So, You Used To Be A Dancer?: Life Lessons from Dancing

Photo credit: Nikki Carrara

Photo credit: Nikki Carrara

“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

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53 Responses to So, You Used To Be A Dancer?: Life Lessons from Dancing

  1. viewpacific says:

    I am a dancer. I am a writer. I am that and so much more.
    With or without the external validation of pay, degrees, or fame, I am still what I am.
    Ive been learning to find joy in more and more moments. Mindfulness meditation & Thich Nhat Hahn’s teachings have done a lot to help me with that. I’ve been noticing that there’s joy, loving, and connection in dancing, writing, loving, and yes, even doing the dishes.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Yay for you viewpacific! And thank you so much for your generous comment here. I, too, love and am inspired by the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. May your path continue to be slathered with insight and joy. Xo

  2. In the Stillness of Willow Hill says:

    I love your conversation starter…..”What do you do for joy?” People become so defined by jobs, relationships, and society, that they forget who they really are….deep inside. I myself, forgot for a long time. But now I know. I am a nature lover, writer, creator. My next step in living “me” is to release my profession. Although I don’t know how the end of that story is to come, I feel confident that I’m walking the path toward freedom. Love your post!

    • SirenaTales says:

      I was thinking of you on my drive to dance rehearsal today, my friend. How lovely for the rest of us that you have claimed your own life, as your fierceness and passion for nature light up the page. Best wishes and courageous vibes to you as you navigate your next steps with your profession–rooting hard for you and your heart! Thank you so much. Xo

      • In the Stillness of Willow Hill says:

        We take these steps both together and alone. Although I must choose the specific pathways of my Truth, It means a lot to me to have the company of one who follows her heart. Oneness!

  3. F.G.M. says:

    “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?”
    What about me?
    I am a student.
    What do I study?
    Merci pour ce témoignage de PASSION – vivons ce que nous voulons être, car nous sommes ici pour apprendre… et ne pas perdre de temps! alors, vive la dance, vive la passion et vive la vie 🙂

    • SirenaTales says:

      Oh, Frederic, you make me and my heart smile. What a beacon you are: of passion and openness and generosity, as well as talent and caring and craftsmanship! If I may say so, I see how you are a student with your intense curiosity and voracious appetite for inspiration and understanding. But you are also a master :).

      My deepest gratitude for your friendship and inspiration, mon ami poetique.
      Et, bien sur! Vive la dance, vive la passion et vive la vie! Love to you

  4. chrisbkm says:

    Chloe, I’m outside piling firewood and thinking about your post. Wishing that I couldn’t relate to your message quite so well. I think my entire life has been shaped by the fact that I was born an artist… and yet. And yet. I wonder sometimes if I haven’t suffered or sacrificed enough, or is it more associated with vanity and I haven’t been acknowledged enough. Maybe I just haven’t produced enough. Yet. Not passionate enough? Apparently, “not enough” of something. I get a little better as I get older. Occasionally I mention that I am a poet. There was the public sculpture in the spring that provided a moment where I had the courage (backed by the evidence over my shoulder) to say that I am an artist, or rather “the artist”. Strange. Chloe, I am an artist and poet. Thank you. Nice to touch base with you again, it’s been awhile.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Well, my friend, your honest, poignant and ultimately triumphant comment quite takes my breath away. I would love to see a photo of your public sculpture–perhaps you posted some photos on your blog? Your musings remind me of one of my rueful laments when I am in a darker mood: “I guess I’m just not enough enough.” I do hope you find a way to tell folks about your poetry…it is stunning and potent. As is your visual art. Thank you so much for sharing your experience so eloquently and beautifully, Chris. Xo

  5. Rachael Charmley says:

    A wonderful heartfelt piece, Chloe. Others comments were very revealing – all at different stages of ‘becoming’ perhaps. It does take courage to be ourselves. I don’t believe it when people don’t agree! You have provoked some thought provoking responses, my braveheart. Lots of love and hugs – and continue to fly ❤

    • SirenaTales says:

