When I was 12, I wanted to be a dancer. No…seriously. In the middle of class, I would envision myself moving as elegantly across a huge stage as an Alivn Aliey dancer. My mother sent me to Harlem School of the Arts every Saturday morning. And every Saturday, I would walk into my ballet class and attempt to show off my best pirouettes, grande jetés, and plies in a hope to be taken seriously. I even considered taking pointe classes.
One day after class, the instructor sat us down and asked who wanted to be a professional ballerina. All the girls (whose mothers had obviously forced them to take the class) put their heads down in embarrassment. There were four hands in the air. Three of them belonged to the best dancers in the class. Ballet, and the elegance that came along with it, seemed to come natural to them. The fourth hand was mine.
The instructor scanned the hands that were in the air. He looked each and every prospective dancer up and down, sizing them up. He smiled at those who had their hands up, they were his class favorites. Then his eyes landed on me… He gave me a look that even at 12 I had seen plenty of times before. It was the “You? No really…you?!” surprised look that always had a way of making me uncomfortable.
I was one of the tallest girls in my class and puberty had hit me early (lucky me right?). My once pudgy body was now filled with subtle curves that stood out in a dance studio filled with petite, thin girls. I ,of course, had no idea what to do with my new body. I often needed a bit more practice to perfect the moves.
At the time, there were barely any ballerinas or dancers of color and definitely none shaped like me. I was awkward, ill proportioned, and shy. But, I was passionate, flexible, and eager to learn. I really wanted this. As he looked at me, he sighed then smiled as he caught himself. He began to give us a speech on us taking the steps to be a professional dancer then dismissed us.
As we left, I heard a couple girls whispering about me. “Her?” they said as the giggled and walked towards the changing room. From that day forward, I never did ballet again.
Growing up, I had always let other people’s words affect me. It was one of my worst traits. In fact, I remember begging for (and eventually getting) my first perm not because I wanted straight hair,but because one of my then “friends” said I had waves better than her boyfriend.
All throughout middle and high school, I depended on the opinions of others. It wasn’t about acceptance or about standing out. It was more about blending in. I despised being the center of attention in any situation. I’d rather look like everyone else than look different. So, if that meant perming my hair, rocking Babyphat jeans that were two sizes too small ( don’t judge me), and not doing things that I actually liked (dance and painting), then I’d do it. I know I was just a teenager but my life was repetitive. It was a never-ending cycle of caring about other’s opinion. Looking back at how I was in high school and looking at me now, usually makes me laugh.
When I got to college, things became different for me. Maybe it was because I didn’t know anybody there or maybe I just didn’t care anymore. It was as if one morning, I woke up I had an epiphany. It was as if I had evolved. I didn’t care what people thought of me because to be honest: that was their business and had nothing to do with me. It took me a long time to learn how to gain confidence. It took me an even longer time to learn how to love and accept myself. But now that I’m finally at this point, I promised myself I would never go back again.