The other day, as we were going to bed, my husband turned to me and said, “I miss dance. I miss dance so much it hurts.”
Good thing I was laying down, for otherwise I would have fallen over. You miss dance? Since when? I’ve been wondering if he felt this way, but I really never thought he’d speak it aloud.
I have been in a state of mourning over the loss of dance in my life for over a year now. I don’t write about it (at least not here) but I will tell you that there is a lingering melancholy to my days as I wrestle with my new self-definition. I tried sharing these feelings of loss with my husband when we first retired, but my comments were always dismissed, as if it was nothing more than ranting from someone with an overly romantic nature.
I’d say, “I feel as if a vital organ has been removed from my body, like I have this huge hole inside. I’m incomplete. I can’t stand it. Don’t you miss dance?”
My husband would say, “If I never saw another dance step as long as I live, I’d be fine. Dance is just a habit, you simply need to develop new habits.”
Sometimes I’d say, “I miss dance physically. I feel as if my body is asleep, as if it craves movement. I need to stretch to feel alive. I need to feel that abandon that comes with moving naturally. I miss the sensation of dancing. Don’t you?”
He’d respond with, “Dance hurts too much. (And even though he is younger than I, with his arthritic joints, dance does cause him much more pain than it does me). If I never dance again, I’ll be only too happy.”
So, I stopped sharing my feelings about the loss of dance, because frankly, his responses made me sad. We are usually on the same page about things, but in this case, it was clear that our experience regarding this life change was very different. In fact, he made me feel stupid for the way I felt, as if I was weak. Obviously I am having difficulties moving on from the art, but the fact is, I’m clearly too old to stay in it without embarrassing myself. Besides which, what has dance been really except a livelihood for the past many years? In reality, I left dance when I left New York, at least dance in its pure form.
My thesis is a book about dance. It’s a story about a woman in her 40’s who happens to be purists regarding her art. A dance snob, so to speak. She never married, had kids or saved money, because she was obsessed with her art and her career. She gave herself wholly to the art of dance, working for years in concert work, Broadway etc.. And one day, she realizes that dance has left her. It is fickle that way, an art that relies on youth. So she retires. Everyone thinks all retired dancers move on to teaching, but that isn’t the case. For many, teaching is considered a compromise, (those that can’t – teach) and this is the case with my character. My book is about how she adapts and comes to terms with her loss. She goes through the seven stages of grief, anger, despair, denial, etc… and finally comes to acceptance. The book begins with her bitter and angry at the art because after all her devotion, she realizes she is a middle aged, unaccomplished, ex-dancer now, with nothing to show for a lifetime of work. And she hates dance for it – as if it is a lover that betrayed her – left her for a younger woman. She has no relationship, no money, no future, no skills, just like a woman divorced who never had to take care of herself before. What was it all for? But through a series of non-professional experiences in a corny neighborhood dance studio, she begins to see dance through different eyes – she is reminded of what drew her to it in the beginning. And her purist attitude, her art snobbery, fades as she rediscovers the beauty of dance. She still must leave dance behind, but it is with love and respect that she does so. And she learns that dance does not define a person, but enhances them. She realizes there is time to live fully, to explore different elements of life beyond art, even though it is scary and she feels inadequate and out of sync with the world. This is all sort of a generalization of the book, but that’s it in a nutshell.
Mark read the beginning and said, “I hate that you are writing this story.” It was sort an outpouring of all my mourning, and that disturbed him. I guess the book is my way of dealing with the big change. My personal dance therapy – a place to air my grievances regarding the art. It is the “what if” scenario. “What if” I never left New York at 30 to open a dance school? I was a purist – I could have been this character. “What if” I never did the “practical thing” and left the professional field, I wouldn’t have gotten married, had children, made money, ever gotten that formal education that helped me understand politics, religion and how the world works, etc. Projecting forward, I am writing my “what if” story – me on the road not taken (thank God). As such, this story is real to me. This character is real to me. It’s my alter ego – me in a parallel universe. Me, unevolved.
I have often thought I should have chosen a different story to work on during this MFA experience, because at the very time I am wrestling with leaving dance, I am writing about it everyday, which is difficult, but my teachers like this book and think it has merit, so I’ve kept at it. But let me tell you, it’s been painful.
