My Journey As A Dancer
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My Journey As A Dancer

What began as a dance performance in the first grade became a medium for self-discovery.

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My Journey As A Dancer
Jessica Torrez

I am surrounded by darkness. I walk blindly towards the center of the stage, each step fueling my nervousness and excitement at the same time. Suddenly, the lights are shining bright on me and the music begins. I feel countless eyes on me. My movement begins slightly tense. As the music progresses, I start to let go. For a few moments, I am the only one in the world dancing. The attention grows on me. When I feel myself growing scared, I tell myself, “It’s OK. Pretend there is no one else in this room but you.” I focus on each movement, each count, taking things one step at a time. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Just like I practiced. I remind myself to breathe. To put all of my experiences and sentiments into every instance of motion. To make my moves flow. To think ahead, but also stay in the moment. I feel exposed. People see a part of me they don’t get to see anywhere else. It is over before I know it. Then, I hear the slightest silence before the contrasting sound of an auditorium filled with applause and cheers. I was not alone this entire time.

When I was in the first grade, I started school at Heather Elementary School. Every year, the grades competed with one another to show off their dance skills in a dance festival. Time would be allocated a few days a week for the classes to get together to come up with and practice a dance.

I distinctly remember the day we performed. I was excited, walking in line with my classmates towards the large lot behind the playground, where the entire school gathered to watch us perform. Sunshine and happy faces glanced my way. I was in the front row, in the very center. I wasn’t nervous. I was too young to care about what people thought. I just wanted to have fun. After the first few moves into Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love," I remember hearing an instant increase in the amount of cheering, and I just knew that people were cheering for me. I remember feeling myself moving up from our formation, putting so much effort into the dance. Afterwards, teachers came up to me telling me they wouldn’t stop talking to each other about how cute I was and how much energy I had. They were surprised to hear I hadn’t performed before. The fourth graders I thought were so cool told me how good a dancer I was. I felt on top of the world. I think this is how it started.

The next two years, I had so much fun performing at the dance festivals, and received praise that today forces a smile out of me when I read my elementary school yearbook comments. When I was in the fourth grade, my last year at Heather, the dance festival was cancelled. It left me devastated because I hadn't realized how much joy dance brought to my life.

For years, I didn’t have the opportunity to dance at school. However, I loved dancing with my mom at parties. People would be surprised at how willing I was do dance with my mom and how coordinated I was for a young kid, especially since most kids were too shy to dance at all, let alone with their mothers. Otherwise, I would dance when my favorite songs came on in the school bus or when we would do any sort of dancing in P.E.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year that my school started to offer dance. I walked into the first day of class not knowing what to expect. Initially, when I learned we would be learning ballet, jazz, contemporary, tap, and only spending a little bit of time on hip-hop, I was thrown off. I grew up listening to upbeat music such as hip-hop, pop, cumbia, merengue, etc. I didn’t know much about other kinds of music and dance.

I decided to stay in the class because I wanted to be open-minded and well-rounded in new genres of dance. I learned a lot of the basics of ballet, tap, contemporary, and lyrical, and was surprised at how much I had learned in a year.

I was excited to continue in Advanced Dance my junior year, in which we explored our own movement and researched historical dance figures to examine specific dance genres. The biggest part of this class occurred in the second semester, during which we created an original dance piece to perform at our school’s first-ever dance showcase.

I found a passion for contemporary and lyrical by the time I had to choreograph. I love the fact that movement in these genres especially can tell so much about one’s experiences, one’s story, one’s personality. Dance in general reminds me a lot of my life-long passion for literature because one can analyze a lot in dance pieces, and it allows performers to connect with others, the way an author can provide for a reader.

The only rules we had for choreographing were that our piece needed to tell a story and our song had to be instrumental. I chose “Let it Go” from Frozen because, as overplayed as that song was, I found myself getting those three words for advice often, particularly the year I was choreographing. I stress often, and at that point in my life, there were many things I felt I had to let go. Performing was awesome. It was my first solo. It was scary and exhilarating. I loved it.

I continued in Advanced Dance my senior year of high school. I realized that dance is one of my greatest stress-relievers and gives me the chance to show others a part of myself. When choreographing our original piece, we again, had to have a story, and this time, the song had to be from before the 80s, but could be a recent cover.

Throughout senior year, I had been consumed in the college process. I was scared at the thought of being far away from home, leaving the school I had attended for 7 years, and most of all, leaving my mother who had worked so hard to help me be the first in my family to go to college. I knew deep inside of me that I would be going to college far away, so I chose Sia’s cover of “California Dreamin’” to show my anxieties as a first-generation college student and feeling pulled between my own goals and familial and cultural pressures.

The stories I created in my dance pieces were more for me than for the audiences I performed for. No one would be able to guess my reasons for choosing the songs, genres, or movements I did. Dance, for me, is cathartic in nature and makes me feel free. When I dance, I have no worries. When I dance, I am me.

Now, as I head off to Williams, I am looking forward to auditioning for dance groups and making more time to grow as a dancer.
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