I Started Dancing at 27 and it Changed my Life
By Veronica Viccora
Three words was all it took for my dreams to come crashing down.
"You're too old."
This was what the instructor told me when I tried to sign up for my first ballet class.
I was 17.
I spent the following decade living in the echo of those words, resigning myself to a life of quiet, tearful foot tapping from the audience, but never the spotlight. The art of dance was clearly destined for a chosen few, and I wasn't one of them. But I had longed to be a dancer since I was 5. After a brief stint in a ballet class at a local church in my hometown on Long Island, I'd instantly fallen in love. But the program didn't last and my family couldn't afford to send me to anything fancier. So I spent most of my youth singing and dancing to Mariah Carey CD's on the boombox in my room and learning choreography off a cheerleading DVD I prized. So at 17, with my own job and my own money, I could finally sign up for a proper class.
Or so I thought.
The trouble was, at such a young age, struggling to find myself and dealing with major imposter syndrome, I had assumed, like many of us do, that my own judgement was not to be trusted. What if I couldn't do this? What if I'd missed my chance? So when a professional dancer, told me to turn around and go home because, yes, in fact, I was too late to the party, I didn't question it. I didn't really know that I could've fought for my position in the world.
But every now and then, curiosity would get the better of me. What was a tendue? How could I hold my releve longer? How could I nail my pirouettes? I'd drop into an adult ballet class or a ballroom dance workshop or dance all night at a club in the Caribbean and feel that familiar sense of levity that nothing other than moving to music could provide. But it would never last long. As much as I wanted to be there, I didn't really believe I should be. When money got tight, or teachers seemed unenthusiastic, I would ultimately give up after a month or two.
That was until, nearly a decade after that initial heartbreak, I decided to follow a different dream: moving to New York. And perhaps it was the rush of the city, the creative energy in the air or just the newfound ease of getting to a studio consistently but, with trepidation, I signed up for a Burlesque Jazz class. I figured it could either be the worst experience or the most liberating experience of my life.
Turns out it was the latter.
We shimmied. We shook. We dropped. it. low. Like really low, like thy burningly low. And yes, there were plenty of ~youngsters~ there, but it was refreshing and eye opening to see that there were there were dancers from 17 to 70 sweating it out alongside me. No one was unwelcome, everyone was encouraged. I had told myself for so long that I'd never be good enough, that I was too late. But here was so. much. proof. that this was the hugest load of shit I'd stepped in since the time I lost my favorite pair of mules (and I don't want to talk about that).
It's ironic that I felt so locked out of the dance world for so long, when in fact, to dance is to be alive. Our bodies and brains are so intertwined, and it's vital that we all make time to jump and spin and turn ourselves upside down every now and again to shake loose the limiting beliefs hiding in the dark corners of our minds. I realized that for a decade, I had let a complete stranger rule my life. That teacher's words hit a nerve, validating my biggest fear that I'd never amount to anything and I spent nearly a decade of my precious time on earth seeking acceptance in so many ways because of that fear. I became plagued by analysis paralysis, terrified to step outside my comfort zone, terrified to try anything new for fear of failure.
But somehow, I made it here, living out multiple dreams simultaneously. Living and dancing in New York City, and chasing so many other creative pursuits with a newfound understanding that nobody gets to decide my life for me. I'm not dancing to be a professional, I'm not dancing for validation. There are days when I pick up the choreography with ease and sail through the routines, and there are days when I have no idea what the actual hell is going on. But I'm dancing consistently, I'm dancing for freedom, I'm dancing for me.