When you return to a piece of choreography after a while, whether rehearsing for another performance or simply reminiscing with old company friends, it’s a kind of performer time-travel. The muscle memory is potent. You are pulled back to the stage with the emotions and knowledge and language you had then; you feel the heat of the downstage light. In the present you are connected to the past and your body lies in between, understanding both what you did then and who you are now. I think this snapshot encapsulates why I dance: I’m responding; feeling this fluid body gleefully rebound off of scattered invitations to perform, curate, choreograph. The body holds a time machine, and that experience of travel makes life sweeter.
I respond through my belly. It was there I felt a twinge and knew I should move to New York, knew I should enter my first dance studio, and knew I should perform onstage. It was what convinced me to pursue anything in the first place—the mixture of terror and delight, a weightless moment. It’s the belly that tells you you’re in your lane. Years of churchgoing had taught me the inescapable power of call and response, and how it’s important to voice your recognition. Words must form on your lips and air must push out of your chest to make a sound. There is nothing but movement in call and response, just a matter of degrees. So, I could only—when I think on it—respond with my body when I was invited to dance. This was revelatory and scary, because for years I was troubled by the incongruity of wanting to be an artist but having less than I wanted be available to me as a disabled person, as someone aged 20 just starting out, as someone new. Up until this point, I had strung together swaths of the full picture, enjoying glimpses of nearness to the stage, or a development process, or any variety of artistry.
I must say here that I always knew I could dance, not professional combinations per se, but I knew how to be boundless in my movement if only at house parties. Now, after an invited audition, a choreographer was asking me to join her company. Because dance was so audacious, so out there, I had to do it. On one level, I had no reference and therefore little reason to fear. On another level, I had always known how to be free, leaping in and passionately immersed, so there was a deep reference somewhere that would be my guide to successfully be a dancer. For the first years it was pure osmosis, merely absorbing the environment on the job. And then it became love, as I extended my authentic self across the whole environment. I saw myself in a line where thousands of performers precede me and thousands run after, but I’m taking this point in the timeline of dancers, lending my gifts to our ecosystem. It leaves me breathless to think that every opportunity I have is because I responded to one invitation. Dancing is the physical sign of the ways I say yes to art every day. And see how sweet it was to go back in time? Response is magic.
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