I want to dance. There, I said it. I want to leap in the air and land in a split and do double pirouettes. I want to tap out entire Gershwin rhapsodies with my toes. I want to kick my leg so high it has to apply for a Canadian visa.
Actually, I’ll settle for decent jazz hands. I just want to move like a dancer. But I’m not sure how hard I want to work for it. And that’s the key, isn’t it? Dancing, like every art, requires sustained effort. And the willingness to look like a fool.
I know because I danced for many years. I was never what you’d call a real dancer, but I started dance classes when I was four, and studied pretty consistently until I graduated from college at twenty-one. I also acted and sang, but I never imagined myself becoming a professional actor. I believed in dance as a pure and powerful art form, and I loved the combination of athleticism and grace I saw in professional dancers. I thought I could live without acting, but I would always want to dance.
I knew there was something missing from my dancing, something absolutely essential that I lacked. In college, I realized that dance required both intense discipline and wild risk. I was both too lazy and too uptight. What to do?
One day, when I was working backstage on a dance production in college, I heard some of the dance majors talking about a particular piece, or a class, or a teacher. I don’t remember the subject, but it doesn’t matter. It was the way they talked that struck me. They were in love with dance. They had what I lacked: passion.
And then it hit me. They felt about dance the way I felt about acting: they would die without it. They were most themselves when they were dancing. All their discipline, all their hard-earned skill, all their crazy abandon, came from within. They were driven by love. Suddenly I was free – free to let go of dance, free to acknowledge that I had passion in spades, but it wasn’t for ballet or modern tap or anything else that happens in a dance studio.
My passion was for acting. That’s what I couldn’t live without. Surprise, surprise.
Acting takes work, you say? And emotional risk? No problem. I can spend hours figuring out a scene or digging into a text. I’m happy to warm up my body and voice. I love to go out on a limb in rehearsal, risking failure to find the right connection with my scene partner. I am willing to keep working on a role right up to the closing performance. It doesn’t even feel like work to me, because I’m passionate about it.
I never had that kind of passion for dance. But I want to be a better actor, so I’m prowling for new skills. And yeah, I want to dance. Over the next few months I plan to revisit the dance studio and see what I discover. Maybe, with a little discipline and a healthy dose of humility, this old dog can learn some new tricks.
Jazz hands, anyone?