Dance Empowers the Past, Present, and Future

By Clara Martinez

I am sweating. I have been dancing for the last four hours. It is nearing the end of the day and the summer evening is just beginning. There is a large garage door at the end of the dance studio that’s open so we can enjoy the cooler air. The studio is filled with over one hundred teenage dancers. We are in the midst of our summer dance intensive workshop and we are tired. Despite the fatigue in our bodies, we feel alive.

We have been moving and dancing with several amazing choreographers and master teachers all week and this evening’s teacher is the best so far. We have worked swiftly to keep pace with her and to keep up with each other’s competitive edges. The teacher is dressed all in black and her blonde hair is cut in a short, asymmetrical bob. She is sweating too as she has been dancing full out with us during the entire class. I whisper, “She is how I want to be one day: confident, strong, caring, and authentic.”

I have never been so physically tired in my life, but I love it. I can picture in my mind all of the ends of my body – how far my arms can reach, how low I can plié, how sharply I can cut through space, how softly I can float to the ground. I feel I am part of the music. I feel that the movements I use to carve out space with are pieces of my thoughts, spirit, and heart. I am sharing these pieces of me now with the reality outside my body. Nobody knows this music, this space, these phrases better than I do at this very moment. I am an expert on how to be in this very moment, in my body, in motion, dancing.

It is dusk now. The fluorescent lights of the studio are harsh. The flickering lights of the fireflies linger at the garage door. The choreographer gathers us into groups and has us “perform” for one another. After a few rounds, when we are all out of breath, she stops us. She can tell we need an encouraging push.

“Go for it! Do not hold back. You have your technique to guide you. Now commit. Move through the space. Listen to the words, to the music. Take up all of your space, your neighbor’s space. Be a force that is pushing through the air and all around the studio. Go!”

I muster up the courage to push beyond my comfort zone. I think that’s what she wants from me. But doubt creeps in. What if I make a mistake?

“Do not worry about making a mistake or getting the choreography wrong. I would rather see you have full conviction in your movement and do the wrong step than be too afraid to dance bigger. Go!”

This is why I came to the studio, to this intensive, to this class. I came for this very moment. I leave it all on the studio floor. All of my feelings. All of my doubt. All of my training. I can feel momentum push me through space. In the background, I can hear the teacher say, “Yes!” but I am somewhere far away now. I am shifting the air around me. I am molding my body into shapes. I am expressing the sound of the music. I am becoming the words to the song. I am free. I am alive. I am dancing out loud. I am golden. I am fierce. I am . . .

I am interrupted by the sound of applause and now, it is the next group’s turn.

I have hundreds, maybe thousands, of moments and memories like this. The moment when I become so connected to my internal and external self that I couldn’t feel more alive. For me, to move and exist this way in community, in a dance class, was what I lived for, day in and day out, for much of my childhood, adolescence, and college career. I still live to move daily, but now as a dance educator. Now I am able to rejoice in the practice of making these kinds of moments with new, fresh young people.

To know what it feels like to be alive within yourself and with others is a sacred, empowering, thrilling feeling. It’s that magical “spark” of the apex of a dance class. What brings me joy now is the satisfaction of creating and designing the class that will allow students to build towards and achieve these moments. By the end of a class we are all tired, and if I do my job, we are all smiling and exploring and embodying movement as one.

Dance not only gave me the foundational skills and tools of how to properly move my body, it also gave me a creative portal where all of my ideas could be possible, could make sense. While dancing I always learn more about myself. Dance saved me daily from treacherous feelings of loneliness. It rescued me from pent up emotions and unexpressed thoughts and feelings. My dance education has allowed me to be my whole self: a shy, timid, cautious kid outside of the studio and a vivacious, fierce, emotive artist/athlete inside the studio.

Now, as a dance educator, my goal is to provide a safe, healthy, positive, and predictable environment so my students can feel supported and connected. I want them to be able to dance out, and live out, who they feel they truly are. I want dance to help them become who they want to be. I applaud myself and my students and the courage we express every day. I am thankful for the many dance teachers (and students) that I have learned from thus far and I look forward to those that I have yet to meet.

Clara Martinez is the Dance Director at Everett High School in the Lansing School District. She is Chair of the Michigan Dance Council, where she also serves as MDC Partner Representative for MAEIA. She is pursuing her Masters of Social Work (MSW) in Organization & Community Leadership at Michigan State University. Clara received her Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) in Dance from The Ohio State University. The photos in this blog are of the Everett High School Dance Company.

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