By: Amy Jennings
When I was a senior in college, ballroom dancing was my passion. I competed in it for two years and hoped to one day teach and run my own business. It led me to Tucson, Arizona, where I moved to work with a teacher and pursue this dream of mine. Having little experience in relocation, however, I underestimated the stress of starting over in a new place and how much it could interrupt my plans.
Learning to live in a new community took more time and energy than I expected. Finding work, paying for basic needs, and connecting with other people, for instance, challenged me daily. I barely danced for months, as I struggled to figure everything out, and consequently watched my goals drift further and further away. In an attempt to find a place of calm in my unstable situation, I started taking yoga classes near my new home. The studio let me enroll for free in exchange for cleaning once a week. As it happened, these classes offered not only exercise and peace of mind, but also encouragement to make it through another day. Each session had a theme or idea to focus on, and one day it happened to be life disruptions.
“A disruption is a life-changing event,” said the teacher Elizabeth. “It can be a new job, a death, or even having a child. It is interesting when you are with a group of yogis and they are sharing disruptions – someone will mention a terrible thing that has happened to them and the occasional yogi will respond, ‘Awesome!’ Of course, everyone wonders, ‘Why would they say that?’ But when you have a disruption in your life, that person knows it is a chance for you to grow…and let go of the previous lifestyle you were hanging onto.”
I thought about this and my pursuit of dancing in Wisconsin. I made it the focus of my life and put it above almost everything else…including my personal wellbeing. I often sacrificed outings with friends or family in order to practice and afford lessons. I could not even go on vacation without setting time aside to practice jive or cha-cha in hotel hallways and bathrooms, sometimes at 3 a.m. Moreover, even after I stopped dancing consistently, I still held the mentality that it was the only thing that mattered. I measured myself and other people in terms of dedication to dancing and the extent to which it was placed above everything else – travel, education, career development, getting married, and having a family. It was not until I came to Tucson and experienced several disruptions at once (geographically, socially, economically, mentally and physically) that this changed.
“When you encounter a disruption,” Elizabeth finished, “it will bring you closer to the truth about yourself.” My disruption made me evaluate my priorities and look at who I – Amy Jennings – truly was. When I arrived in Tucson, I had to put dancing aside to concentrate on earning a living and surviving on my own. It was only then that I learned ballroom was not the sum of Amy Jennings, but only a part of her. It took awhile (a painful while) to see that perfect rumba walks and feather steps or the number of hours I practiced did not determine my self-worth. It took a severe separation from my “life’s passion” to see that I was a fun beautiful person, regardless of how I moved on the floor.
As I gradually let go of an old identity, my disruption gave me a chance to grow in ways that I had put on “pause” while I danced. I experienced a creative outpouring as I volunteered as a photographer for a middle school program, learned to fix a bike, created a promotional video for a hostel, took a four-day yoga intensive course, tried lindy hop, west coast swing and argentine tango (dances that I normally did not do) and had fun! I also watched a lot of movies, visited friends, went to a ballet performance, worked at a sushi restaurant, and wrote and wrote and wrote.
I did give competitive dancing one more try though. I ended up finding a great partner, and for several months we practiced, studied technique theories, and began taking regular sessions with our coach. However, my desire to become an elite dancer and know everything about ballroom dissolved; it simply was not as important to me anymore. There were other things I wanted to learn and I did not want to spend the next several years in a studio. So I purposefully left competitive dancing behind and moved on – life is short after all.
I think disruptions, as painful as they can be, make it possible for us to experience the many things we want in life. We choose a path, learn a new skill and gain a certain mastery of it, and then have a break to switch gears. We are allowed to “have it all” in doses. A break from our routines may or may not be welcome, but I think it keeps us from limiting ourselves to a single way of being. It lets us extend ourselves in more than one direction and become interesting multi-faceted people. Disruptions are not necessarily permanent either. I intend to dance again, but it will be different next time and, perhaps, only for fun. It seems that 2012 was a difficult year for many people, and we all had our share of challenges – forming and letting go of relationships, moving to a new place, losing and gaining work, etc. Instead of dwelling on the pain of our disruptions though, it might do us well to think about what we were hanging onto and how our new situation is asking us to change. In the end, I think that occasional yogi was right – a disruption is awesome, because awesome is what we will be when we come out on the other side.