My Brief History of Dance

Having just seen this incredible performance by Sergei Polunin dancing to the song “Take Me to Church” I felt like sharing my complicated relationship to dance. 
Please feel free to skip this post if you are here for more pictures, less overly indulgent writing! But watch the video first. It is indescribable. I was deeply moved by Sergei’s beautiful dancing, what else can I say?

The Young Years 

I attended ballet aged five, but soon quit after tiring of the repetitiveness and a budding issue with authority. I moved on to a passion for horses and riding, and apart from a few awkward slowdances at  middle school dances I didn’t think much of dancing.  As I got a bit older I discovered MTV and music videos. I would be mesmerised by teams of Colgate-smile teenagers moving in synchronised patterns to twinkly 90s tunes. When a certain pop-sensation bobbed around to her first hit, I was hooked. My passion for dancing returned with a force when for my 10th birthday I received what was both Britney’s and my first, ever CD album (her first launching a huge career, mine ending up in a charity bin several years later).

I started high school,  and many of my new classmates already had about 8-years of dance lessons behind them. It was not a rare to spot a couple of best friends performing an impromptu routine during our school discos, in between the “Best Hair” award and the highlight of the night; Candy Rain (A bored chaperon chucks candy into a crowd of sweaty 12 year olds, an activity which seems very unhygienic looking back). I longed for this, shutting myself in my room trying to move like in those videos, and create my own routines to hopefully share with a close classmate of my own some day. My interest for riding faded somewhat, and finally I got to take up dance class!

In a Class of My Own

Dancing was something I quickly realised I was not going to go far with. I was a late starter with no natural ability along with terrible stage fright, but I will never regret taking lessons those years ago. I made it long enough to feature in our dance school’s Christmas show (the proof of which is hidden away on some dusty VHS somewhere) and to have owned the crucial but hideous two-soled dance shoes one simply must have to move up to Modern Jazz – Level 2. In the end, it was something I would later recognize as a classic “Cycle of Anxiety” that was the nail in the coffin of my future as a dancer.

Crippling shyness prevented me from making friends among the group of younger girls, so I began avoiding lessons. This caused me to fall behind and feel useless and more shy, thus leading to me avoiding even more lessons. Until finally I quit. I probably wasn’t very missed towards the end; when I wasn’t missing a step or tripping myself up I was nervously crying over any critique I got. Truly a model pupil! The years passed, I grew a lot more confident, overcame most of my anxiety and nerves and dared to try different dance classes again. I even tried couples swing dancing with some friends last summer. I wish 12 year old me could see me. I giggled as I spun around the wrong way, apologizing profusely when I stepped on my partners toes and despite all these mistakes I truly enjoyed myself! I actually enjoyed all these classes (except for cheerleading at uni, where it was too much about fake  S.M.I.L.E.S! for my liking.) But none of them felt right. It was always taken a bit too serious and I have found I enjoy dancing the most when it is free. What classes have given me are new ways to express that freedom.

Dancing Alone

On occasion I feel a foot bend, my leg stretch out, and a little pas de bourrée might come out while waiting for a bus. Sometimes I have a cup of tea brewing, so I practice stretches and the splits. In my parent’s hall I may attempt a few pirouettes, just to make sure I still can. And sometimes, when it’s very late, and I can’t sleep and I am absolutely certain no one can see me, I’ll put on a great song and I dance, manically, furiously, as if I know exactly what I am doing. I know my moves are chaotic, stunted, and don’t follow any style, rhythm or even sense of logic. I feel every mistake I make, every missed beat, every moment my limbs flay out differently from how I had imagined. While it satisfies me to just let go, I will always long for the ability to dance properly. I want to be able to leap, spin, stretch, bend and really let out everything locked inside tired muscles, slouched shoulders and furrowed brows. I long to know how to move my body with a smoothness, a flow and with grace.

Sergei actually has a very interesting background. Made to take gymnastics and dance by his mother at a young age he developed a tremendous talent for ballet. As a young man he struggled with having his entire life governed by other people and eventually left the British Royal Ballet despite being the youngest principle dancer, which was of course a huge shock in the dance world. I saw an interview with him years ago, and it is fantastic to see this man still performing but hopefully now with more freedom and expressing what seems lika a pure love for his craft. Seeing Sergei’s dancing in the video above brought back the urge to let everything flow out through movement.

Perhaps it is time for another late night dance off with myself.. 

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