Vassar is fortunate to have so many talented and dedicated student-athletes on campus. This year, The Miscellany News would like to highlight their stories. Although dance is not officially recognized as a varsity sport, this week’s special edition “Why we play” features Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre, with the stories of senior dancers Hannah Worby and Jade Direnfeld.
I quit when I was 16. Middle of high school, overworked, hormone driven, just starting to taste independence and tired.
Ballet was losing its grip on me—it kept me from home until 10 p.m. each night and left me lethargic and insecure. I’d sprawl across my bed with my notebooks and dinner, finally getting to my hours of homework. It was all I could do to suppress the nagging thoughts: “Knees straighter. Leg higher. Lift from underneath! No, try again. Knees straighter. Straighter.”
I started snapping at my parents. All the time. Then feigning sickness, injury, cramps, anything to get out of going to dance that day.
Lost on me were the costs my parents were bearing to support my growing up in the dance world. The costs of class enrollment, company membership, attire and pointe shoes. The costs of driving 45 minutes each way for pick-up and drop-off, of hauling to the County Center for all-day tech and dress rehearsals. The costs of watching their daughter grow into a body she’s been told doesn’t move well enough, must be sucked in, stretched out, strengthened, worked on. Costs my parents bore so that I might fight through something they thought I still loved.
I quit with the intention of finding my way back. I planned to take some open classes throughout the rest of high school, keep myself moving until I could fully commit in college.
But in those first few months after quitting, I admitted to myself that I needed to put a full stop to dance and take a breath. And I had never felt so much freedom. Freedom from the time commitment, but mostly freedom from damaging hours spent in front of a mirror, grinding toward a perfection that would never be.
I didn’t miss dance for a while.
Two years later, as a high school senior, I peered into Kenyon Studio with my parents. We ran into Steve Rooks, a Professor and Chair of Dance at Vassar, power-walking up the hallway toward the dance office. As he introduced himself to us, ushered us into the studio and chatted with my parents, I walked further into the space.
I pictured myself: Finally out of high school and finding my way through college, dressed in the easy casual dancewear of layers and rips and pit stains and socks, moving across the floor, framed by the high windows and wall-mounted barres. In this picture, I was a year older, dripping with sweat and beaming. Absolutely radiating joy. I felt the corners of my mouth twinge.
It took until second semester to timidly enroll in dance classes and until sophomore year to audition for Vassar Repertory Dance Theater. Throwing myself back into the grueling company life was electrifying. Each day, I was reminded of all the reasons I danced when I was a child, before perfectionism and company politics got in the way. I had a matured gratitude for the vigor and freedom that comes with melting your body into the music, grounded yet weightless, individual yet seamless with those sharing the beat.
There’s a certain quality about committed dancers. Certain spatial awareness, kinesthetic awareness and rhythmic awareness that are products of an athletic art form. Dance straddles the performative discipline, with details of the movement, music and staging that create art to be engaged with and absorbed, and the bodily discipline, with technical details of musculature, strength and conditioning, and endurance that make the art so powerful.
Dance is cerebral. Intensely physical. Inventive. Hard, hard work. And, when the music starts, freeing.
I had to walk away for a few years to find a more powerful reason to dance than simple continuity since preschool.
Coming back into the studio after time away, getting back on stage, I dance with a deeper, more profound understanding of what it does for me. Now, looking in the mirror, working through the choreography, I find ways to love what my body can do, to appreciate what it can’t and to be captivated by the energy pulsating within.
My body hurts, my homework beckons and the walk from the THs to Kenyon is unappealing at best. But these are the minute costs I bear to do what I love, what helps me to love myself.
Senior year is not slowing down, yet the time I spend in the studios seems to invert the clocks if only temporarily.
Time doesn’t pass by us in those sweaty studios—rather, we find new and beautiful ways to carve time up, throw it, push it, slice through it and slide under it. To embody the music and silence as they unfold, to be hands on a clock that turn in all directions.
Dance is time made physical. I am grateful to my body for its timekeeping.