I can still remember sitting at the kitchen table at my old house. Little four-year old me barely even able to see my parents over the top of the table. I remember saying the words out loud, “Mom, I want to dance.”

Now this should not come as a surprise, obviously. Every little girl is enrolled in a ballet class of some sort, whether they watched Angelina Ballerina and decided they want to do the same, or their parents think it would be adorable and sign them up without consent. But eventually, many little girls grow out of the dance phase and move on to school sports. When I said those words, though, I knew–even with my tiny, barely developed four-year old brain–that dance was going to become an important part of my life. I was right.

I first started dancing at Kay’s Academy of Dance. One of my first dances was a tap dance to “Oh Susanna,” which included shiny shoes, a little yellow tutu, and some horrible bright red lipstick that made me look like a Grandma. I personally took dance very seriously, even at a young age. Even when everyone around me took it like just another recreational activity that wouldn’t matter in two years. I practiced every day, and at recitals I could look directly into the audience and smile because knew what I was doing.

When my family moved to our current house, I had to find a new studio (I was still young, so my mom was in charge of this part). I was signed up for classes at 5,6,7,8 Dance Studio, where I danced from age seven until 8th grade. I went through a lot at that studio, and made some wonderful friends that I danced with for all those years. By the end of my time at that studio, I was in the advanced levels and in the traveling dance company. Yet, I still wanted more. I desperately wanted a challenge, and I craved REAL training in dance, not just recreational. So as hard as it was for me to say goodbye to that studio, and those friends, and that teacher, I left 5,6,7,8.

And it was the best thing to ever happen to me.

I had heard of MainStage Academy of Dance from people at my school, but I didn’t know a lot about it. There were rumors that the director of the studio hit you with his cane if you did something wrong. I guess that was a risk I was willing to take. My mom took me to MainStage to audition and see what level I could be placed in. As soon as I walked in and saw the class in matching black leotards and pink tights, all in perfect synchronization at the barre, I knew that this was the place I belonged. I knew that this studio would give me the challenge I desired. I also knew I was going to have to work really freaking hard to get to where I wanted to be.

I was placed into intermediate level 1, where I basically had to start over the technical part of my training in dance. I was trained in Vagonova ballet, pointe, hip hop, and some Modern and Character styles. Through the years, my director, Mr. Eddy (who, by the way, does NOT beat his students with a cane), worked with me to become the best dancer I could be. I dedicated my life to dance. I lived dance. I slept dance. I breathed dance. And I loved it more than anything in the world. And as much as I would have loved to continue with dance as a professional career, I just knew deep in my heart that I was meant to do other things with my life. I realized in college I would continue with dance in SOME way, simply because it is one of my biggest passions–however, I knew it would never be the same. So when the summer before college rolled around, I painfully grasped the idea that I was on my last stretch of training with Mr. Eddy and dancing with my MainStage family. And it broke my heart. Leaving dance behind was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I am currently a sophomore at UW-La Crosse. I love my school, and the people that I’ve become close with. I love taking classes and I’m excited to continue to pursue my Therapeutic Recreation undergrad on the Pre-Occupational Therapy track. However, I still miss dance every day of my life. I go to the studio in one of the recreation buildings by myself sometimes, or drag one of my friends with me and make them try to do a barre. I dance around my room, and around my kitchen when I am home. But as I realized before I left, it is not the same. Nowhere near the same, actually.

The worst part of it all, I think, is forgetting and losing what I had. Forgetting how to do a move, or a dance that I used to do all the time. Losing flexibility, losing strength in certain muscles, losing some dance vocabulary. It’s quite frustrating. But I understand that it’s because I cannot afford to do it every day anymore.

This coming semester, I will be teaching a beginner’s ballet fitness class at the rec center on campus. It is only once a week, but it will give me the opportunity to dance with REAL, LIVING, BREATHING PEOPLE AGAIN. Which I could not be more excited for. Just being in an environment with other people who WANT to dance will mean everything to me.

I have goals of some day combining my passion for dance, and my passion for working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and starting a dance class for people with disabilities. I also have thought about starting a class for people who are recovering from severe addiction, giving them an outlet for expression and creativity.

Even though I do not dance as much as I used to, or as much as I would like to, I will always consider myself a dancer. Because it is not just something I love to do, but it is a part of me. Mr. Eddy did not, by any means, ONLY teach me to become a better dancer. Under his training, and through the experiences I had at MainStage, I became a better person. I learned to accept constructive criticism, and to properly give it. I learned to fix my mistakes and frustration with a smile. I learned to take things seriously that need to be taken seriously, but laugh and joke around when the time was right. I learned to be self-disciplined and dedicated, and to challenge myself and take risks. I learned to be a leader. I learned that in ANY situation, I am my biggest competition, and now I always work to do better than I did the last time. I take these qualities through everything I do in life, and remember that dance helped shape me into the person I am today. And I could not be more thankful for that.

So thank you, Mom, for listening to your four-year old daughter, who probably just got done eating play dough or operating on her stuffed animals, and taking her request to dance seriously. Thank you Kay’s Academy and 5,6,7,8 for giving me my first dance experiences, and showing me what I really wanted. Thank you to my MainStage family for everything we went through together. Thank you Mr. Eddy for believing in me, and helping me to achieve so much more than I thought I ever would.

And that being said, I will continue to dance around my living room. I will go to the studio and dance for hours by myself. I will do barres on random fences in parks and leaps down empty halls in buildings and pique turns down empty aisles in grocery stores. I will dance anywhere, and everywhere, for as long as I am physically able to. And when I am 94 and my sight is gone and my bones are brittle, I will turn on music from the Nutcracker, and Paquita, and Coppelia, and Giselle and I will smile to myself as I remember one of the most important parts of my life.

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