A story of love, loss, and healing. Once upon a Groupon deal….
Before we can go back, I should first explain where I am in the present. I am currently living in NYC, working as a personal chef. I have found that everyone has a uniquely interesting story about how they found tango. As you can tell from the title, this is my story. My dance story cannot be separated from my life, as it is my life. I like to say that you can take a girl out of ballet but you can’t take the ballet out of the girl.
I have been working as a personal chef, but I graduated as an Anthropology major doing “premed.” Going into university I already gave up on research. I extracted DNA from ovarian cancer tumors more times than I could count yet I never saw any of these women. They were just numbers, and the building blocks of their bodies were simply listed after each sequencing. Also the dry ice burns really sucked. I thought I needed to be with people, that a clinical setting would be better. So I did a typical STEM heavy course load in uni, and took an intro anthropology course to fulfill a requirement. I absolutely loved how my worldview shifted for the better. Learning about the human experience made me appreciate how complex culture is. It also made me realize how we simplify so many diseases to problems of biology, when this is not always the sole influencer of health. I’m pretty sure that the thought of being able to dance after my organic chemistry lectures helped me through the suffering. Actually, I found tango because of the research. I was going to Mount Sinai Hospital instead of going to my legally mandated gym period (whoops). Because New York state cares deeply about my physical health and wellbeing I had to log all of my hours that I was working out, by a professional of course. My friend found a Groupon for dance classes at Piel Canela, a latin dance school in NYC. We started doing Argentine tango, and I was hooked.
At this point I was in my senior year of high school. I didn’t go to La Guardia like all of my friends did. Instead I went to Math, Science and Engineering at City College. A high school with a focus on engineering. I quickly realized my brain could’t understand calculus but I had a feeling some sort of health care was in my future. I was fortunate enough to go to Ballet Tech from 4th-8th grade. It is a tuition free dance/ school program open to all NYC public school students. Almost all of the 20 people in my graduating class went to La Guardia, accepted into the dance program. I credit these teachers for providing the very foundation of my life. Discipline through pain, sweat, tears, blood. Giving up was never an option. You did not dare show up late, out of uniform, with a hair out of place. You always stood tall, even when your bones were tired.
Throughout my time at Hunter I ran the Argentine Tango Club, and went to ballet classes as well as my tango classes. I was also doing Krav Maga for several years, and around my sophomore year of uni my ankle decided enough was enough. No more roundhouse kicks, and no more pointe shoes. Forget heels. Walking? Cross that off the list too. I saw several therapists, did physical therapy but nothing was helping. I had to stop dancing. My soul was dying. I found a dance specialist who knew what was wrong in about 30 seconds. My life ended the day I saw the results of the scans. I’m crying now recalling it. There was a huge hole in between my talus and tibia. It would be several months before I could do surgery and months more before I could dance again. Two years later I still feel pain, and my ankle is constantly on my mind.
As I continued in university I remained unhappy with how Western medicine approached health. How the medical school environment was run. Mass memorization with no retention was prioritized over actual understanding. The rampant cheating. The false friends waiting to see your experiments fail so that their lab grade would be higher. I ran to tango after late classes. It was my solution to combat this modern way of life making us all sick. I was not stressed, I was off of a screen for hours, talking and hugging people. Moving my body. Laughing. I did all of my med school requirements, all nursing requirements. I am a certified nursing assistant. But I just knew that the sterile clinical environment wasn’t right for me. I kept dancing, and I started leaning into my interests in nutrition. But something about the dance just kept pulling me back.
I could say that tango was always the escape, as it is for many of us. It was the social solution for the disciple ballet provided me. And yet in some ways it wasn’t. My escape I mean. It was my reality, a world that made sense. As a grandma at heart I happily hummed along with music made decades before I was born. I felt like I had found home. I struggled to balance electrons but could balance on my toes for hours. Dancing was not a fight, it just made sense. My tango friends became my family (I probably saw some people more than my actual family…), and I kept exploring this beautiful dance. There is infinite room to improve, an infinite number of movements to explore.
The ballerina in me is old and crippled. She can’t bury her face into her knees anymore. She cried in her second ballet class in two years. Watching people fly the way she used to was just too much to take. Maybe one day she will fly again. For now she is satisfied with learning how to walk as smoothly as a swan gliding over water. But there will be no dying swan in this production, just a firebird rising from the ashes.
(please tell me someone got those references)
I am here because of the people that believed in me along the way. One day in ballet I wasn’t extending my arm forward well. And by “well” I mean with emotion. My arm was probably just straight out as I struggled to hold my leg up and not shake. My teacher Christine Sarry came over, gently lifted my hand and said “reach for the stars” and raised her head and eyes upward. You can’t reach for the stars with your head down. Years later with the guidance of Tomas Corbalan I honed my tango technique and discovered how I like to move. In tango, there are a million and one ways to do everything, so it is a process to find out how movement and connection make sense to you. But more importantly I discovered how to love and cherish myself. There will always be an inner ballerina critic telling myself that I am not extending enough, that my foot isn’t pointed enough. That I am not good enough. With gentle encouragement I discovered confidence in my movements, and confidence in myself. For that I am forever grateful. As I begin to teach and perform more it is the support and encouragement of my friends that makes it possible for me to be center stage. I used to spend my days in silence because I was so shy. Dancing allows me to speak without words.
I am grateful for every time I get to do what I love. Time is not a guarantee. Health is not a guarantee. And I should not have been able to do what I am doing now. I simply refused to let a hole in my ankle stop me. I refused to think that I would have to permanently stop dancing. I started walking late, and I will happily spend the rest of my life making up for that time lost.
If you make a plan B you’re already planning to fail your plan A. Now I choose to go after my plan A, back where I started. In the dance studio, my home.
Phew. Hope you had some popcorn for that one. I guess my whole point was for you to learn a little bit more about me. To know that you control your own fate. That when it seems like the road ends you can keep walking on a path that you clear for yourself. As Martha Graham said, “The only sin is mediocrity.” So go forth and be the best you that you can be.