Before I joined Terpsichore, I could not even bear to dance in front of a mirror. The mere sight of my arms awkwardly flailing would cause my body to recoil. Needless to say, performing in the recital of an established Wesleyan dance group was an enormous risk for me. In fact, it was a risk I most likely never would have taken had my good friend Jacob Musinsky ’15 not been choreographing. After much persuasion, I reluctantly agreed to join Jacob’s dance under the condition that he teach me the beginning of the dance before auditions. Armed with a foreknowledge of the dance moves we had to perform and insider connections with the judges, I earned a spot in Jacob and junior Sky McGilligan’s incredibly exclusive, elite dance by the skin of my teeth.
Jacob and Sky choreographed their dance with a bar mitzvah theme in mind, and they executed it perfectly. On the first day of rehearsal, they asked the dancers to find a partner. Everybody scurried to partner up with a friend in order to avoid getting left out and naturally ended up in a bunch of awkward partnerships. It was like middle school all over again.
Over the next few rehearsals, we began to assume the mindsets of middle school students even more strongly as we reacquainted ourselves with bar mitzvah dance moves and turn-of-the-century music. However, unlike in middle school, our initial apprehension soon subsided as we realized that the dance was so inherently facetious that it was impossible not to look ridiculous. Each dancer sillier than the next, no one was in a position to judge anyone else, and the resulting environment was non-threatening. Because of this dynamic, I was able to recapture my youthful exuberance without having to deal with the social anxiety I often felt at that age. During rehearsals, I was able to reevaluate my youthful self-consciousness from a new perspective and recapture the joy of dance.
As opening night approached, the tone of rehearsals grew more serious. We were assigned permanent partners, and the focus shifted from learning the moves to honing our execution. People who had missed rehearsals scrambled to catch up, and our nerves began to creep into the picture again as we realized that we would be performing in front of a large audience in the near future. Although I had managed to make it to every rehearsal, my partner had class during a frequent rehearsal time, and we were worried about how well we would mesh. In order to save her some trouble and provide a little comedy for the audience, I decided to play the female gender role in our dance partnership, a part that required far more flexibility than my stiff hamstrings could handle. This ended up being especially fun, as it put a spin on the heteronormativity that is so pervasive in middle school.
On the night of the performance, everyone was suddenly nervous again. The hour-and-a-half wait before we performed for the seven-o’clock show enhanced this anxiety. I imagined the crowd reacting to my 6’2” frame awkwardly bent over as I grinded up on my 5’6” partner. Eventually the show came, and as I walked up on stage, I felt just the way I would before I would ask a girl to dance. But as soon as the music started, it was just like rehearsal again. I danced freely, aware of the absurdity yet without a care in the world. Audience laughs abounded as we exited the stage: we had finally conquered middle school, and with it many of our irrational social fears.
After performing for the first time, I was free from the shackles of my anxiety. Throughout the next day and a half of performances and parties, I did my best to take it all in: the fun of dancing without inhibition, the camaraderie of completing something as a group, and the satisfaction of putting on a good show. Terp was an awesome experience, and I highly recommend it both to experienced dancers and to those who have neither danced nor graced the stage…yet.