New York

(I have a story to share. And I should have told you this sooner.)

It’s January 2010, and I am going to New York City. On business.

I rise from bed at 3:30 a.m. to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight to Newark, and I arrive in Manhattan at noon. I like traveling alone. It creates this huge psychic space where I can simply observe, experience and exist. It is comforting to enjoy my own company. The solitude of traveling solo strengthens me.

I am not a total loner. I make my way by bus, train and foot to my aunt’s flat on the Upper East Side, where I will spend a few nights. The weather is mild, a movie-set perfect winter day. Enough diffused sunlight that the trees and I cast shadows on the sidewalks. I am comfortable with my wool scarf loosely wound around my neck, my camel coat open at the top. I arrive at my aunt’s apartment while she is at work. I look forward to seeing her later for a home-cooked dinner and a glass of wine.

Traveling gives my iPhone a workout, as I reply to emails, skim Facebook chatter and call my business partner to make edits to a proposal. I use the map application to find bus routes and timetables. (Useful technology makes me giddy. So do my character shoes. But anyway.)

About 3:15 p.m., I board a westbound M72 crosstown bus at Fifth Avenue. The sun is low in the sky. It feels like dusk, and I like its implied denouement, the unraveling of the day’s events. I relax. I smile because I have many hours left to enjoy the day.

In fact, I can’t stop smiling. I am sitting on a bus winding through Central Park with a grin on my face like I just won the lottery. Even if my clothing dark denim jeans and black, heeled boots – could pass as non-tourist attire, my smile says I am Not From Here.

I am smiling because I am going to a dance class. In New York.

I am a dancer. In New York.

For today.

And my spirit is smiling as a childhood dream is acknowledged, and in a small way, comes true.

Like millions of dancers of all ages, I once dreamed of "being a dancer in New York." My mom took me to see A Chorus Line in 1981; I was 10 or 11. Though some of the show’s adolescent themes were over my head, I understood that the dancers in the story loved dancing so much that they wanted it to be their job – really badly. And they worked hard – sometimes through a lot of sadness and disappointment to get it.

I get off the crosstown bus at Broadway, and I walk to Steps on Broadway, a venerable New York dance studio that’s stacked above a grocery store at 74th St.

As I pay for my classes, I realize that this is my fourth trip to New York in four years. In fact, I have been within walking distance of this studio at least twice since 2006. It never occurred to me – even as recently as a year ago when I was a few months into my dancing revival that I could choose to dance here. I wonder about the dancers around me. What are their stories?

I saw A Chorus Line for the second time in 1985, and I made a deeper connection to its theme. The chorus became emblematic of life’s choices and commitment. I realized that they made decisions to be dancers, and they made those decisions over and over again with no guarantees. I thought they were brave and special, and I admired them. I wanted to be like them – any of them, all of them – to be the kind of person whose passion could withstand the risks and disappointments. They loved dancing so much, and I wanted their hearts for my own. Because even though as a young woman, I found joy in dancing, I did not believe in myself. I could not make such a commitment.

Enchanted and excited, I walk to the dressing room. I am a dancer. In New York.

For today.

It’s been less than two years since I admitted to myself that there was a time when I wanted to be a professional dancer, and for a long time, I chose not to dance. As I made that decision over and over again, it became easier to make and harder to change. I chose that at my own risk – and it cost me. In retrospect, it seems cruel, almost punitive. Saying “no” to dance meant choosing not to develop and express a significant part of my being.

So I say “yes.” I dress for class and take the stairs to Steps’ loft studio 3. I am nervous about class. But I feel brave. My teacher's advice rings in my ears: lighten up, find the joy.

I glance at a sign outside the studio: “We create our tomorrows by what we dream today.”

I wait for my class time and watch ballet students as they sweat through their floor combination, legs and arms flying, heads nodding and tilting, eyes gazing, their hearts and bodies expressing all shades and hues of grace and athleticism, joy and frustration, pride and desperation. And determination. They are dancers! In New York!

When I was 15, I wanted their hearts.

Eventually, I found my own.

(c) 2010 Laura Bond Williams. All rights reserved.


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