My last dance: Closing the curtain on a longtime commitment

A student reflects on June 12, 2021, the day she performed her first and final solo, which served as closure after 17 complicated years of dance.


June 12, 2021

I was standing with my right jazz shoe pointed behind my left ankle when the spotlight abruptly highlighted my lone figure on the elevated auditorium stage. Nervous sweat was beading along my hairline and dribbling down my face like tears.

In the brief moments of silence and stillness, before the opening synth sounds of “Hurts Like Hell” by Fleurie, I ran through an accelerated version of the two-minute number I was about to perform in my head. A couple hundred people, among them my family, boyfriend and longtime dance classmates, waited patiently to watch my first and last-ever solo performance.

As the song began and muscle memory kicked in, I closed my 17-year dance career with a number I never thought I’d perform.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with dance. Starting lessons at the age of two, I took almost every class my dance studio had to offer: tap, jazz, ballet, pointe, lyrical, Irish and contemporary, and even taught classes for children ages two to 12.

As a child, I loved the sense of belonging in the studio and watching my friends create beautiful performances, but I was never good at doing the same. 

While I could execute clean tap combinations and memorize routines, my movements were stiff and awkward. I never embodied the grace, flexibility or skill I’d hoped for. 

Insecurities about the way I moved led me to self-isolate from many of my classmates and lose my once magical connection with dance. However, I continued because I didn’t want to abandon something my family and I devoted such extensive time and money to.

By the time we reached high school, my friends had performed countless solos and duos in various shows and competitions. The smallest number I’d done was an Irish dance trio in middle school, which only became a trio because some students dropped the class. 

I was too insecure to take on a dance where the focus would solely be on me, but every dancer was expected to perform a solo their senior year. People I know would have to watch me bumble across the stage, blundering simple choreography, and the imminent embarrassment made me shudder. 

However, I graduated high school in 2020, so my final recital scheduled for June of that year became another event derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Absolving me of my dread, I feigned disappointment that I’d graduate without a solo and secretly celebrated.

But as time passed, I realized a core aspect of my identity was entirely gone. I spent nearly every weeknight at the studio for the past decade, then suddenly one Thursday in March, my routine stopped. I was no longer a dancer. It was weird. 

I was empty, nostalgic for dance’s stable presence in my life. When I started at Temple in Fall 2020, college courses and activities began to fill the vacancy, but stuck at home with online classes, the feeling never fully dissolved. 

Then, in early May 2021, my instructor Ms. Donna called me. She told me she’d be having a recital in June and asked if I wanted to perform my solo to make up for my lost final show. 

I hesitated before saying yes. I agreed partly because I knew she’d be disappointed if I declined, and partly because I wanted closure to something that’d been a part of my life for so long. 

The dread I’d felt just one year prior bubbled inside me again, but I knew I could make myself and everyone around me proud by following through with just one more dance.

I stopped by the studio and picked up a CD recording of an old contemporary group number. As I was no longer a student, I didn’t have an instructor to teach me, so I reworked the choreography in the video to fit my solo and learned it on my own. 

For two weeks, I poured all of my energy into perfecting the dance to the best of my ability. Although I had spent the last year completely void of training, I did everything I could to ingrain the dance in my body.

Then, I went on stage in June and performed for Donna’s Dance Works for the last time. 

Sprawled across the stage floor with my heart beating a bit too fast, the music faded and the spotlight dimmed, marking the end of my dance career. 

Amid my blurry adrenaline before running into the wings, I took a moment to gaze at the people I was so scared to let see me dance. They were clapping. Some were even crying. 

It wasn’t a great performance — I missed time in the opening, messed up a jump and overall, didn’t move gracefully — but it didn’t need to be. Instead of feeling embarrassed, I was satisfied. I overcame my insecurities for two minutes and followed through with the longest commitment of my life. 

My family and friends congratulated me with beautiful bouquets and suffocating hugs, reinforcing my pride in following through with my final performance. I was surrounded by love and celebrations for the end of an era.

Dance was never something I was meant to pursue, but it taught me lessons of responsibility and friendship throughout my youth. I learned to respect the value and impact of something in its prime and to move on once it serves its purpose.

June 12, 2021, allowed me to let go of a rocky relationship that fueled my insecurities and instead embrace dance as a nostalgic memory of my girlhood.

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