I have been a dancer all my life. I used to think it was dance alone that defined my existence and controlled my emotions, but now that I have gotten older and no longer dance every day, I see that I was wrong. Being able to move my body and to control the softness, sharpness, pace, and precision of each movement has given me ownership of my complicated emotions throughout my life. Going through my formative years without my gift and love of dance would have shaped me into an entirely different person. Dance was my discipline, my passion, my responsibility, my integrity, my empathy, my perfectionism, my obsession, my flexibility, my control, and, above all, my existence. Now that I am unable to move as fluidly as I once was, I feel a bit lost. When I think of dance, I think of love; but until recently, I never realized that my love for dance was enhanced by another art form that stole my heart long ago: music.
I have a memory I think of often. It was a Saturday and I was at my dance studio rehearsing a contemporary ballet piece. Saturdays were often the longest days of the week for me. After a week of going to school, doing homework, and having three hours or more of dance classes each night, Saturday would come and we would work for six hours or more rehearsing for an upcoming performance. To some, this may sound brutal. To us, it was heaven. I would give anything to have those Saturdays back.
This particular Saturday, as I mentioned, we were rehearsing a contemporary ballet piece. My dance teacher, Heather, selected a romantic Josh Groban song for us and explained her vision. She wanted the movement to match the beauty of the music. Although all of us felt we were working extremely hard, our teacher was not satisfied. In fact, she was clearly upset at our blatant disrespect for the music. She expressed how she had felt the first time she heard this piece of music. She emphasized that we clearly were not listening to it because the movement we portrayed lacked integrity. At first, we were unsure of how to take this news; after all, we had been working hard all day. How could she tell us we weren't really listening? We had heard the song a million times in rehearsals!
Heather had us run the piece from the top again and again, but we were leaving her dissatisfied every time. No amount of lecturing was changing how we were moving across the floor. Finally, Heather stopped us. She told us we needed to take a break to really hear the music we were dancing to. She turned off all the lights in the studio and told us to lie down with our eyes closed. We did as we were told and that was the first time I truly heard the piece of music.
The music moved from the tips of my toes up through my beating heart. I felt tingles everywhere. I heard the melodic layers in the background and realized this was the first time I was really listening to the beauty of the music. The next time we ran the piece, I felt completely different and so my body moved differently, too. From then on, every time I heard that particular piece of music, I was reminded of the moment during a typical Saturday dance rehearsal that music spoke to me.
I have always had a special relationship with music. My style is eclectic (it ranges from The Beatles to Wicked to Justin Timberlake and Adele) and I like to think I have pretty good taste. However, what I love about music is how it makes me feel about life. Music has a specific quality where, like dance, it can take you away from your life for a while. How many times have you put on a Pandora radio station and completely forgotten what you were working on? Music can take you away and remind you of where you have been. It affects your mood, your demeanor, and the choices you make on a daily basis. On a rainy day, I may choose John Mayer or Coldplay as I'm driving down the street. If it's bright and sunny, I'll be listening to surf tunes from The Beach Boys or the uplifting songs of Jack Johnson. Music defines me. I always thought of myself as a dancer, but what is a dancer without music as inspiration?
I love being able to feel so many emotions as I listen to music. I am reminded of who I was, where I've gone, and who I am starting to become. I am reminded of the choices I have made, of mistakes I have tried desperately to fix, and of relationships that simply needed to end. Music makes me sad, happy, excited, ecstatic, somber, brave, and independent. Music makes me make sense.