I Shoulda Been a Dancer

Save yourself. Dance!

I’ve always wanted to be a dancer.

Although I have no formal training, no actual training, and no actual talent, and although I never dance in public unless I’m purposely tipsy so that I can be confident enough to dance, whenever I hear a beautiful melody I create choreography in my mind.

Sometimes when I’m on the train or long-suffering through a 4-hr. staff meeting, I replay scenes from my favorite movie-dance-battles.

And sometimes, but only if I truly hate someone, I’ll imagine crushing them in a Michael-Jackson-style, leather-jacket-wearing, subway-station-mob-crowd, You-Got-Served! dance battle.

This is the complete truth.

In college whenever something was unnecessarily hard, or boring or complex, I’d say repeatedly and much to everyone’s chagrin, “I shoulda been a dancer!”

My worst and hardest job was teaching a self-contained fifth-grade class (all subjects) in my early 20’s when I first graduated.

A few months into the school year there was an assembly, and my students wanted to perform a choreographed dance number.


Since I only dance in public when I’m purposely tipsy, I assigned dance captains, helped select youth-friendly music, and delegated. They weren’t satisfied.

You have to do it with us! You have to teach us the moves!

It was an assault.

A challenge.

They were daring me—old adult person that I was—to give them the courtesy of entertaining them. To dance for them.

I declined. Consistently. Repeatedly.

A week later we gathered in the gym for a few dress rehearsals for the show.

A friend was in town and decided to visit. I told her she’d get a good laugh out of me trying to coordinate a choreographed dance number.

Perhaps out of shyness or stage fright, they couldn’t do it. They froze in front of us.

I got on stage and imitated the moves.

First described the steps and the counts. Did a demonstration with half-hearted steps as they joined in next to and behind me. Then I stopped counting and told them to just have fun. Enjoy it—the movement, the performance.

And then I danced with them. Full out. All the steps. Start to finish.

As to be expected, they laughed. Full out, rolling on the ground, my-fifth-grade-teacher-just-made-my-entire-life-belly laugh.

And then something unexpected. They turned to look at me, sincerely. They stopped laughing. They smiled.

“Ms. G—you shoulda been a dancer!”


There is a freedom and a passion and a mindfulness in dance that I’ve wished I could bring into real life.

I don’t know how to be ambitious and happy at the same time. I don’t know if either are important.

I’ve always believed that the best life we could live was one in complete service to others.

Aspiring for wealth and power and status couldn’t be life-giving or valid—had to be completely antithetical to what we are here for.

For almost ten years I’ve been a begrudging administrator. I’ve tried to put out real and imagined fires with diplomacy.

I’ve tried to resolve conflicts and manage projects without offense, without conceit, and without politics. I’ve tried to always be rational and logical; to listen in order to understand and not just to resolve.

To be kind.

I remain hopeful, but something is missing.

The wisdom and freedom of youth?

The pitter-patter of little feet attached to bold, bright-eyed, truth-tellers who speak without pretense, tact or flattery?

The power struggles? The chaos? The one-day-you’re-going-to-regret-the-choices-you’re-making-out-of-spite-for-me-and-I-want-to-be-there-to-tell-you-when-you do moments?

The children?

I miss the dance.

I never thought I’d say it– and you couldn’t pay me to do it again– but I miss being a teacher.

And I wish I’d been capable of being a better teacher when I was.

And I wish that when I was younger, I had given myself permission to pursue things that had no potential economic benefit– just like we encourage the children we know and love to enjoy and pursue whatever they find beautiful and meaningful and life-giving.

It’s too late for me to be Debbie Allen.

Save yourself.