She couldn’t have been more than 12, but she was tall for her age. We had gathered for an art show, but I knew only the host. Her presence was a welcome change from the scattered introductions and hurried greetings.
I’d been a teacher, so I knew how this would go. I was prepared to ask about her studies, her classes, and her favorites. Within seconds, she broke the ice. “So, what do you do?”
I smiled, startled by the unexpected formality. “I work in education,” I replied, debating whether to elaborate or wait for further instruction.
“Are you a teacher or an administrator?”
“No; I manage ESL and GED programs for adults.”
I could see her eyes gloss over disinterestedly, but she did her best to stay engaged. “Is that what you always wanted to do?”
Everyone I knew was so afraid of danger, but danger was everywhere. It didn’t make sense to be afraid. The only way ’round was through.
After stunt-doubling, there were a host of others:
- I wanted to be a dancer (specifically, Debbie Allen).
- I wanted to be a gold-medal-winning, Olympic gymnast (specifically, Kim Zmeskal).
- I wanted to play beach volleyball professionally.
- I wanted to be a librarian.
- I wanted to be a writer (more specifically, I wanted to win a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer Prize in literature).
- I wanted to be a background singer.
- I wanted to be a fashion designer.
- I wanted to perform stand-up comedy.
- I wanted to be a D.J.
It’s fair to say that I aspired for these things when I was a little girl. Before I understood sacrifice and commitment and delayed gratification. Before I understood the struggle.
But I’m 35 now. For the first time in a long time, for the first time in years, I can truly say that I love my work. I love where I live. I love who I live with. I love my life.
I’ve been so many places in my life and time. I’ve sung a lot of songs. I’ve made some bad rhymes. I’ve acted out my life in stages— wait. That’s Donny Hathaway. My bad.
Even with all these things that I appreciate and value, even with all these things that I couldn’t be more grateful for, even with all these things that have taken years to execute and come into fruition, I still aspire.
I aspire for them still.
And you shoulda been one too.
I count the rhythm and the pace of my breathing. I do this in sickness and in health. I count steps and tiles in the ceiling. I add beats to the counting, trace the rhythms. I use the numbers in my songs. I choreographate (just made that up!) in my mind.
I do this when I’m restless, pensive, and anxious. I do this in staff meetings, in seminars, and in rush hour.
Despite my respect and appreciation for Uta Hagen, I watch and re-watch pivotal dance flicks. Only the important ones like Step Up and Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D and Step Up Revolution and Step Up: All In. And Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Oh, and Stomp the Yard. And You Got Served. And Center Stage and Take the Lead and Honey.
I’m not always passionate. Reason and logic make more sense. Data is important, as are outcomes. Deliverables matter.
I like solving problems. I like gathering resources. I like building momentum around an idea or a project or a cause.
When I have the means or the access, I like bringing seats to the table.
I like helping people solve very specific problems, or overcome formidable hurdles, or challenge themselves to set a new bar.
But none of these things have very much to do with dance.
Or choreopoems and Ntozake Shange. Or Mia Michaels. Or West Side Story.
Or Dresser from The Five Heartbeats.
None of these things have very much to do with finding joy.
It’s too late for me to be Debbie Allen.