By: Morgan Thompson
The reason I started dancing was really just a stroke of luck. A stroke of odd luck that I was abysmal at competitive sports when I was younger. While I played on a baseball team and a basketball team. I showed nearly zero promise in those fields and I constantly met the looming obstacle of “competition”. The idea of trying to compete with others wasn’t completely foreign to me, but it wasn’t something I naturally fell into. I struggled trying to “beat” other people. Other kids had the competitive spirit whereas I just wanted to play the game and have fun. I could never give it my all if I felt that I was going against another person.
Then, on a whim, my parents signed me up for a dance class. For the first time I was able to give it my all without the fear that I was comparing myself to another. It also didn’t hurt that I had a natural affinity for rhythm. The idea that in dance, it wasn’t a winning or losing situation actively excited me. It was just pure expression.
As a child with ADHD, blooming into my teenage years, dance was a format that allowed that creative spirit to funnel all the excess energy, rage, and hormones I had into a positive experience. While my parents were simply satisfied that I was merely getting the exercised needed as an adolescent, I was honing my creative spirit through an expression that made sense to me, and connected me to others. As my skills improved, I hit a major crossroads – the same one that a child who is good at sports must face. Do I try and make this my career? Or do I keep it as a hobby? I could either audition and hope to join the PG fam and seriously and intensely begin my career dance training, or I could join a local community dance group. I chose the latter and am so unbelievably thankful that I did. Not to put competitive dance in a negative light as it provides such an amazing experience for those that take that route, what I cared more about was the community aspect.
For me, dance was this thing that transcended language, borders, and time itself. When I danced, I connected so deeply with myself and those around me that it was nearly impossible for me to feel unhappy or overwhelmed. While it still provides creative outlet, the reasons behind why I dance have started to tilt more in favor of the connections and communities I have forged through the use of this expression.
Surprisingly, for those that have not truly met me or talked with me about my background, they would never guess I’m diagnosed with clinical depression. This was shortly after I was forcibly put on Adderall medication in my teenage years. Adderall, if you’re unfamiliar, can have a dampening effect on one’s sense of emotion and can really leave you feeling vacant. My friends and family drifted away from me. I had less ambition, I smiled less, I generally interacted with the world less. I started to retract into a shell and while dance was a great source for me, it didn’t fix everything. I would come to class and just feel blah about things and would go home. I had low self-esteem, and would assume the worst in myself. If there was an audition piece I automatically assumed I wouldn’t get chosen, so I wouldn’t even throw my name in the ring. Finally, my teacher looked at me and sat me down and asked me why I never tried to audition. Naturally I told them I was no good. He shook his head in disapproval and said “It disheartens me that you can’t see the immense potential inside yourself. But we teachers, we see it.”
That meant nothing to me until a couple years later when I was offered my first chance at teaching. I taught a group of teens around my own age some choreography and for the first time, I got to see things from the teacher’s perspective. Seeing that ONE student struggling to get a move and then executing it perfectly. Seeing the amazement and happiness in their eyes when they finally overcome that one move that’s been blocking them so long. Seeing the friendships and communities that are built in just a one hour class once a week, it was absolutely amazing. Sometimes, I would teach a piece and would be met with defeated looks as students (very much like myself) assumed the worst in themselves. It was like looking back on my own life, but this time, I had the power to inspire. To turn that around. To make these kids, teens, adults…these DANCERS understand that they are so unbelievably amazing. That they have so much creativity, and intelligence, and emotional awareness, but they just can’t see it in themselves.
We all have this big blind spot in our vision that tells us we will never be good enough. But teachers, they can see past that blind spot and they see their students for what they are. Living breathing miracles that take an extraordinary art form, and use to connect with others and better themselves. I believe this is true for teachers of every profession. It’s their job to overlook the blind spot and guide the students through something challenging. As I started to see things through this lens, teaching actively helped me with depression, gave me purpose, and allowed me to feel like I was making a difference.
I enjoyed the feeling of guiding people to this realization: that they are truly amazing and have overflowing potential regardless if they’re a novice or a master in their craft. Now, I’m unbelievably blessed to be teaching at amazing communities that share my love of teaching and building connections. Dancing and teaching brings out the best in me, and I hope I can use that to bring out the best in others.