Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Reflection on My Journey Back to Dance

A Reflection on My Journey Back to Dance
Hard work, a little discomfort, humbling realizations of weakness...Must remember it will all be worth it. Move your body, exercise your mind, challenge yourself and thank the people who support you.
A 20 Year Old Melissa Adylia Gutierrez (now Calasanz)
taking a dance break on the 5 freeway on the way to Sea World

The Following was written on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, as an assignment for a Jazz Class I am currently enrolled in at Orange Coast College. Jazz was my thing...ballet was never my strong point.  However, it is fascinating for me to observe how uncomfortable I feel in this Jazz class compared to how I feel while taking an Advanced Ballet Class, two days a week at Glendale Community College.  

OCC Jazz Dance Class Self Critique
It could be easy for a non-dancer to assume that a former professional dancer would have no problem participating in a college level Jazz dance class. However, I would be happy to assure anyone who held such an assumption that, for some former professional dancers, returning to a college dance class can prove to be challenging, not just physically, but also emotionally. Since enrolling in this class, in order to fulfill a requirement for my degree, I have had to face many unwelcomed insecurities, and I’ve also had to learn how to accept where I am today. Having the assignment to give myself a self-critique for my performance in our skills test on Tuesday, as well as critiquing myself for attempting to execute the choreographed material, has afforded the opportunity for me to reflect on my physical and emotional journey back to dance.
Though I have only taken about fifteen dance classes in the past five years, I have found that returning to dance class has been more of an emotional challenge than a physical one. For instance, it has been difficult to come to terms with the reflection I see in the mirror. Though my rational mind knows I have a relatively wonderful body for a woman my age, the former professional dancer in me has a minor emotional breakdown each day I have to put on the required dance clothes for class. At a weight of over twenty pounds more than what I weighed while I was dancing professionally, I no longer recognize myself in the mirror, and when I do realize that the reflection I see in the mirror is Me, there is a moment where my heart sinks and I yearn for the days when I was young, lean, and talented. 
I not only look so different from when I was a dancer, my body moves much less gracefully, and it takes my body a lot longer to become in synch with my mental intention. I no longer have a flair for picking up or retaining choreography. This contributes to the fact that I no longer move with the confidence and skill I did while I was a professional dancer.  However, though my ability to carry out choreography in a competent manner still eludes me, I have been pleasantly surprised to see that I am still capable of executing technical drills/exercises, in both the warm up and across the floor, efficiently and with clarity. I am thrilled to see that years of great technique is still ingrained in my muscle memory.
The idiosyncrasies in regards to my muscle memory were highlighted while engaging in the across the floor skills test/improvisation on Tuesday. The moment we were instructed to add “personal flair” to our walks across the floor, I “had to” take my hair down in order to move with confidence. I had already committed to challenge myself,  the second week of this semester when I decided to no longer wear my heels across the floor, but without the security-blanket my heels represented, I felt completely naked and incapable of “really dancing” with my hair up. I was amused by how obvious my insecurities could be dealt with just by adjusting my hair.  Once I took my hair down, the improvisation passes across the floor become easier. I made a conscious effort to put my hair back up as I relaxed and regained my confidence.
Unfortunately, my confidence didn’t last.  When it was my time to dance in a group, with all the young dancers, my emotions took over once again and I was an internal mess-as I always happen to be during this class. I do not remember even doing the routine. I find myself checking out each time I’ve had to do it. I was not looking forward to viewing my “performance” video later that evening. Thankfully, when I had the opportunity to watch the video, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t the worst thing I had ever seen.
I chose to look at the video with kindness, and critique myself for what I really am: I am no longer a professional dancer! I have not been a professional dancer since 2005, and I have barely taken any dance classes in years! I have suffered a non-dance/sport-related injury which has left my left femur missing quite a bit of articular cartilage, and I have many other physical obligations I have to attend to in my personal and professional life which do not lend my body enough time to recover in order to go “full-out” in a dance class!
Realizing I can objectively view myself, not as an old and overweight “has-been” dancer, but as a student, is liberating. Yes, I was not on the music, yes, there were times when it was obvious I had lost direction and even forgot the choreography, and yes, the young dancers around me looked beautiful and full of potential and remind me of what I once was. Fortunately, I can now see what I still have, and what I will always have, and that is my experience, and a new found respect for how I am facing this.
I intend to continue to challenge my comfort level as I continue through this class, yet respect my physical limitations. My legs may no longer get as high as they used to, but my placement is still good, and my intention is respectful. I just need to give myself permission to stop comparing myself to who I used to be as a woman and a dancer and celebrate who I am today: I am an amazingly active fitness professional that loves participating in numerous half and full marathons and trail races throughout the year; I love that I kayak, trail run, hike, and bike weekly while taking jazz and ballet classes-each twice a week-for the first time in years; I love that the degree I am completing will continue helping me to keep dancers and athletes injury-free; and I love that being a participant and an observer in this class is providing me rich and valuable information that will enrich me just as much personally as it will enrich me professionally.

-Melissa Adylia Calasanz
Controlled Burn Fitness
Chez Calasanz
Disciplined Indulgence

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