I believe in dancing like nobody’s watching.
I began performing when I was three or four years old. My dance season began in late August and finished mid-June, and I went to ballet camps in the summer. This cycle continued for most of my childhood, and only intensified when I started high school.
When I was in fourth grade I was asked to be on my studio’s competition team. Two years later, I was given a solo. I spent hours rehearsing with my dance teacher and stayed long after my scheduled practices to perfect each and every part of my routine. But when the time finally came to perform onstage, my nerves nearly numbed my body. Toward the end of my performance, my foot slipped and I stumbled out of my turns. It felt like my whole world crumbled. My overall score was terrible, and I didn’t even place in the top ten for my division. But everyone else did. It was humiliating, and I felt like I had disappointed everyone. I returned to my studio and worked tirelessly, giving my routines twice as much effort and pizzazz. But no matter how hard I worked, I was never satisfied with my dancing.
I knew I had to make significant changes in my life when I realized dance had become more toxic than beneficial. I continually compared myself to other dancers and questioned my own abilities. I was my own biggest critic, always pointing out that my stomach wasn’t as flat as so-and-so’s, or that I couldn’t kick my leg high enough. Every time I walked into the studio, a wave of destructive thoughts filled my head. I wasn’t trying to better myself. I wasn’t trying to improve my self-esteem or stage presence. All I cared about was a plastic trophy and a false sense of achievement.
During my junior year of high school, I made it my goal to forget about the awards and the trophies and focus on my growth as a dancer, even if it meant I would never win first place. Once I began dancing like nobody was watching, dance became a form of therapy. I could release all of my stress and worries, and I didn’t care what anybody thought or said. I realized the only person I needed to please was the dancer looking back at me in the mirror.
This attitude adjustment not only impacted my dancing, but it also had a ripple effect. I began to see every challenge as a chance to better myself. I stopped obsessing over my mistakes, and instead I learned from them.
Dance has continued to be a part of my life now that I’m a student at Penn State. This past fall, I joined Penn State Dance Alliance. While college can be demanding, overwhelming and confusing, dance has given me an outlet to express myself and de-stress three nights a week. I’ve learned to ignore all the background noise. I never imagined a hobby would teach me a valuable lesson I could apply to my life outside the studio, but here I am.
I’m much happier and healthier now that I’ve shifted my attitude about dance. That’s why I believe in dancing like nobody’s watching.
Samantha Renck is a sophomore at Penn State majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in history and political science.