Anyway, while I am sorting through all my inner turmoil, Mark hasn’t displayed any remorse about leaving dance. He has been rather celebratory of it. Until now.
We have a dance studio/workout room built in our house. I was very excited about getting it complete, because I longed for the space to “find” myself again. The day they put up the wall-to-wall mirrors, I was giddy. Mark acted funny.
He said, “What were we thinking putting this in our home? It exactly like the studio, and it gives me the heebie geebies. I guess I have bad associations to the entire dance thing. I’m sorry I build it now.”
This comment disturbed me for days. I couldn’t stand that he has negative associations to dance, because, while I agree that it was time for us to begin a new chapter of our lives, I have beautiful memories of our past. In the end, we were frustrated, but that doesn’t discount 18 years of good FLEX memories. We had great friends, wonderful times, exciting moments. We learned a lot, grew as individuals, made a difference in the lives of many. Everything we have today can be attributed to those years of creative hard work. Certainly, we can, and should, remember our past with reverence. We should live with gratitude for all dance gave us – personally and monetarily.
When we sold FLEX, I wanted to take every picture off the walls and bring it with me. Mark insisted that the artwork went with the business. “Besides which, what would you do with them?” He said. “It’s not like we are going to hang pictures of dancers all around our log cabin.”
But I wanted them. In the end, we compromised. I took all the articles written about the dancers we trained, or our accomplishments and a few pictures featuring us. I seriously doubted the new owners wanted Hendry paraphernalia around. (and I was right. I later learned that those coveted pictures I left behind were all tossed in the dumpster – I was mortified) It was difficult to leave behind the pictures of dancers I loved and had such special memories of, but I did. I figured they were not mine to keep – but they were images I would hold onto in my heart. I packed up everything I could claim was a “personal” article and/or photo, even knowing I may never hang them again.
Mark winced and said, “These pictures are just going to hang around for years in an attic in that box. We are not going to have them in our house.”
But I knew I was going to have an office of my own, and the rule was that I could put anything in it I wanted. So my pat answer was always, “I’ll put this in my office.”
Mark made fun of me, because my office was going to be 12 foot square, but I’d amassed a warehouse of stuff I claimed I was going put there. My little room was turning into a shrine to my dance past and every interest I had. But that was my choice to make.
A staff member cried while I was packing the pictures and said, “You are taking FLEX history away. How can you do that?”
I pointed out that this stuff was Mark and Ginny’s history. Not really just FLEX history. True, “Mark and Ginny” had been FLEX up until that point, but FLEX would go on without us. I was taking those items that defined not just our business, but our romance too. I met my husband at FLEX. It was more than a business for us, it was our dating ground, then it became the field we fought and played on. It was the backdrop decorating our family life, our marriage, and more.
At least, that is how I saw it.
But after selling the business, for a while, FLEX was a four-letter word at our house. Missing dance was not something we discussed. It was as if by dredging it up, we might lose momentum and fail to follow through this brave decision to walk away. So, we pretended dance didn’t exist and we focused on all the nice things we had in the absence of FLEX. Family time, a beautiful home we could enjoy, a chance to pursue varied interests.
Mark was distracted by building his dream house. I think this kept his mind moving forward, out of the past. FLEX was something that he endured for more years than he could stand. He never wanted that school- he just participated to “get the girl”(I was a package deal). Now, it was as if he’d been let out of prison, and frankly, he didn’t want to be reminded of all those years he was contained. Period. So he built his house, enjoying his world of wood and manly pursuits. I wrote a book, which happened to keep me anchored in the past.
Then, a year and a half after selling the school, the dream log cabin was complete, and we moved in. When we came to that box of FLEX articles, I looked at him expectantly, wondering if it would go in the attic or somewhere else.
Mark said, “I think we should put these in the workout room. I know you’d like to unpack them and they’d fit there.” I was thrilled, but I didn’t say much. I didn’t know if it was a suggestion he was making to make me happy, or because he was having a change of heart regarding FLEX images. I was hoping it was both.
The truth is, I wanted our history out in the open. I wanted pictures of students we trained and cared about hanging around. I wanted memories of our years building that business on display. I wanted them as a reminder for my kids of where we came from, and to introduce new friends to an important side of us. And even more, I wanted the pictures of my husband, the dancer, in plain sight for me. I needed reminding that the guy I married did indeed exist, a dancer with passion who was committed to developing a great school. He loved dance, even if he claims now that he didn’t. I know. I was there. I love the new wood guy, but I loved the dancer too.
