For Jamie Lynn Colley
If it wasn't for Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, and Wonder Woman underwear my childhood would have been seriously lacking. I remember 'performing' for my family at even this age. I'd invite friends over and we'd spend an afternoon choreographing a show, often to Prince's Purple Rain, in my bedroom and then present it to anyone willing to pay attention. I began attending dance classes in a church basement, in a small rural town, that offered space to a dance studio. My mom brought me there to dabble in ballet, tap, and jazz. Within a year I quickly drifted towards ballet, eventually donning tights and leotards and I, sadly, grew out of my wonder woman underwear. Because my mom and dad made the commitment to drive me 45 minutes into a larger community to take ballet starting at age 7, I was introduced to a world I would have never known otherwise. I was a dirt covered country kid who spent a lot of her spare time outside playing on the riverbanks of the Yellowstone, watching motocross races, or building forts in the trees at a friend’s ranch.
Dance taught me about the world, about a portion of history, about other cultures, and about my own, in ways a text or a lecture could never do. Because it’s not just dance. It’s the woven histories of the people who carved their art-form into existence, and those weren't always joyous origins. To know your ‘family’ lineage as a dancer is part of honoring the history just as much as the form itself. As a young dancer, I was aware of the cultural legacy that Jazz, for example, holds in our country's narrative, and that’s only one in the entire world! I think about how Flamenco, Russian Character, Hip Hop, that one Krump class, Swing, Butoh, and so many other styles of dance have made an impression on how I interpret the world beyond my little bubble. While my comprehension of ballet is fair, it’s only one small reflection in the kaleidoscope, telling only one part of history. To me, being well versed in, and at a minimum - experience, multiple dance styles is as valuable as knowing more than one language. Dance is communication! Ballet was a conduit for me to see other dance histories and other cultures and to understand others. Dance taught me about stories other than my own and, in my experience, the embodiment of a culture's story through dance is a teacher of empathy, of celebration, and reverence. This is a tradition passed down by each generation, a transaction that sustains the art-form. If it is not supported it is lost.
I've met people from all walks of life through dance and explored the brilliance and shimmer of how dance represents so much more than shapes, jumps, twirls, and rhythms. It's not just the history, but those you share the studio and stage with as well. Dance is a community experience and for a small town Montana girl like myself, I'm grateful for all the wildly talented, unique, and different artists I've met because I chose dance.
I've embodied and grafted choreography onto myself, so choreographers can see their story come to life on a stage - There's so much trust in that exchange. It’s a tender negotiation and it's a humbling commitment to take in the world of another with respect for their story, their history, and their culture. And how a choreographer must do the same when giving their work to a dancer. This is an exchange that cannot be read about in a book, or learned from a video, but instead, it is embodied and brought to life for others willing to witness that ephemeral story. Dance is a bond, a salve, between generations, a record of stories past, a talisman that helps us reach toward a future. And, without dance, I'm not sure who I'd be today. A world without dance and more importantly, a world without world-dance, is a forgotten place. Dance matters.