I Never Left The Stage


Molly Heideman

Illustration by Alyssa Maziarz

When bright lights would hit my face, I felt at home. Thousands of people have probably watched me dance, but it feels more normal than you would think. For 12 years, I performed under a microscope, my every move recorded. I sometimes wonder how different I would be without my extensive dance experience, but I do not think I would trade it for anything. 

Photo Credit: Molly Heideman

I started dancing when I was six years old. My parents noticed how shy and quiet I was and wanted to get me out of my shell. It kind of worked, but more importantly it gave me an outlet for expression. I turned into a different person on stage, which my parents would probably argue was exciting and new to see.

As I got older, I started jazz and tap and began to advance my skills. In fifth grade, I joined the competition team for both my age’s jazz and tap group. Traveling around Ohio with my friends was a really great experience and gave me friendships that lasted through high school.

However, added pressure became more apparent as the years went on. I am a type-A person and a perfectionist at heart, so I would practice my routines for hours during the week and would run through routines in my head, especially when I got bored in class. For every song I heard on the radio, I would make a routine up in my head, sometimes going through the motions with my hands and feet, a habit I still can not kick. 

At the height of my dance career in middle school, I was at the studio for about six hours a week. While this might not seem like a lot, I attended two to three dance classes every other night that usually went late into the night. I stayed up late to work on homework and study for exams. 

Photo Credit: Molly Heideman

One memory stands out to me: I was working on math homework at a dress rehearsal for my recital and was crying to my mom, because I did not think I would be able to finish it by the next day’s deadline. 

This was a common occurrence where I became incredibly overwhelmed by the amount of high expectations I had to meet. The pressure made me feel like I was an experiment, seeing how much life could push me to be better and do more when I was already at maximum capacity. 

With expectations came self-doubt. I began to compare myself to everyone; my jumps were not high enough, my turns were sloppy, I was not thin enough to be a dancer. This self-critical talk still torments me, and I have not danced since my senior year of high school. Now as a senior in college, I have been reflecting on how dance shaped me into the person I am. 

Being a dancer changed the way I viewed myself. Often, dancers are imagined of a certain “type”: lean, clean and sharp lines. I never quite felt like I met that type. I often was put in the back because of my height, even though I sometimes felt I deserved to be in the front because I knew the routine and perfected it. 

By nature, being a dancer made me my harshest critic. While I worked through years of trying to be more empathetic towards myself, it is still ingrained in me to want to be the best at everything I do, even when I am not capable of doing so. 

I want to love myself, and I think most days I do, but having a rigid perspective of what I should and should not be is something I learned through 12 years of trying to be one thing. Dance provided me with the opportunity to learn about myself and to find growth in myself. If anything, I found a balance of knowing my worth and accepting myself for who I am. 

I will be frank, I miss the attention and feelings I got when I was dancing. I felt seen as someone I was not sometimes, and it almost felt euphoric. I still run routines through my head and show off my dance tricks at parties to impress people, as some old habits die hard. Maybe I will get back into it when I graduate, but for now, it is just a good memory.