There is nothing more relieving to the spirit than when you hear the words "Me too".
"Me too" means that you are not alone, that you are not crazy for your pain. "Me too" offers space for your body to finally exhale, providing a nugget of hope for healing. "Me too" is the light in the dark, the gentle hand that offers support, reminding you that it is okay.
"Me too" is is a bandaid for your heart.
Having someone who understands your experience allows you to fully process your pain without shame, guilt or high levels of confusion. It makes your experience not feel so isolating. It helps you to feel normal.
The first time I shared my story with a dancer regarding the real reason I had to leave the dance world, becoming honest about the pain that I was processing, I was relieved when he gently took my hand and said "Me too."
My heart ached and feelings of devastating loss, hurt, and betrayal consumed me but in that moment he gave me hope.
"So I am not alone? I am not the only person who has experienced the pain of the dance world turning its back on you? I am not the only one who has been forced to look at the dance world from a different lens, seeing its beauty as well as it's imperfections? I am not alone in my quest to find authentic relationships in the dance world?"
You too have been hurt?
I could finally feel the space in my heart, that held my pain, begin to ease. At that moment I could feel myself dropping into a new space, a shared space. A space that offered the opportunity for healing.
The truth is I lived my entire adult life cultivating my identity as a successful dance studio owner. I worked tirelessly to build a reputation that would place us in the dance world as one of the top studio's in the Nation. I was featured in dance magazines and vacationed with the convention scenes most popular teachers and choreographers. My dancers were so well trained. Everyone wanted to work with them and their success was my personal success. I was living the high life.
But all of that changed when I was forced to leave the dance studio world. It was a very complicated departure and one that I can honestly say I would never have made on my own accord. After 17 years, the studio itself was pretty much a well-oiled machine and I was excited to evolve the space and explore the possibilities of what it could become. I was excited about the positive changes that could be made and I was finally excited to authentically step into a bigger role.
I wanted the studio to become more than a dance studio and I wanted to be more than just a dance teacher. I wanted to have a deeper purpose in my life. I wanted to inspire others in a much deeper way. I wanted to explore my own purpose because surely I was not put on this earth just to teach kids how to win trophies!
I was ready to evolve.
I was ready to live my life in a much bigger way!
I wanted my days to be filled with Passion and Purpose and Love!
I soon found that the more I stepped into my power, the more others tried to keep me small. It soon became apparent that the space that I was trying to evolve in was not going to support my growth.
"Make sure everybody in your boat is rowing and not drilling holes when you're not looking."
I didn't realize at the time the extreme effort that was being taken to prohibit me from growing. I had no idea how much manipulation was occurring behind my back, all being done with the intention to bring me to my breaking point. I was being forced to quit and I fought like hell for two years to stand my ground. The determination to stay strong and ride it out became my daily focus and I used every coaching tool in the book to maintain my spirit and sanity.
I fought like hell but eventually my spirit said "Enough!"
The day that changed my life as I knew it was not a planned event. I woke up that morning just like every other morning, writing in my gratitude journal, praying for strength, praying for understanding...praying for relief.
This day was particularly hard as the afternoon was spent dealing with resistance that had hit an all time level of insanity, but I could make it. I can do four hours. I can do it.
About 15 minutes into class, it was like my spirit literally plucked me from my reality and forced me to follow my heart and soul. It forced me to chose myself and my own worth over everything else. I could not thrive in a space that was not supportive. I could not thrive surrounded by others who did not value me and see my worth.
As I danced in the studio space for the last time, I was filled with a sense of relief.
I was finally free to be myself.
I went home cloaked in a blanket of shock.
"What the f*ck did I just do?"
I felt like I just simultaneously saved and destroyed myself.
In fact, that was precisely what I did.
My friends brought over chocolate cake and wine. I oddly felt like celebrating and grieving in a single toast. From my non-dance friends, I heard "good for you" or "it's about time."
From my dance friends I heard the sound of crickets chirping in the night. It was the closest thing to absolutely silence.
My entire life was the dance world; I have spent years cultivating what I thought were authentic relationships. I genuinely cared for so many of these people and it hurt like hell to realize that I was just an opportunity for work. I was only valued because of what I offered, not because of who I was.
That was a tough pill to swallow.
I also found myself in an identity crisis.
"Who was I now? Who am I without dance?"
The entire experience shook me to my core. Everything felt like such a lie. I realized that in a world that I so deeply and authentically loved was not in fact a reality. I whole-heartedly gave others my best foot forward, always cheering and wanting the best for others; It was not really ever reciprocated. I felt so dumb and naive. The more I sat with my personal pain, the more I realized how many of my dance relationships thrived off of me being a mere stepping stone.
"Keep your friends close but your enemies closer" was a practice that many people in my dance life practiced. I fell victim to it over and over again. I was oblivious to it all.
The uncovering of truths has been difficult but I can see the depths of the dance world that need healing.
Dance studio owners don't trust other dance studio owners.
Teachers don't trust parents.
Dance parents don't trust teachers.
Studio Owners don't trust that their students aren't going to leave and go to the studio down the street or that their teacher isn't going to leave to open up another studio.
I share a bit of my own journey for a few reasons.
One, I realize that I am still healing. The process of sharing my story provides an opportunity to offer peace to others. As a teacher, you teach what you are learning and the story will reach those that need it.
I am acutely aware of the amount of healing that I have accomplished and can see the areas that still need work. Some people and topics are still a trigger for me. Healing is a process and takes time. Lot's of time.
I can honestly say that there is still a part of me who seeks validation from those who I once was "friends" with. I still hold a love/hate relationship with the competition world and struggle with the idea that anyone can have an authentic and supportive relationship, especially amongst dance studio owners.
Secondly, it is important to shed some light on a subject that most dancers experience but rarely talk about. Most dancers eventually come to a point in their life where they need to realign their relationship with dance. There are so many unhealthy situations that dancers find themselves in. There are so many scenarios where their self-worth is compromised. This could come from dancing under the direction of misogynist directors, dancing for free, being asked from "master" teachers to work for free, constantly needing to prove talent, feeling the pressures to maintain a certain body type or align with a certain company/teacher for public validation. Many dancers also discover that their circle of friends are constantly offering backhanded compliments all in an effort to control your potential ( I have personally experienced this my entire dance career.)
Lastly, I share my story to offer a "me too" to others who have been hurt by the dance community. There are many students who fear leaving their studio because they will become an "outcast." They fear that their once loving dance family will turn their back on them (which is a highly likely scenario). I share it for those who struggle with how they are being treated. I have spoken to countless dancers who have been under a director that slowly chips away at their self-esteem and confidence. I know what it feels like to be your own personal cheerleader, digging deep to find your personal strength, but the spirit can only be abused for so long before your cloak begins to crumble. It may just pluck you from your situation just like it did me years ago...whispering "enough."
Dance is a spiritual act. It is always more than just steps. It is an avenue to self-discovery and the language of the human spirit.
The dance world is not perfect and the culture of dance may be lacking in authenticity and support, but this is not the nature of dance. We have control of how we shape our environment.
Dance is meant to unite, not divide.
The Spirit of Dance will always lead you back home.
All my Love,