      Rachael, Thanks so much for being here with your heartening encouragement. I totally agree with you–it takes a ton of courage to be ourselves and live openly with integrity. Yes, the many inspiring and intriguing comments have been exciting, and also a reassuring reminder that on similar paths there are many of us, and we can keep each other company :). Love to you, friend

  6. Geo Sans says:

    careers dont define people
    loving relationships do
    you are
    what you love

  7. Miranda Stone says:

    There’s so much wisdom in this post, Chloe, I don’t even know where to begin in expressing how much I love this. Our society puts so much emphasis on material gain that most of us are defined by what we do for a living, to pay the bills. I work a full-time job, but I’m also a writer. When people find that I don’t pay the bills with my writing (and most likely never will), they say, “Oh, so you write as a hobby.” What I love to do most is relegated to a pastime in their minds simply because I don’t make my income from it. I remember reading some wonderful advice a long time ago. An author told those of us who feel passion for what we write to own it–call ourselves writers. Not aspiring writers, but writers. I love the question you pose when meeting others: “What do you do for joy?” We’re all prepared to rattle off the facts about our jobs, family, and background, but what a shame that it’s shocking to be asked what brings us joy. And an even bigger shame that many can’t answer that question.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Ugh. That “so you write/dance as a hobby” is so infuriating or deflating (or both)! How many times have I churned inside after hearing that one. I actually thought of you during my convo about the young writer, dear Miranda. Sheesh-just say the woman is a writer, as the wise author you allude to encouraged writers to say of themselves!

      I am so pleased to hear that you like my inquiry about people’s joy. I finally started to do that after I tired of the litanies about jobs, family, background…and weather! My wise husband asked me what I wanted to hear/talk about and urged me to start asking my questions about joy and passion. It does break my heart when folks are sadly flummoxed.

      Most of all, thank you so much for your thoughtful, incisive and interesting presence here, and your lovely friendship. Love to you

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  9. luggagelady says:

    Wow…What a deep-seated issue you so brilliantly unravel for us to ponder. I’ve enjoyed reading ALL the thoughtful comments!

    I would have to say my primary source of joy is establishing meaningful human connections, which is why I treasure my travel opportunities so very much! I tend to find more unguarded/open souls in that environment than in everyday life, where preoccupation/schedule overload — sadly — seem to dominate. Beyond a network of close friends gathered at my dinner table sharing fabulous food, wine, and tantalizing perspectives, my desire to connect on a grander scale made writing a natural choice. And yet, for years, I did this alone, feeling guilty for taking time away from other “more important” things. Quite frankly, finding this blogging community has proven to be delightfully life-changing!! I am no longer a “closet writer,” and the connections I have found here warm the cockles of my heart!! We have so much to learn/gain from each another if only we would drop our masks/job titles/egos (whatever else we hide behind) and reveal the true essence of our souls…

    Thank you for this wonder thought-provoking post, Dearest Chloe! I cannot wait to try this out on my upcoming journey!! 💞

    • SirenaTales says:

      Your joy in cultivating human connections is both palpable and infectious, LL. It is such a gift that you share in the initial cultivation as well as the vivid, beautiful writing about the experiences that grateful folks like me get to lap up. I so agree with you about the incredible blessing of this blogging community: life-changing indeed. How many of us were guilt-ridden closet writers like you who now get to join forces with other similar souls here in WP Wonderland? LOVE. IT.

      Thank you, thank you for sharing your enormous heart and creativity here, LL. You refresh and inspire me no end. BON VOYAGE, baby!!! Love, love

  10. Beautiful. It’s so hard to find words for what I am deep inside.. especially in the day to day world, I am the gentle healer of my own heart. ❤ and the hearts of others.

