleading captain have a jealousy meltdown, so I continued playing the role. Another drawback Piirto mentions that goes hand-in-hand with this, is the insecurity and fear of showing weakness that comes along with being a dancer or athlete.
Reading Piirto’s wisdom about dancers brought me comfort: Dancers are shown to be resilient. They bring joy to others. They are adaptable perfectionists, words that ring true for me, told by dance teachers that, “Good dancers adapt.” They experience flow. Whenever I perform, anywhere really, I forget where I am and who I am, just that I am.
Lastly, Piirto brings up a point I never realized until I read it: Being in the crowd can be just as energizing as performing. This is why I love going to dance performances and watching Broadway shows (most recently, I just saw Beauty and the Beast in St. Louis last Saturday, and “Be Our Guest” was so fantastic). So even though my opportunities to actually perform are limited, I can still enjoy the communal experience of watching others perform.