As a dancer for almost twenty years, the art form taught me more about myself in preparation for the rigors of academia than I ever could have envisioned. One of the most trying lessons I’ve learned is to let rejection roll off my back and harness my energy into the acceptances. In the dance world, many auditions are a grueling day-long or week-long process where you must mentally prepare to push through fatigue, bruises, and sweat beyond limits and bounds. Oftentimes, you leave an audition without the role, position, or spot you visualized.
It’s a lot like academia. You pour your time into crafting a research question, selecting a methodology to test your hypothesis, writing your results to make your argument as effective as possible, and spending copious amounts of energy editing and rewriting to pull your work together. You edit your writing and study the literature of the most well-known and commonly cited scholars as dancers enhance their technique, stretching their limbs and ensuring alignment, and watch other dancers for inspiration and motivation. You spend months and years perfecting your craft as a researcher, as dancers spend months and years working on their body placement and showmanship.
Even with the preparation, rejections come frequently. With every rejection, as I remind myself in my dance career, “There is always something better on the horizon,” but even more so that there is another opportunity, another journal, another conference that has exactly what I’m looking for and they’re looking for my work too.
For me, there is no feeling in the world greater than being able to tell my story through combined eight counts of rhythmic contracts and releases of my muscles. As a woman of color, I’ve tried to shrink myself to simply fit the rigid societal standards of society but with dance, I am able to stretch and make myself physically larger as an act of empowerment. As a researcher, I also use my platform to highlight untold stories by employing creative methodology in my work and making sure that student voice is at the heart and center any time my pen hits paper. Dancing taught me to pour a whole, creative heart into everything I do, to think critically, and to always dedicate myself to becoming a little better each day, all skills necessary in navigating and persisting through the rigors of academia.
Dancing also taught me how to challenge spaces that were not meant for me. Although the paradigm is starting to shift, academic spaces perpetuate systemic and structural barriers through a multitude of practices such as funding and institutional politics. Ballerina Misty Copeland talks about how Black bodies are not celebrated in ballet, but rather criticized and ridiculed. We see that happening in institutions across the country, where Black bodies are being policed and controlled in the same educational spaces that promise diversity and equity.
I had to learn to love my curves and natural hair as a dancer, which set the foundation for me to love the sound of my quiet, yet dynamic voice in meetings and classrooms. Imposter syndrome is pervasive and I struggle with it almost daily.
If I’m able to get on stage and show the rawest and most purest version of my soul through movement, I can speak up in class and I can certainly speak up in meetings, recognizing that my voice, my body, my soul is valid and valuable, no matter the space. Whether it be facing countless rejections or grappling with feelings of self-doubt, dance prepared me to traverse through the murky depths of academia with confidence and grace - something I hope to continue to instill in the little Black ballerinas I teach.