Mainstream culture would most likely label my love affair with dance as unhealthy. I have injuries and pain all along my left side, beginning with an old fracture to the wrist and ending with an even older fracture to the ankle. Decades later, I have endured various pains, from a serious injury to my left thoracic region, radiating from my neck to my fingertips, not to mention bursitis in my hip and tendonitis in my ankle. In short, dance has left its physical battle scars in and on my body, so much so that I have not been able to take many of the classes that I love in over a year and a half. It has also had a serious emotional pull on me, causing inner strife, heartache, joy, fear and uttermost gratitude. These mood swings are often, concurrent and thus far, lifelong.
In a normal relationship between two people, one would think I am being abused by this love of my life and that I should get out of it as soon as possible. I have been told to “forget about,” “to reconsider,” and to “stop taking part” in this relationship altogether before I get hurt again. What people do not understand is that cutting off my relationship with dance is like cutting off a limb. Without dance, I am missing part of me, the real me; the part of me whose feet sing in footwork, whose arms shout when moving freely about in African class and whose soul flutters every time it creates those gems of movement phrases while nuzzling up inside the creative process. Without dance, I am not Becky “B-Boogie” Bearse. I don’t know what I am really as like I have stated before, dance lives in my veins. Without it, I simply do not know how to exist in full.
Yes, one could state that this relationship is unhealthy. But, those of us who have experienced this turbulent ride of an artist know that while the ride itself is bumpy, it is also bafflingly beautiful, rich and satisfying in ways indescribable to others. Getting on the ride is also work that requires dedication, motivation and perseverance. These three words may seem cliché, but all are so true. Being a dancer who is skilled in diverse dance forms requires determination and sacrifices, as a dancer is usually in classes in the evenings and the weekends, when others are socializing. And, most of the time, art classes, of whatever discipline, are in the evening, and thus artists tend to socialize with artists, or at least those with interests in this direction. It is hard and oftentimes impossible to explain in words to friends and family what your art means to you, why you let it get into your thoughts twenty-four hours a day, and, in all, why it has this unhealthy pull on you. However, it just does and one day, you have to give in to it or you will feel empty for the rest of your life.
I am not being dramatic. I am not oversimplifying it. I am simply stating the truth, after years battling with this foe, which has proven to be a much stronger fighter than I would have ever anticipated. And, this time, I know the type of contender I am facing. I know its strengths and its weaknesses. I know that after thirty-four years of dancing, in ballet, tap, hip-hop, modern, Latin, African and breakdancing, amongst others, that while I have to give dance everything I have, it will in return reward me with everything it has as well. I may experience pain, both physical and emotional, and this is where determination comes into play because being a dancer is hard work. Hollywood, So You Think You Can Dance and ABDC, may present a glorious picture of the end result, but the elements that go into getting to that point are skimmed over.
A dancer must constantly refine, maintain and push her body and technique to new boundaries. At thirty-seven, I still take classes in various dance forms, as I become bored within just one dance form, and feel that all forms really inform one another anyway. Ballet informs modern, African and Latin complement one another and hip-hop and house, while different in their rhythmical structures, are great complements to one another. In addition, when auditioning for work as a paid dancer, most choreographers want dancers with diverse technique. Thus, you are more employable.
As a dancer, one also becomes prey to the insecurities of the dance world-weight, flexibility and age. As a female dancer at thirty-seven, I should be dead. Somehow, according to the rules that this world created before my time, my body should just shrivel up and turn into a pumpkin, never to be seen on the stage again. I am the first to admit that, yes, my body often aches and hurts in places it never did while in my 20’s and early 30’s. However, my body also never enjoyed and experienced movement the way it does now. It never embraced the creative process the way it does now. In all, it never felt the power of movement so strongly as it does now.
I also never understood the commitment to my body that was required to sustain it over the years. I always ate somewhat healthy and was an avid gym fan. But, I never focused on stability and core work the way I must now, to catch my body up to the images in my mind that I now create in the studio. My sister, a Pilates teacher, recommended that I see her mentor, Lizz Roman, and since then, which was only a little over a month ago, my body feels so much stronger and aligned. In all, the understanding I have now about my instability and the kinetic chain of injuries that this instability has sent up and down my left side, is no mystery and it is far from coincidental. In fact, it makes perfect sense when you think about movement and how it flows through our bodies. Whether walking, running or dancing, if we are unstable along one side of our body, someday some part of our bodies is going to revolt.
When I dance now, I use my core like I never did before, and like an engine, it powers the rest of my body with new strength. This work, in addition to going to the gym, to keep up with my strength training and cardio, and dance classes, are the things I need to do to dance until I am eighty. Of all artists, dancers cannot expect that our bodies will just maintain themselves without work, and not just the work we do in dance classes. The constant stretching before our bodies are warm is not healthy. It’s like pulling a rubber band after it is in the freezer. We need to be gentle with our bodies and reward them for the gifts they give us every day for our bodies are our artwork. They are the means with which we express ourselves. This fact alone is why I do the things I now do. And, I will be dancing when I am eighty. I can guarantee that.