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Suzannah Friscia
Invitation to the Dance
Jazz Dance

What is a Recreational Dancer?

by Suzannah Friscia
February 23, 2014
I don't know how to answer the question "Are you a dancer?" "Yes" seems like a lie somehow. After all, I'm not a professional, nor am I "advanced" by anyone's definition. I don't attend class regularly, nor is there a style that I specialize in. Doesn't "yes" imply that I should at least be able to touch my toes without bending my knees? To say "no," though, also feels wrong. Because I do have a dance background, and, most importantly, I find that dance is a significant part of my life. So usually, I just mumble something about being a recreational dancer, and let the question pass. The question-asker nods in understanding. But in reality, I'm not sure either of us knows what a recreational dancer is.

From the time I was a little kid, I knew I loved writing, and I knew deep down that it was what I wanted to do. But I was also always drawn to dance, almost without realizing it. I grew up watching the tap numbers in movie-musicals and wishing I could feel those rhythms in my own body. I dreamed of being a child Broadway star and took piano lessons to explore my love of music. My mother took me to see the ballet in Boston: Giselle, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty. I still remember the way I cried the first time I saw Romeo and Juliet at age 12, surprised by the intensity of my tears and grateful for the privacy of the dark theater. I heard the music in my head for days afterword.

I started taking ballet and jazz classes when I was seven in a small, friendly studio where we all wore royal blue leotards and prepared short dances for the end-of-year recital. In ballet class, I often felt awkward and out of place. Even though I was supposed to be there "just for fun," it bothered me that I was the least flexible student in the class, and that I didn't know how to put my hair in a bun. I enjoyed the dancing itself, and kept taking class for eight years, but struggled to get past the self-doubt and the sinking feeling that I didn't really belong.

In college, I rediscovered dance, and approached it from different angles and perspectives. I took dance history courses and saw as many performances as I could. I watched my favorite clips of Fred Astaire on YouTube each night before bed, memorizing every sound. I began to combine my interests in dance and writing, learning how to describe the movement I saw. I took technique courses too, trying ballet again after a few years' absence and experimenting with styles I hadn't tried before. I finally put on my first pair of tap shoes, and it didn't matter that I was an adult beginner – the thrill and excitement I had anticipated as a child was there, perhaps even stronger than it would have been if I'd started earlier. My best teachers made me feel that I had something to offer, whether or not I was technically proficient. And in learning that I could still be a part of the dance world in my own way, I learned that there is more than one way to love something. I knew it was highly unlikely that I would ever look like the professionals I saw onstage when I danced. But that didn't mean I shouldn't do it anyway.

A recreational dancer knows this lesson well. This type of dancer is difficult to define, because they come to dance at so many different ages and ability levels, for so many reasons, from so many outside perspectives. Dance is important to them, not in a way that leads them to pursue professional careers, but in a way that enriches their lives all the same. They love it even though it may elude them, frustrate them, even humiliate them. They love it even though they may only get to class once a week, once a month, once in a while. They love to watch it, to read about it, to support it and be a part of it in any way they can.

Sound familiar? Are you a dancer? I'm beginning to wonder if maybe it's just the wrong question.
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