There is one thing in my life that has always been present. It has always been there for me on my best days, as well as on my worst. It never let me down--no, it always pushed me and encouraged me. It was something that I was never forced into, for it was something that naturally ran through my veins. This is my ode to dance:

Thank you for always being there for me. Even when there were days where I was frustrated, lonely, and angry, you never yelled, shouted, or showed signs of discouragement. Instead, you lifted me up and pushed me forward. You allowed me to get lost in you and the music you provided. I got lost in the art, the story, and the beauty and pain behind it all. You allowed me to tell stories, year after year. You were there for me through every heartbreak, celebration, and ordinary day. There were plenty of moments where we fought; where I thought I had lost myself. There were days where I wasn't sure what kind of dancer I was meant to be. You see, you were there every step of the way, guiding me to find out who I was and who I was meant to be.

Thank you for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself. Together, we worked through every road block, injury, and obstacle. I never once lost my passion for you. I long for days where I can spend hours in a dance studio getting lost in every contraction, pirouette, step, leap. There were moments where I thought I'd never grow as a dancer. I believed I had peaked at a young age, and I was lagging behind the others. You allowed me to keep growing and learning. By the time I graduated I think I finally became the dancer I wanted to be.

Thank you for every battle wound. I start each day with a crack, pop, and a twist in all of my joints. Every broken foot, twisted ankle, sore hip, and pulled leg muscle was worth it. I was born with tight muscles and stretching was often painful, but I learned how to compensate and push my body to its limit. I miss waking up after a night of conditioning and feeling sore all over my body. It was the kind of soreness that meant that I worked hard at dance and that I was growing stronger. The body is a powerhouse that can make any movement graceful or powerful. Dancers are examples of beauty, strength, and gracefulness.

Thank you for providing me the greatest dance teachers. The beautiful, strong, and confident women I grew up admiring, who I consider not only friends, but also family. My dance teachers believed in dance and believed in their students. The dance studio was a second home for me. It was a place where I felt safe and loved. I have learned so much from each teacher and I want to thank them separately for believing in me and always encouraging me. They have all helped me get to where I am today.

Thank you for giving me best friends. The girls whom I ate with, danced with, cried with, shopped with, laughed with, and learned with. The amazing young women that I had the pleasure of dancing with have shaped me. They have inspired me greatly. You see, you provide us with a special bond that only dancers know. It wasn't just the long hours in the studio or at the competition, it was the ability for all of us to feel the same emotions, the same music pumping through our veins and bleeding out of our hearts. We leaned on each other in the darkest of times and we leaned on you to pull us out. My friends and I connected on so many levels of understanding throughout each and every dance. I have girls in my life who will always be there for me.

Thank you for allowing me to create art. I have taken pain, beauty, and excitement and poured my heart out in each dance. I learned the meaning of leaving my heart out on the stage. There are moments where you realize that you have to seize the moment, seize the day. I can honestly say that I left my heart out on the stage, and I never got it back. You have stolen my heart and I will always be with you. I often choreograph dances in my mind as I walk to class. I can't help but tap my feet to the music playing in the grocery store. I look longingly at the dance studio in the gym and wish for a dance class that isn't zumba or yoga. I miss creating art and telling a story. I miss pouring passion into movements that connect my body to my heart. I miss letting go of everything, feeling everything and nothing at the same time. I miss that moment on stage, where everything stops for a moment and I gaze out into the audience, breathe, and smile because I am doing something that I am passionate about.

Thank you for everything you have given me over the past 18 years. I would not be who I am today if it weren't for you. I hope someday to have a little girl of my own and I hope she loves dance as much as I do. I hope to send her off to her first day of ballet class and know that she is in good hands. I hope that she feels passionate about dancing and wants to share her passion with me. I hope to connect with her with the special bond only dancers feel.

Thank you for being you. I miss dancing more than anything. You can take the girl out of the dance, but you can never take the dance out of the girl.