I recently left my job as a professional dancer after 7 years of touring the world doing what I love. These years were grueling and blissful, soulful, heart-wrenching, enchanting and unforgettable. It’s rare a person gets to live out a dream such as this, and I know I am extremely lucky to have been able to do so.
After 7 years in this highly acclaimed company, I started to feel the desire to open my life up to other people and things that I loved. I loved my job, but it was so consuming that it was the only thing that could really hold significant space in my life…everything and everyone else came second to the demands of the job and the very specific lifestyle I had to lead in order to maintain this job. It was all worth it. I wouldn’t change it, but it was time to turn the page even though leaving scared the shit out of me and I never felt entirely ready to throw in the towel.
I left because I had this small voice telling me it was time to go even though I wasn’t quite ready, and had no idea what I was going to do next or where I was going to live. I just started taking steps to free up my life so that whatever the next move may be I was traveling lighter, and had fewer strings attached.
I got rid of almost all of my things. I own one chair now, my clothes and journals, a few treasured books and photos, and some of the artwork I have collected from traveling. I made it a point to collect local art instead of shot glasses when I was touring 🙂
I finished out my contract with the company, saved as much money as I could to live on for about a year, cleaned out the room I was living in, broke up with my boyfriend and consciously became a nomad gypsy for no other reason than I felt I had to do it. I felt that after my time in the company, that is how I defined myself, as a professional dancer, and whether it is true or not that’s also how I felt everyone else defined me. That’s all people talked about with me, all they wanted to know about. I wanted to see what was under this title I held. Who was I now after all these years of chasing and then fulfilling the dream if I were to take it all away. As I write I wonder if I was punishing myself to cut it all off, but I see it more as a reset, and setting myself free from any labels, places or job to tell me who I was supposed to be.
It has only been 2 months since I left this comfortable, rewarding position. I returned back to the place I grew up and spent time with my family and old friends, and revisited places from my childhood. I welcomed back memories both painful and pleasing that these images, places and people uncovered. I saw the basketball courts and fields where I grew up playing sports, bars I used to stumble out of, slept in my childhood room where I lost my virginity to a boy who snuck in through my window. I hiked the trails my parents used to take me on as a child, dug up the garden in my Dads backyard where my old dog is buried and cried in my big sisters arms because I was so terrified that I didn’t know what my next step in life should be.
To not be tethered to anything in a way leaves me suspended. I can go in any direction, I can do anything. People keep telling me what an awesome opportunity this is and how I should be so happy. I have never cried so hard and felt so lost and depressed as I have in these last couple months. I have never not been working towards something. I have never not had a job since I was 14 years old and I’m 33.
I felt all of my insecurities. I felt like a loser because I was not working. I felt I was going backwards because I was back home where I grew up. I felt like a fool for cutting off my whole damn life when there was nothing really wrong with it. I felt I felt I felt, but I still did what I did. I did it because that little voice told me to, and I knew I had to listen.
Now there are things that are showing me it is not so bad to feel this way, to be stripped down and be in this position. For one thing it is so entirely revealing about what is difficult for me. It showed me that I have a very hard time not having a regimented schedule, sitting still, breathing, relaxing, accepting the here and the now. It showed me I am a worker, the energizer bunny and that to slow down creates panic for me.
How crazy to realize these things. I have taken small steps to confront these things, take notice, and help myself through. One thing I did was really try to breathe. I would wake up in the mornings and feel anxiety and panic upon opening my eyes. My bodily systems would activate into stress…..and I practiced breathing in these moments and softening up my tissues and letting this pass. It worked. The breathing worked.
I started getting up early. I was sleeping in because I had no fixed schedule, I was feeling depressed and I just would. So I started waking up early, with the influence of a dear friend, and going on hikes very early in the morning, before the sun was all the way up and thinking about my day. My Dad said there was an old saying at the Bible college he went to that said “Get up before the Devil does” This made me laugh, and it also felt true. At that time of the morning, with how still and quiet everything is, how beautiful the light is and the entire atmosphere at that hour…it just really feels like nothing bad has room. It all feels good to me. It looks good, smells good, feels good. My days ended up feeling infinitely longer being up with the sun, and I was tired at a decent hour, and I woke up feeling way more rested.
My childhood friend who has always been very close to me invited me to go to Buddhist temple with him. I did because there wasn’t a whole lot on my schedule and I am always open to learning about different ways people think about spirituality. I liked this because it talked a lot about having control over the mind and not letting distracting thoughts take us over. I like the idea of observing my thoughts and assessing whether or not they are really true or if I need to buy into them before I just get swept away in whatever the mind is pumping out. To believe I have a choice in this is empowering.
I got into contact with a dancer friend who still lives in the area and we rented some space and I choreographed with her. It ended up turning into a piece about anxiety, about what I was going through and it was therapeutic. We haven’t gotten a place for her to perform it yet, but it felt meaningful to make anyway. I taught my high school dance teachers dance classes for two days and fell on my face the first day, then did way better the second day. I felt proud of myself and inspired.
There have been other things I am experiencing that are stretching me in ways that I never could before because I didn’t have the time and I didn’t have the space. Reading, writing, meditating, going to arts things, traveling, being in nature a lot. Learning to care about others and the world around me more than being so focused on my own ambitions and my own career. I realized I was deeply, deeply self-focused. In a way that made everything seem like way too big a deal and made it hard for me to ever see the big picture…..beyond what I was personally going though. That’s been tough to see. But now I see why I had that little voice telling me it was time to go. It was time for me to grow emotionally, time to broaden my perspective and face the things that had been holding me back. There is value in stopping, in slowing down. There is value in doing “nothing”, because there is always something being worked through or discovered underneath when we do this.
I still don’t know what the next step will be, where I will live and what job I will have. But I know this time is sacred and that life and this opportunity I have been allotted to step out into the unknown is truly a gift.