I started dancing when I was very young, just barely walking. I never stopped dancing all together, but I stopped dancing in public. I was still quite active in the kitchen with an arabesque when I put away the dishes or, I might throw in a rock-step-triple-step while folding laundry. At home in your underwear is easy, dancing in public as an adult is difficult.
Most dance studios are structured around girls in grade school. Their parents pay for weekly classes, performances in an annual recital, and maybe travel for competition when they are older. The prevalence of this business type is a consequence of the economics of running a creative business, a topic I intend to explore more in the future. Regardless of the justification for this model, taking classes at such a studio is an awkward fit for a 30 something childless adult.
Most social dance scenes are more appropriate for adults, but they are perhaps… too adult? At any given social dance event, at least 30% of the attendees are there under the assumption that social dancing can be speed dating. This leads to a huge amount of attention for the youngest women, and a gossipy atmosphere. I was already too old for that when I quit 7 years ago, I’m definitely too old for dance drama now.
Another 30% of the attendees at each social dance event are competitive. These dancers pay for lessons, costumes, and travel to conventions where they are judged and awarded. A captive clientele of these dancers provides a consistent cash flow to subsidize events and classes for the greater community. Unfortuntely, competitive dance can also encourage gate-keeping and arrogance among the subset of dancers who participate. Nothing makes me want to return to an event less than having someone turn me down for a social dance because I’m not wearing glittery character shoes.
Of course that’s the common link, dance studios and social dance scenes both sustain themselves by constantly up-selling; extra classes, special workshops, specific shoes, expensive costumes, more of everything… except dance.
Last year, I set out to dance in public again, with the goal of making dance as an adult easier and more sustainable. My main strategy has been a combination of creatively seeking out new venues and resisting the known trappings that make dance difficult (up-selling, drama, injury). Underpinning both efforts has been a surprising level of introspection.
For example, maybe I see a listing for a free yoga class nearby. Does yoga count as dance? Does yoga count as dance for me? I’m uncertain. I have been a dancer my entire life without knowing the words that form the answer to this question, what is dance? This is immensely surprising to me, and a bit disappointing.
What about athleticism? I am not as strong or as flexible as when I was younger. What does it mean to improve my dancing without measurable accomplishments like leaping higher, reaching farther, stepping faster, or kicking my legs above my head? Here is another revelation, if I want something from dance that is not physical then how can I be sure when I’ve found what I’m looking for?
I never thought that signing up for a dance class a year ago would lead me to question my entire identity. I’ll be spending the next year reading more than dancing, just trying to figure myself out again.