58: I Have It

58: I Have It

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

I Have It

Dancing is like dreaming with your feet!

~Constanze

My sister had a small painted music box when she was little. It was white, with blue swirls along its edges and pink flowers in the middle. Inside the box, where no one could see, was a tiny dancer, one arm above her head pointing towards Heaven, the other resting on her white tulle tutu. I used to peek inside, opening the box just a crack to see if she danced while no one was looking.

At age ten, after years of begging, my parents signed me up for ballet class. The ballet studio was on the first floor of a historic two-story bank building on the main street of Fishers, Indiana. My classmates and I changed clothes in the old bank vault, hiding in the shadows of the foot-thick green metal door, propping our dance bags on the tilted, rusting safe. I wore black ballet shoes and a hot pink leotard that said “Ready, Set, Go!” on the front. It was not exactly a professional ballerina’s attire, but I felt just as beautiful as the music box dancer.

Most professional ballerinas begin dancing at the age of three. By the age of ten, many are already doing triple turns and are wearing their first set of pointe shoes. I got nauseous attempting one turn and my splits were more like the width of a cartwheel (which I couldn’t do either). But I loved the way the piano boomed from the record player, filling the small studio and my body with a beat. If I couldn’t embody the music in my moves, at least I felt it, as if I too expanded to fill that wooden room.

We danced as the cars splashed by in the rain, as the snow pelted down, as the sun set behind the butcher shop across the street. After class, my best friend Cathy and I would wait on the sidewalk for our parents to pick us up. As the cars flew past unnoticing, we danced with the light poles as our partners, doing turning jumps down the sidewalk in the lamplight. I spun through junior high and high school.

After graduation I moved to New York City and stopped dancing. Well, I never stopped completely; I danced every night in my tiny apartment. The galley kitchen was long enough for an arabesque, the living room was wide enough for turns, the boxy white walls thick enough to hold my music just like my sister’s white music box. I was the lone dancer inside.

I was intimidated to take dance classes in the big city, where there were bound to be professional dancers in class. I remembered stories I’d heard of New York classes: “In New York City classes, dancers will run right over you if you’re in their way” and “Teachers in New York don’t slow down to teach combinations, either you learn quickly or you leave.” I didn’t stand a chance. That’s what I told myself, but nightly, in my dreams, I was dancing. Sometimes you pursue a dream; sometimes it pursues you.

When the planes crashed that September, less than a year after I moved to New York City, I rethought my policies on everything and wrote a “Things to Change” list. I had to dance. If the classes were hard, then they were hard. If the people were mean, then they were mean. I would go anyway, I would dance. I had to try, to dare to do in life what I did so easily in dreams.

I was nervous stepping into my first New York class, but when the music began to play I got that old feeling back — the studio was where I belonged. Much to my relief, the rumors were wrong about New York City classes — the dancers didn’t run me over or look down on me; they were actually friendly. They were right about the teaching method though — the combinations were taught quickly and I struggled to remember the steps. I’d left my dance body back in the Midwest — my New York body was shaky, but mostly unsure — of my ability, my appearance, my strength.

I spent months feeling pathetic until I decided that after each class I would think of ten things that went right. My tendency was to think of everything that went wrong, in dance, in life, but I determined if I could think of ten good things, well, ten is a big number when you’re used to thinking of zero. If I could come up with ten good things, then it proved that it was a good class. On the subway, I’d number them — be they minute or huge; I could always come up with ten.

But still I wasn’t free — I was in the back of the room, fixing my eyes on everyone else, relying on them. I never felt confident enough to enjoy the classes the way I did when I was little, dancing in hot pink, not caring who noticed. That is, until one hot New York summer night. I was taking a class in a thunderstorm. The studio was not air-conditioned, so we threw the unscreened windows open and let the stormy air flow in. The combination was long and I, as always, was unsure of myself. We danced three at a time, me trying to hide my 5’8” average-build body behind the skinny, petite dancers in the front. I focused on them, the way their doll heads tilted, the direction their trained feet were taking. I barely heard the music; I was just trying to follow their movement. After we danced, the next group went on, and I went to the back corner of the room. I was annoyed at myself for having fat thighs and frizzy hair and never remembering the combination. My dance teacher walked to the back of the room where I was panting. She gave me the best advice of my life, saying, “You have it. You just have to believe that you have it.” This took me aback. I have it? Me? Could it be true? As I listed the good things that happened that day, the first was, “I have it.”

Since that class, I’ve tried to believe her words. I pried my eyes off the other dancers and instead looked inside. Most of life is spent trying. But sometimes I’ve had moments in class where I forget that there are other dancers, where my breath matches the beat so that when I’m done I believe “I have it.”

I may never be a professional dancer, not even in the chorus, but I will no longer be a dancer in my dreams only. Nor will I confine myself to dancing in the tiny white box of my apartment. Now I believe that “I have it.”

~Kerri A. Davidson

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