“I can tell you used to be a dancer,” the well-meaning, sixtyish woman confided to me as we left the dance fitness class. “I could see by the way you moved in class that you used to dance.” Say, WHAT?!#? Whaddya mean, “used to,” was all I could think as I sputtered back to the dressing room.
Since I knew she had good intentions, I patiently (and I hope kindly) replied that I am still a dancer. I am a dancer. That I am dancing now in my 50s more than ever before.
Although her ageist assumption irked me, her comment got me back to thinking about that deeper question: what it means to be a dancer. Or a writer or an artist. Or anything.
It reminded me of a casual conversation I had at a social gathering recently when the person I had just met was explaining that her 20-something friend “always loved to write and writes whenever she can and would like to be a writer.” My response was, “Oh, you mean she’s a writer.” Yes.
And how many times has someone told me, upon learning that I am a dancer, that she or he loves dance and used to be a dancer? And “loves to dance for fun” or “loved taking dance classes for years” or “dances every chance I get” or “always dreamed of being a professional dancer?” And even, “danced professionally for years” but had to move on? My response, not surprisingly, “Oh, you mean, you are a dancer?” (I think it is particularly difficult for artists, starting with moi, who feel as if they are only as legitimate as their last painting sold/story published/performance produced/critical acclaim/ability to support themselves financially….)
You see, in my “book,” what brings you alive is what defines you. Your job title and your resumé and the car you drive? To me, unless they are evidence of your passion and soul, those ephemera are mere bric-a-brac.
What my passion for dancing has taught me is that we need to keep re-focusing on the source of our aliveness. Including how we think about ourselves. So, even when I was working as an attorney, the truth, my truth, is that I was a dancer. Thank God, my amazing husband kept directing my attention to that until I finally let go of what I thought I was supposed to be and started following my heart.
So, when I go to parties, I generally ask what people do for joy. (Yep. That’s often good for many seconds of stunned silence or fabricated excuses for leaving my side:)). Although a number of people flounder, and even reply sadly that they don’t do much for fun or they don’t know what joy would look like, many folks seem relieved and yes, enlivened by talking about what is meaningful to them. No surprise there.
I know, I know, there is always the laundry and the to do list and the job that need to be dealt with. But at the end of the day, at the end of our days, what really matters is… what really matters, to us. And so, while I am many things, one thing I do know is this: I am a dancer. And what about you?
“Ask [yourself] what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”~~Howard Thurman