A heart-warming short story about how devastating loss helped this dancer find herself.
The front door slammed, and ten years of my life came to an abrupt end. My apartment was suddenly very, very quiet.
For the longest time I stared at the wall and tried to wrap my head around what just happened and what it really meant for my life. Honestly I wasn’t sure if I felt relieved or petrified. All I knew was that my ten-year relationship with Sam had most dramatically and most definitely come to a bitter end.
Eventually my eyes shifted as I noticed the tic-toc-tic-toc of the kitchen clock and the surprisingly loud sound of the ice-maker dropping virgin ice inside the refrigerator. I never noticed how loud that ice was before. I jumped when my phone vibrated with an incoming call from my sister, who, in uncanny synchronicity, could always feel when I needed her.
We talked for hours that night.
I cried, cursed like a sailor, and told her things I had once promised never to tell.
Somehow my chocolate chip ice cream and I made it through my first adult night as a single person.
Sam and I met when we were only 17 — we were babies, really. We knew so little about life back then and what it would take to finish college and earn a living. For several years after college we had lived together in a one-bedroom apartment, and we just figured it out together. I remember that day I got my promotion. I came home and Sam had decorated our bedroom with a bunch of purple balloons. Sam knew I loved purple…
Honestly, I’m glad I couldn’t see the future the night Sam left me. I’m glad I couldn’t see the many months ahead of me as I struggled to enjoy the sunset by myself, learned how to eat alone, waffled on big decisions (like whether to move into a new apartment), and cried in despair on days when I simply couldn’t recognize myself without “us” in the center. I was lost. Truly lost.
My sister encouraged me to reconnect with my Mom. Mom and I had fought years ago about Sam, and we didn’t talk much anymore. I realized I really missed my Mom.
Eventually, once rekindled, my Mom said something that helped me find my way back home. My Mom said, “Sweetheart, I KNOW you are going to be okay. I watched you learn to walk and read and face mean girls in elementary school. I watched you never give up on your double pirouette in ballet class. I watched you study for three straight weeks, day in and day out, the year you won the Sampson County Spelling Bee. Honey, I watched you become a beautiful, talented, strong, brave young woman. Sam wasn’t there during those years — you didn’t need Sam to blossom. You did it all by yourself! I think you just need to remember who you are and reconnect with that little powerhouse. Start doing things that make you happy and become curious again! Explore things that could make you happy.”
With that my Mom gave my 27-year-old self a virtual pat on the ass and sent me back into the world.
With fresh eyes I created a meetup.com account and signed up for a French poetry meetup (boring), a local hiking group (it was okay — just kinda creepy hiking up mountains with strangers), a trivia night meetup (that was fun), and finally an adult dance fitness class called The Dancer’s Workout® that was geared toward former ballet dancers.
On impulse I signed up for the Tuesday night class.
It had been 10 years since I had been in dance class. Truth be told, I quit dancing when I met Sam, who had been more interested in movies and outdoor sports than in ballet or theatre. I had just quit, after 13 years of ballet. Why did I do that? My Mom reminded me how many annual recitals I had been in — we did Yellow Brick Road, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, some recital about “Summertime” where I played one of the lead sunbathers, and so many more. Why did I just walk away from something I loved?
As Tuesday drew nearer, I realized I was really nervous. What if I couldn’t remember anything? What if I looked stupid or fat? What if I embarrassed myself? Maybe I should cancel. I’m probably too old for this now. I don’t have any shoes. I’m not even sure where the studio is located. I don’t know these people. Maybe they are really good. Maybe I’ll hurt myself in class. I don’t think I should go.
Of course my sister calls in the middle of this heated self-discussion. “Just go” she says. “Don’t be silly — just go. And if you don’t like it you don’t have to go back. But just try it! Listen I’ll call you tonight to see how it went. Be brave, little piglet.” (Always the Winnie the Pooh reference from her.)
“Okay, okay I’ll go. Talk to you after class.”
Now this was a night when I wish I could have seen into the future…
From the moment I stepped into the studio, I felt at home. It took everything in me to keep my eyes from welling up with tears, big fat “welcome home” tears.
The teacher, the music, the choreography, the other dancers, my body, my heart, my spirit, my mind, all of it aligned and welcomed me home like a long-lost friend.
I thought I had gotten lost when Sam left me. But on that fateful Tuesday night, I realized I’d gotten lost a decade earlier, when I left dance.
Now, with this class and these new dancer friends, I began to recognize myself again.
I am a dancer, that’s who I am. At my core, I AM A DANCER. And all these women in here? These are my friends, my family — for life.
I am no longer lost. I KNOW WHERE I BELONG.
A year later I am still super-protective of my dance class sanctuary. Never, ever, ever again will someone come into my life and take me away from who I am.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still hopeful that I’ll fall in love again one day, but this time I’ll bring my own purple balloons.
Jules Szabo, founder of The Dancer’s Workout® (TDW) is a classically trained ballerina from the UNC School of the Arts and former corporate executive who helps busy working women, mothers, and empty nesters rediscover their love of dance. She specializes in the paraprofessional dancer (adult ballet, jazz, and contemporary dancers who are not beginners and not professionals, who simply love dance over other forms of exercise). Featured in Dance Magazine as one of the best dance programs online, The Dancer’s Workout® classes were designed to provide former dancers an emotionally and physically safe path back to dance and to help current adult dancers and dance instructors achieve their daily fitness goals through dance. If you are a current or former dancer, you are invited to come dance with us.
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