There is much debate in the dance world about the "true" definition of dance. Is a competition piece made up of mostly tumbling tricks considered dance? What about the dozens of social dances that spring up each year from music culture? Does it hold up as dance when contrasted against a full-length ballet or a contemporary dance exposition in silence? Of course, the answer is yes. All of these things are dance, because someone moved and said it was so.To attempt and define dance as an "umbrella term" is all but impossible, but to define dance for oneself is absolutely crucial to understanding the art form. No one moves about in their daily life exactly the same way, and so it is with dance. Everyone holds a different definition. Many dancers experience the same "side effects" of dance (euphoria, self-confidence, clarity, etc.) but the experience is unique to everyone who gets the chance to dance!
I did not begin dance training with any idea that it would become my major in college or a way to make a living. My mother enrolled me in my local dance studio because travel gymnastics would've been ridiculously expensive. My 10-year-old brain could have never imagined the way her 21-year old self would *still* love to spin and jump and feel like a fairy princess!
I remember the day I decided I wanted to invest in movement forever. I was 13, and one of my ballet classes was rehearsing our piece for the annual recital. Some of the moms were watching, and as I was twirling about in typical water sprite fashion, I saw one of them point to me and say, "She should keep doing that. It's obvious how much she loves it." And so in the middle of that dance, I told myself I would. It meant the world to me that I wanted something and someone else wanted it for me too.
After about 13 years of dance training and performance in a wide variety of styles ranging from liturgical to afro-fusion, I can confidently state what dance means to me. Movement is where I feel the most connected with my raw, unbounded spirit. When my body is in motion, I do not feel it necessary to abide by conventional social cues that don't make sense to me or mask what it is that I want or need. I have only achieved this freedom because of hard, sometimes grueling training, but the openness in expression you receive as a reward is undeniably worth it for me. This is a feeling I can only attribute to dance. I do not experience such exploration and depth in my daily life because it simply isn't acceptable or appreciated in many areas of society. This is why for me and most other movers, dance is therapy. (This is not to say you should neglect attending therapy and just dance instead!) But the therapeutic effects of allowing your physical body to tell stories are very real and incredibly fulfilling.
That is why I continue. At 10 years old, I came for the exercise, but I stayed for the storytelling. Nothing makes me happier than hearing the audience after a performance buzzing with ideas about what the narratives in the different pieces meant to them. Sometimes, choreography is abstract and almost too nebulous to pinpoint, and other times, it's very self-explanatory. But either way, the goal of all dance remains the same: to bring life and joy to both dancer and audience. If I can forever chase that goal, I'll be content with what my future holds.