The last few weeks (and months) have been filled with rehearsals and musical dilemmas as we prepared for the Lina Monti School of Dance 20th anniversary show. I have been dancing with this school for the last 20 years (plus another 9 years before that, when it was Hazel Grove Academy of Dance); I have been in countless shows and showcases and the stage – like the dance studio – feels like my second home. In spite of my largely introverted nature, I have always loved performing.
Stepping out on that stage – butterflies and all – is an incredible experience. A few beats in and there’s nothing but you, the music and your dancing family around you. Ordinarily, I only feel nervous in the few moments in the wings before we start to dance. But this time was different.
For the first time in nearly three decades of dancing, I was nervous almost from the first few classes when we started the choreography.
One of the things I really love about the school and the girls I dance with is that it never matters what size or shape or ability you are: we’re all dancers and that’s the only thing that matters. That has been incredibly empowering. I’ve never had a ‘typical’ dancer’s physique but it has never mattered. In the run up to this show, though, I found myself feeling extremely body conscious. I am the same size and shape as I have been for years but I felt heavy and everything felt harder. I found myself with more aches and pains after every class. And it made me nervous. I worried about what I would look like on stage. I worried that I was too old to still be doing this. I worried that I would let my dancing families down because I could no longer perform to the standard I was used to.
Considering how much worrying I had done in the run up to the show, on opening night I felt surprisingly calm. I had managed to shake off most of my nerves and reservations and had resolved to just focus on the most important thing: I love to dance. It had to just be about that. I managed to wait backstage without even my usual plague of butterflies.
Our first number was a contemporary pointe dance and one of the more physically challenging. Ballet and pointe work has always been my favourite so I was determined to enjoy it and I did. It wasn’t perfect. Far from it. But it was ballet with my girls and imperfection didn’t matter. In fact, there was a moment when we came off stage from that dance that sealed that fact for me.
As we walked back into the wings the baby tappers were waiting to go on stage. An adorable little chain of eager two and three year olds queued up in their tiny tap shoes and tutus, they were being led on stage as we made our way off. I paused in the wings to let them pass and give them an encouraging smile and, as I grinned and gave them the thumbs up, one little girl strayed out of her line and wandered over to me – completely oblivious to the fact that the rest of her group were nearly on stage. I bet down to turn her around and guide her back to the line and she looked up at me with huge eyes and whispered to me: “You were all beautiful!” She looked at my sparkly dress and my well worn pointe shoes, she watched me dance my way through something I loved but found increasingly hard and she didn’t see a single one of the imperfections that had worried me. She saw beauty.
I could have cried.
I remember being that little girl. I remember watching the ‘big girls’ from the wings and just thinking they were the most amazing, most beautiful people I had ever seen. I remember wanting nothing more than to grow up to be them. I know now that they were not – could not have been – perfect. But to my three year old self they were. My nearly three decades as a dancer started watching those girls. When that little dot whispered her awe to me in the wings, I realised that my three-year-old self would think I am awesome and that that was more than enough. In fact, that was everything.
Next time you doubt yourself in something you love, remember why you love it. Remember why you do it in the first place. Remember that perfection is unattainable but passion will get you far.