This was written for the University of Washington Dance Program Graduating Class of 2016. For all those who were courageous enough to study the arts, this is also for you.
At the beginning of every performance there’s a moment, thinner than hastily melting ice, that appears between the darkness and the first light that will expose you to your audience. Existing somewhere between a whisper and a shout, promising nothing but offering the possibility of everything –
In this moment the churning stomach and the racing mind give way to quiet. As the quiet settles in your ears and upon your collarbones, you can now sense it all.
The way the audience leans up against you; how your costume tickles the tops of our shins and the way your bare feet meet the cool floor that will soon turn hot by the insistence of your dancing body; the breath of your partner trickling into your ear telling you one last reminder hoping it makes it to you in time.
Here, in this quiet, you are fully present. Ready to begin. Lights up.
This presence is the greatest gift dance can offer us. Steeped in our own presence, we cannot conflate our egos with reality or hold the past against ourselves or others. Presence requires a full blown commitment to the now – an energetic exchanging of rings that binds you and me and me to we for that singular shiver of wind – the moment you rustled the air just by exiting fear and entering into courage.
There is no more radical act than this. To show up fully you is to shed the shadow that claims to protect but only imprisons the skin on your frame from feeling all the radiance of the sun.
To show up fully you is a declaration of independence. A call to freedom. An insistence on justice. The surest path to joy. And a belief in the power of grace. A simple act that rises like a symphony’s crescendo where each ensuing step you take naturally evolves into a pulsating rhythmic stomp upon the terrain of the world.
Recall that moment if ever doubt creeps into your head questioning the worth of you being a dancer. Recall that moment and witness how with your dancing body, you shook the earth. And in the aftershock of your quake, marbled pillars of constructed ideals crumbled to the ground creating space for others to rush in and rearrange the architecture of this world as only those authentic bodies can.
We need these authentic dancing bodies. We need the body that disrupts the notion that ballerinas are only white and skinny. We need the body that will not let expectations around her gender keep her from pushing the limits of her own strength. We need the body that proves wrong the idea that if you are disabled you can’t dance. We need the body that expands our understanding of what it means to be a man and masculine through his elegance and tenderness. We need the presence of all these bodies because they teach us to be brave. To escape the prisons of our own creation and liberate the prismatic array of all we are.
This is the gift dance has given us. Being present to our truth and all that is before us. But in order for a gift to truly be a gift, eventually you must pass it on. It is our duty as dancers to encourage others to dance. To have their bodies collide against the full force of life. This may leave callouses, scars, and bruises but these are not bad. No these are royal purple badges of honor bequeathed to those bold enough to be present to their lives.
To all those whom you impart dance to you are introducing them to the power of their presence. When your students go home and inquiring parents ask, “What did you do in class today?” They will stomp as hard as they can and say, “I shook the earth.”