There is something devastating about a body moving through space.
Every action is calculated: synapses firing, muscles contracting, lungs expanding with breath. In the dance studio, my back folds and blooms. Arms sheer the air like machetes, striking on beat. I feel the floor even through my shoes, my toes reaching into the ground, roots seeking sources of new life. When my mother left, the anger bursting in my heart drove me to dance to express what neither language nor reason could.
I practiced every week and found enough room to chase the heartbreak away, chase my mother out of my body, the memories I had before she disappeared. My mother had me when she was 16. Too young and unprepared, she left me with my father and 81-year old nana in the Bronx. Nana took care of me while my father served in the Navy. She brought me to dance practice after school, taught me to become a better woman than the women in our family ever had the chance to be.
Though nana should’ve been doing “old lady things” like knitting or gossiping with her “homegirls,” her love made sure I excelled in school and took responsibility for my actions. I stopped floating through life and leapt into my studies and dance with focus and unstoppable fervor. Nana not only helped me overcome my anger and crippling loneliness, but she also showed me the value of kindness by taking in my cousins and their mom when the army deployed their dad overseas. Her kindness, after so much unkindness in my life, made living with my cousins’ entire family bearable during holidays, for example, when their dad sent luxurious gifts from abroad and my mother, who I discovered still lived in our borough, wouldn’t give me the briefest phone call. Of course I often imagine I’d be happy seeing my mother again.
I’d be happy finally knowing why she left or getting some small reminder that she thinks of me. But I know her absence has been the greatest gift, the hole inside that I’ve been slowly filling with love for myself and the people that love me. Through dance, I learned the body has its limits, and everyone’s limit is different. Overextended, we can break our bones. We can tear ligaments and throw our competitive dance futures away.
Whether or not that compelled my mother’s decision—the fear and overextension of motherhood—confronting the space she left behind for my body to move through emboldened me to seize life’s dim lit stages and become the key to my own happiness. Dance reincarnated me. When the music plays, I lose myself in its rhythms, the reverberations pulsing into my raw nerves like electricity. Dance also brought me closer to my father, who supports my passion and cheers me on with every practice, every performance, all my victories and failures. He did what no parent should have to do: give up their hopes so their children might one day achieve their own.
But he did, and I’m determined to graduate high school and attend college to rescue the dreams my father and nana relinquished to raise me. In fact, I want to share dance with Bronx kids who are growing up in families like mine. My mission is to mentor and give elementary school students the confidence in movement, space making, and community building that dance instilled in me as part of their comprehensive arts curriculum so they’re encouraged to stay in school and build healthy relationships. My experience enables me to empathize with kids that similarly struggle with abandonment, poverty, and self-doubt, and through dance, which forces us to thoughtfully plan our trajectory across dimension and time, I will guide them in reclaiming their bodies from the hurt, traumas, and nefarious notion that they are somehow unworthy of love, of being important and mattering.