Then, one day, Mark started watching this show on TV called Dancelife. I was shocked to discover he taped every episode and he began watching it at night when I was falling asleep. He also wanted to see every dance movie that came out, seemingly fascinated with the skills portrayed, and he started watching music videos to see “where dance is going without us”. This was the Mark I lived with for years, as man always curious about the art with a fascination for how it evolved and was influenced by current styles.
Next, he started dancing around the house. This sounds funny, but I am forever breaking out in a little dance move here and there. He rolls his eyes and makes fun of me. So, I began dancing in the closet (well not in a real closet, although my closet is almost big enough to dance in now, but in the workout room when he wasn’t around.) When I dance, I feel most like me. And I need that, whether I am doing it for a living or not. I left behind a dance studio, not dance per say. Once I put that in perspective, I found myself longing to dance again. I guess you could say, I’d given myself permission to follow my heart.
Recently, my husband came pas de burreing into a room. He did a little spin as he flicked on the light then turned up the thermostat. I blinked and said, “Are you dancing, Dear?”
He grinned sheepishly and said, “Yea. Just a little.”
Mark has begun sharing his real feelings about dance. He says, “I hear music and it kills me. My first reaction is that I have to get this song because I’m imagining the great dance I could choreography to it in my mind. But then I remember that I will never have occasion to choreograph again in my life and I feel such a loss. I miss the creativity of dance. The music. The movement.”
Sometimes he says, “I can’t believe I will never teach dance again. I was so good at it. I know so much about the art. The idea that I won’t employ that skill ever again feels wrong, like a sin. There are all these horrible hacks out there teaching dance poorly, and meanwhile here I am, so effective, doing nothing. Seems out of balance.” (This is not him being conceited. He is an amazing teacher with an uncanny ability to impart knowledge. That is just a fact.)
So, after almost two years of denial, my husband has come to realize that in walking away from dance, something has been lost. In truth, something has been gained too, so I am not saying our leaving the art was a mistake. But moving forward means leaving a part of our true selves behind, and that is something to mourn. I hate to think Mark feels the same sadness I feel regarding the loss, but I must admit, it is nice to know that I am not the only one who wrestles with the fallout of our life change.
I told Mark the other day that we had to remember leaving dance was (and is) a choice. We can have dance in our life if we choose. It is as easy as saying yes to the teaching jobs that we still get calls for. Or setting up a dance class. Or for that mater, we could dive back into the field with a vengeance, with newfound energy, after the sabbatical we obviously needed. The only limitations people have in life are self-imposed, in my opinion . Life and the directions it travels, is always a choice.
But Mark doesn’t want dance back. He just needs to express his feelings of loss and work through them. His reaction surfaced in a delayed fashion, but it has finally surfaced. I guess, he doesn’t have a book in the works to define what he is feeling, so he has to sort through it all internally, his mind racing as he watches dance on TV or listens to music.
At least now, we have come to a place where we both are ready to hang the mementos of dance in clear sight, images that make us smile wistfully. Sometimes FLEX memories make us sigh with bittersweet poignancy, but mostly, they remind us that we have lived a vivid, interesting life. There is nothing to regret. Not in the years we stayed. Not in our leaving either.
I think people are defined by their experiences. Truthfully, we don’t leave anything behind. We wrap all up all the emotions, the learning, the revelations, and take it with us, creating another level of being that becomes a part of the foundation that makes us unique. As such, Mark and I have not left dance. We are still dancers, just evolved, older dancers. I am a dancer that writes books and raises chickens and rides horses and slips down into my private studio several times a week to dance incognito, feeding my spirit what it craves. My husband is a dancer who drives a tractor, builds houses and weaves baskets, a man who dances in his head as he listens to music or watches performances on screen, even though he is wearing jeans and a flannel work shirt instead of his traditional sweatpants and baseball cap.
As long as we keep dance alive inside of us, the music in our soul, we’ve lost nothing. We both miss dance. That is real. But at long last, we are missing it together. And suddenly, I feel far less lonely facing my demons.