  11. Sue Vincent says:

    Chloe… Sirena… ( I always think of you that way having ‘met’ you through the mermaid 🙂 ) I hope you don’t mind, but I am reblogging this. Brilliant post! xxx

  12. Sue Vincent says:

    Reblogged this on Daily Echo and commented:
    What do you do for joy?
    A lovely piece from a dancer with a passion

  13. You really nailed it here, ST (not surprisingly). Your explanation of what defines us …what brings us alive– so clearly and honestly says what we need to know about ourselves. I’m a yogi, mother, writer, wife. And I’m a dancer too! Love this so much. Thank you for this dose of wisdom on Sunday morning. xxoo

    • SirenaTales says:

      Elysha, Thank you very much for your kind words and for sharing your passion and joy here once again–something you always do loudly and clearly on your beautiful blog. Rock on, my friend. xoxo

  14. Yes! What do you do for joy? Love that question! x

  15. diahannreyes says:

    I loved this claiming that comes from knowing who you are Chloe. If only most people were lucky enough to rest in such surety. I recently attended a seminar where I left feeling a bit depressed- that it seemed unless someone else “endowed” you with the title, and usually via employment, what you are doesn’t really count as legit. Your post and wisdom has cheered me up and reminded me to stay my own course regardless. Thank you. xo

    • SirenaTales says:

      Absolutely, Diahann–stay YOUR course! With all of the body wisdom you have cultivated you are indeed blessed to be able to tell when something is true and right for you by tapping into how you FEEL. When you said if “…only most people were lucky enough to rest in such surety…” of knowing who they are, I immediately thought of you and your ability and skill of discerning such truth. Your devoted followers recognize this in you–it’s evident in all of their appreciative comments.

      Sorry to hear that seminar discouraged you. If it’s any consolation my “certainty” is so often shaken, but stepping back up to the plate is what we’ve gotta do, right? Thank you so much for being here with your many glorious gifts, my friend. Rock on!!! xoxo

  16. Lorien says:

    Reblogged this on Yoga Mom and commented:
    Because a great part of Yoga Mom has been devoted to discovering and honoring my creative self, I felt moved to share this beautiful piece about owning your passions. Whatever brings you joy, this is who you are!

  17. Lorien says:

    THANK YOU! I shared this on FaceBook and reblogged this. Such a succinct way of expressing what many many people struggle with–allowing ourselves to fully own our passions and identify more closely with them, because they are what bring us joy on the inside…and this is the only place joy can exist!

    • SirenaTales says:

      “…allowing ourselves to fully own our passions and identify more closely with them….”–beautifully put,my friend. I am more grateful and honored for your kindness than I can adequately express, Lorien. Thank, thank you. xoxo

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  19. stacilys says:

    Wonderful Chloe. Good for you, for not letting others define you. You never used to be a dancer. You A R E a dancer. I love that you’re passionate about that.

  20. Well said! I say h e double hockey sticks YES! While reading your post I could feel a large head nodding smile grow from one side to the other of my face. It is so true, and I have never loved the “what do you do” question that begins sometime in your twenties as an opener. I find myself at parties awkwardly sidestepping that question until enough time has passed that I just ask “what have you been up to?” But I do like your short and sweet “what do you do for joy opener”.
    ~thanks for the smile :0)

    • SirenaTales says:

      Thank you for visiting and leaving your kind and smiling comment, Rachelle. So pleased to hear that this resonated with you! Looking forward to checking out your lovely blog.

  21. SirenaTales says:

    Reblogged this on Sirena Tales and commented:

    Seeking to create opportunity. Looking for an opening. And yes, floundering a bit after relocating and having another window or two close…and reminding myself of the key, still, always: Do what makes you come alive….Shine on, xo

  22. Rachael Charmley says:

    As thought provoking as it was when I first read this, Chloe. Well timed for me my friend. xxxxx

  23. chiaink says:

    Such a thoughtful post and so many great comments here. Why oh why do we creatives struggle so hard to find validation when there is no paycheck involved? Sometimes I think if I would take that out of the equation I would find more joy and fulfillment in the artwork I do. Thank you for making me think about this more. xo

  24. kanzensakura says:

    Damn straight you are a dancer. Look at you up on those BARE toes, flying above the floor. And I live how you take your sword out of its silken sheath, cut through the bull and ask, what do you do for joy? Chloe, you are my hero and I read your blog for joy. Don’t ever go away. Don’t evver stop being you.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Kanzen! How lovely to see you here…and with such enthusiastic support! You warm my heart, my friend. Hadn’t thought of the sword image, but love it–thank you. Here’s hoping your own fierce self is shining, as always. xoxo

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