When I was five, my parents enrolled me in my first dance lesson.
I wasn’t nearly as flexible as the other girls nor had I been dancing straight from the womb, but I found myself falling in love with the tutus, the tap shoes, the walls of silver and gold medals, and of course, the bobby-pinned slicked back buns. While I stared in awe behind glass windows at the other girls pirouetting and chasséing effortlessly across the floor, I yearned for the attention the older, more experienced, girls received: the dozens of eyes glued on their chiseled arms and pointed toes.
Somewhere between third and fourth grade, my parents pulled me from the studio I had been dancing for. Whether it was due to the generally harsh demeanor of the studio Director or my failure to vocalize my love affair with jazz and tap, I will never quite know. But during those dance-less years, I tried everything: golf, soccer, volleyball, swim, tennis, and even chess (never again). I soon realized that I absolutely detested contact sports and had little to no stamina when it came to flapping my arms and legs in a body of water.
In the fifth grade, for the annual talent show, I was recruited by my group of friends to dance a hip-hop number. Although I had never danced hip-hop before, leaping onto that stage and shaking my hips to The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is The Love” was a moment I would never forget. (And neither would anyone else in the crowd because I finished the number off with a flamboyant knee slide and proceeded to rip a hole in my new capris… then clumsily hobble off the stage.)
After my re-introduction to dance, I craved more.
And I had to admit, people thought I was good! Not great–but good. And good happened to be good enough for me.
With middle school came a new home with new friends at a new school with an all out dance program. The dance troupe quickly became my shining beacon of accomplishment in a life of physical mediocracy. Flexed hands, flexed feet, arms up and shoulders down, pony transitions; life became one long jazzy eight count. I found discipline in practice and trust in camaraderie, something my pre-pubescent self had lacked from avoidance of team sports.
High school brought more of the same: jazz, modern, and other odd numbers staged by quirky dance directors (much to my dismay). While hip-hop had taken a turn on the back burner, my last show of my senior year was the unquestionable answer to my longing. A piece to Beyoncé’s “Who Run The World” catapulted me into the bright and bold world of hip-hop.
Though I never intended to join a dance team in college, my freshman RA jumped at the chance of introducing me to the campus hip-hop crew, Craze, unfolding the next chapter of my journey through dance.
As soon as I made the cut, Craze consumed me. Practices were scheduled for Sundays at 7pm to 9pm, and Mondays and Wednesdays from 9pm to 11pm (these times were so diligently drilled into my head); I practically lived to dance. The sheer bliss that flowed through my extremities and back up my chest was relentless. Whatever worries I had during the day were gently put to the side and replaced with two hours of sweaty, unfiltered, riveting dance. Throughout these four years, I’ve had the opportunity to dance among some of the most talented people at Bentley as well as other Boston crews at several competitions like Prelude New England and World of Dance.
I had finally become the dancer I so patiently watched behind those glass windows.
The ones that filled the stage with soul and grace. The ones with the hair and the arms and the dozens of eyes glued to them. Except this time, I was dancing to the tune of Tyga and Ty Dolla $ign, and twerking, and doing baby freezes mid-routine, and giving the crowd my best stank face.
From the moment I stepped into my first class, I knew that the dance studio was my safe haven. It’s been a home to set aside my insecurities and to give everything I’ve got without fear of judgement. I don’t know who I would have become had I not joined Craze in college, but I’m glad I took someone’s advice to try out. I now look back on photos of five-year-old Karen and smile, knowing that I’ve been dancing my way through life ever since.