Finding Closure As Time Runs Out

Maddie Burns, Editor

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I find it interesting that when you start something new, you don’t typically think about the impact it may have on you — what seemed so little, so unimportant, can easily become such a big part of your life. That’s something I’ve been thinking about constantly as I get ready to graduate. 

And I know I’m not alone with this thought. Many of us seniors are not only finishing high school, but are also wrapping up other important parts of our lives whether that be a sport, hobby, job, or something else we are passionate about. As someone who doesn’t like change and prefers to have a routine set in place, I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed knowing a piece of my life is quickly coming to an end. 

I have spent the last 15 years of my life in a dance studio, taking classes, trying to master basic technique and skills, and rehearsing for upcoming performances. 

I first stepped foot in a dance studio at the Sellwood Community House in 2008, wearing the most obnoxious, pink, sparkly tutu you can imagine. I fell in love with ballet instantly. Later that year, I took my first ballet class at Classical Ballet Academy (CBA), and the studio has since become my home. 

By the end of elementary school, dance was everything. It was all I talked about, all I did. It made up my entire personality, but it made me happy. At one point some of my dance friends and I were trying to convince our parents to let us do online school so that we could focus solely on dance. 

But in middle school, dance started to become an almost unhealthy obsession. I was spending upwards of 20 hours a week in the studio. I would be rehearsing for upcoming ballets and contemporary performances while also preparing for competitions where I would perform solos, group dances, and take classes from highly regarded dancers. 

One thing I began to struggle with during those years was my body image. In the dance world, the terms “ballet body” or “dancer’s body” gets thrown around often — the archy feet, long legs that are all muscle, hyperextended knees, the small waist and flat chest, the long neck and arms. It’s safe to say that I don’t fit that criteria; in fact, only a small number of people really do. 

As I got older, my body skewed further and further from this “ballet body” stereotype that everyone, including myself, desired. I would go stand at the barre, ready to take class, but would get distracted by looking at myself in the mirror, pointing out all the things that were wrong with me. It’s easy to do when you spend so much time in a room of full length mirrors, wearing clothes that hug your body. 

I would ask myself, was I skinny enough? 

Were my shoulders too big? 

Were my legs too wide? 

Why was my chest bigger than the other girls? 

It didn’t seem fair. 

I’ve had dance teachers and costume designers tell me that my ribcage was too big or that my chest was bigger than the other girls, so they would need to alter my costume to make it fit. Some of them made the shape of my body feel like a burden. I know that there was no malicious intent in these instances, but words can hurt. As a young girl, all I wanted was to fit in, but this was an environment where having a specific body type can be a requirement or expectation. The comments that have been made to me over the years about my body still haunt me. 

I used to count my calories. I downloaded an app that would track how much I ate each day, how much I exercised, and how much water I drank. It was an obsession. How could I lose weight before my yearly checkup at the doctor’s office? How could I look as skinny as the other girls? What snacks had the least calories? Looking back, I can’t believe I did that; I was only 12 years old. 

Through all of my body image issues, I still had a passion for dance. Eighth grade and freshman year were probably my peak. By then, I had made it to the highest level at my dance studio and felt like I was being recognized by my teachers for my hard work. For most of my life, I had been a younger dancer, someone who idolized the older dancers, but then I became an older dancer. It was extremely gratifying. 

Then COVID-19 hit, and my love for dance just vanished. I was going through a lot with my parents getting divorced and my mental health being poor due to the lockdown. Instead of being able to confide in my friends at dance about what I was dealing with at home, I was trapped. Dance was supposed to be my escape but now I had no place to go.

I would take dance classes in my room on Zoom, getting corrections from my dance teacher through the screen, which was a lot less rewarding than being in person. I think that the pandemic made me realize that I not only loved all the different styles of dance I was learning, but also that I just enjoyed being in the studio. 

Being stuck taking class in my bedroom, there was no friendly competition — something that I realized is what motivated me to work hard. 

I couldn’t be inspired by my peers.

I couldn’t whisper on the side of the room with my friends during water breaks.

I couldn’t make jokes with my dance teacher.

At one point I remember joining the Zoom meeting, turning off my camera, and laying on my bedroom floor, watching “Grey’s Anatomy” until the dance class ended. I had practically lost all motivation. 

When junior year rolled around, we were officially back in person and although this helped me regain some of my passion for dance, it wasn’t the same. I was still in a bad place and felt like I had fallen behind. Everyone seemed to have improved a lot more than me during the pandemic, and I felt discouraged, maybe even depressed. I didn’t have that same drive and perseverance I once had.

I don’t really think it was until this year, my senior year, that my love for dance really came back — maybe the second half of junior year if I’m being generous. I had worked hard over the summer and had improved, but also learned my place in my level and was able to accept it. I realized I wasn’t the best dancer in the room, and that was okay. 

Instead of focusing on being the best in the room, I started focusing on doing what was best for me. In a way, I think I rediscovered the art form and was beginning to see it through a new lens. I had more confidence in myself, which was quite a refreshing feeling.

Although it’s improved, I still struggle with my body image all the time. I wish that that type of thing would just disappear, but I still find myself staring at my stomach in the mirror, wishing it was flatter or that my thighs were smaller.

It’s interesting that through all of these struggles — and there have been quite a few — I am still sad to say goodbye. 

There were nights I would come home after a class or rehearsal and have a breakdown because of exhaustion. My dad would always tell me I was doing too much, that I needed to limit my amount of time at the studio, but I never really listened. I think it was moments like this that I proved to myself that I still loved to dance. I had the chance to quit so many times, but I never did. 

Through all the adversity I’ve faced, I’ve learned so much. I was an extremely shy kid growing up, but dance has taught me to put myself out there and take risks. I have gained confidence in myself and my ability to persevere through difficulty. I have learned how to stand up for myself when someone isn’t treating me fairly. I’ve learned how to work with others to create something.

I hope that whatever my future looks like, that I’ll be able to keep these lessons with me and apply them to the new challenges I face. 

I have no doubt that I’ll take dance classes when I’m in college, but knowing it will never be the same is an intrusive thought that won’t leave my mind.

Many of us have spent countless hours playing a sport or trying to perfect a hobby, and now that we’re graduating, it’s time to leave that part of our lives behind and move onto something new. At least for me, the idea of not doing something that I have spent so much of my life doing is almost unsettling. 

I’m going to miss the thrill of waiting for the casting emails to come out each year, hoping I got a part I wanted. I’m going to miss being someone that the younger dancers look up to. I’m going to miss the tiring show weeks where we are all exhausted, but at least we are together. I’m going to miss messing around with my friends and getting yelled at for talking too much.

Knowing that I’ll never dance with the people I’ve grown up with my entire life is making it so much harder to say goodbye.

The evening of May 18 marks the beginning of my final show week with CBA, and I’m filled with a range of emotions. Although I’m sad that this vital part of my childhood is ending, I’m so grateful I got to be a part of something so amazing, and I will cherish the memories I made in that dance studio forever.