Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about lost potential.

I know that I have a long professional career ahead of me. I know that I’m extremely lucky to not only call myself a writer, but to do so for a living. Am I writing New York Times bestselling novels like some of my friends? No. But there’s no expiration date on writing. I can keep at it and keep working to get better. Someday I might even write something important. It’s not happening now, but it could happen. There’s an actual shot. So this isn’t about that.

It’s been 10 years since I’ve been able to say, “I’m a professional dancer.” I stepped right up to the line. I even stepped over it. I started with crap jobs, as any aspiring artist does, but I landed with a great company about to go on tour. (That company is now kicking ass all over the globe.)

performing at Jacob's Pillow with Deca
performing at Jacob’s Pillow with Deca

I don’t know how far I would have made it if I weren’t injured. It’s very possible I wouldn’t have. But I didn’t only pour my career aspirations into my dance dream. I became it. I’ve tried to bury the old me. I told myself that person was gone. The problem is, she’s not. She’s still there inside of me, itching to get out. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

How many times have you watched a superhero origin story where the antagonist says something like, “I always thought I was destined to do more. To be something. To make a difference. Now I can.” What would happen if that very ordinary person with extraordinary dreams never happened upon his super powers? Where would all of that energy go?

Sometimes you gotta take a few crappy jobs to get to the good ones. Filming a pilot for superhero crime-fighting dancing cats called The City Kitties.
Sometimes you gotta take a few crappy jobs to get to the good ones. Filming a pilot for superhero crime-fighting dancing cats called The City Kitties.

I can tell you.

It festers just under the surface, manifesting itself as a constant desire to jump out of your own skin. It makes you restless and then listless and then restless again. It forces you to keep searching for the next thing and the next and the next. It causes you to pace in your cube like a coyote in heat, fingers fluttering, lips twitching, shoulders rolling. You pace, you pace, you pace. Then you sit back down because there’s nothing you can do about it.

You’ve lost the ability to [insert great thing] but you still feel the pull, like a phantom leg. Or maybe you never really had the ability in the first place. It doesn’t matter. What matters is you had a dream and it was never realized, and it never can be. You have to reckon with that. There’s no amount of positive thinking and chutzpah that can change that fact. And it hurts. It really, really hurts.

La douleur exquise. It’s a French phrase made famous by Sex and the City that means “the heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.” The literal translation: the exquisite pain.

I have loved dance since I knew what love was. Dance may have even loved me back. But I couldn’t have it.

Dance even took me to China.
Dance even took me to China.

Since my injury, I’ve tried to dance, even just for fun. I’ve puttered around in my house to some music. I’ve stood at the counter and attempted ballet barre exercises. I’ve put on my pointe shoes and tap shoes. I’ve busted out a clumsy six-step, just to see if I remembered how. I remember how. I just can’t get my body to obey. I’m slow and heavy and if I push, my injury pushes back. The pain puts me back in my place. But my brain…my brain remembers.

It reminds me that I stood in the shadow of dance giants, miming the graceful fluidity of Theresa Nguyen, the raw talent of Tony Bougiouris, or the power of Lauren Masiello, future professional dancers I trained with in my studio days.

That I took classes with masters like Gus Giordano and Desmond Richardson and Ray Leeper and Mia Michaels, who taught me how to harness emotion into movement, to understand how to make a performance dynamic.

That I interviewed dance legends Debbie Allen, Gregory Hines, and Patrick Swayze, hip-hop pioneers Rokafella and Popin’ Pete, prolific choreographers Wade Robson, Mandy Moore, Tabitha and Napoleon—getting inside the minds of greatness, learning what it takes to take it to the next level.

It reminds me of the competition dancers, the audition buddies,  the dance teams, the teachers, the dance moms, the dancewear makers, the studio owners, the dance photographers, the shoe fitters, the Broadway dancers, music video dancers, street dancers, reality TV dancers, dance writers and historians, choreographers, college dance majors, judges, entrepreneurs, agents, publishers, producers, artistic directors, dance therapists, folk dancers, swing dancers, jazz dancers, contemporary dancers, tappers, ballerinas, b-boys, stompers, krumpers, poppers, steppers.

Ask me about any of them and I can tell you. I knew them all.

Sometimes you get to be in the dance magazine before you start working for the dance magazine.
Sometimes you get to be in the dance magazine before you start working for the dance magazine.

I stood in the shadow of dance giants and felt I could someday measure up. I knew I had an uphill battle, but I couldn’t be stopped. Until I could. And now, 10 years later, that energy still bubbles under the surface, desperate to be released. I’m in a constant state of potential energy, building and building, but never transforming. I’m still climbing that hill, but there’s no crest in sight.

There comes a time in everyone’s life who has fallen short of their dreams to admit that they can’t achieve them. I know, and have known for a long time, that I will never dance (that way) again. It’s painful to admit that. It’s painful to fully realize. It’s painful to let go.

But at least it’s an exquisite pain.

green of skin, black of heart

2 thoughts on “La Douleur Exquise

  1. Beautifully written Wendy. Brought tears to my eyes.
    Perhaps you saved yourself from the rejections that are such a part of every professional dancers’s life. You are a very talented writer who can definitely say,
    “I danced.” Love, Charlotte

    1. Well, there was plenty of rejection before the injury, haha. But I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t experienced the rejections along with the successes! Regardless, I always be proud to say “I danced.”

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