How did you get into tap dancing? (Part 7)

The next part of this story happens in a five year “blue period” (or is it blues period?) from 2007-2012.

But, before I get there, I have to go back to May of 1997.

In May of 1997, I graduated high school. I knew nothing about vision boards or manifesting, but for some reason, I took a page in my yearbook to write down “the 10 things I want to do before I am 30.” Why the age of 30? It seemed like a milestone age by when I should have accomplished “great things.” One of the items on my list: “to perform with Manhattan Tap.” Pre-Internet, I had never seen a concert of theirs, but I read an article about them in Dance Magazine that totally sold me. It was the first article I had ever read about a professional touring tap dance company.

Fast-forward to July of 2010. I’m 30 years old. I am a mom to two baby girls, ages 4 and 1. I’m working a full-time job and not tap dancing that much, (although I am producing tap dance shows and community events here and there). I am consumed with the day-to-day grind of day care drop offs for two, washing bottles, packing diaper bags, laundry, working a desk job, and traveling to conferences every two months.

On the Internet, one day, I see an announcement for the 20th anniversary of the Manhattan Tap intensive in New York City. It ran for two weeks in July, from 9-5 pm each day, and it was led by Heather Cornell. I signed up on the spot, without figuring out exactly how I would do it, how I’d coordinate child care or even pay for it. I knew I had to be there.

The intensive changed my life. That’s the short story. I’ll write another blog post about why, one day. However, that long story leads me to right this minute. Once I came upon the realization that I needed to change everything about my life, in order to achieve my dreams, things got way more complicated. After I left New York on the last day of the intensive, I was on fire. I was ready to drop everything and do what I had always wanted to do - tap dance, teach, make things and create my own work. But, yeah - you can’t even visualize the mountain that stood ahead of me. Let’s put it this way. It took me 9 years to climb to just a peak in that mountain range.

In 2010, I had two little kids, I had no real network or following, I had put aside studio teaching for years, because I was just too busy and tired in the evenings with the kids. I re-played the same scripts in my head and came up against the same walls of practicality and responsibility that I always had.

I don’t believe that we make mistakes in life. I do believe that every experience is a learning experience. But, despite knowing these things, I do feel twinges of regret. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time not fully believing in myself. I wasn’t my own best advocate. The years I had spent out of the game lowered my self-esteem to the point where I made questionable creative decisions and counted myself out, when I should have known better. The thing is, I didn’t. This was my blue period.

Fast forward to May 25, 2012. National Tap Dance Day. I was working a sales table for my company at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Don’t worry, though, I was doing quite a bit of tap dancing. I was teaching a few private students, I was working at a few studios, and I was even in the midst of producing my first tap dance and live music concert where I planned to do a solo AND get this, I was going to perform in a piece of re-staged repertory by Manhattan Tap! (I had been working with Heather since the intensive). However, I felt no closer to my self-employed artist dream than I had back in 2010.

Here’s where the story gets a little nuts. Have you ever seen It’s A Wonderful Life? Ok, it’s sort of like that. Except I didn’t lose $8,000, or try to jump off a bridge, or have a tripped-out dream in Potterville. What I did get was a Clarence. Not unlike the movie, he wasn’t your typical-looking guardian angel. No wings, no halo. My Clarence was another sales rep from my company whose side hustle was in motivational speaking.

I barely knew this guy, but when you’re stuck in a convention hall for 8 hours watching people go by, there isn’t much else to do but talk. Not unlike the fictional Clarence, Sales Rep Angel was a quack-a-doodle. He had a shock of gray hair, a rumpled dress shirt and a wild manner of speaking. But again, I’m stuck in a convention hall, so, at first, I found him entertaining. I was rolling my eyes, thinking “just try to work your motivational BS on me! Go ahead.” LOL.

But yeah, the joke was on me.

About five minutes into our conversation, during which time we went through the basic pleasantries, (who got laid off this week, why our company sucks, what books are selling or not selling), he looks me square in the eye and says, “you definitely don’t belong here. What is it that do you really want to do?”

It was a simple question to anyone else but me. He touched a nerve that set off a floodgate in my brain that caused my right eye started to twitch uncontrollably. I would not stop twitching. He had got me. I felt like I was on candid camera. My cheeks flushed, and I turned my face to hide my eyes. Undeterred, he looks me dead in the eyes and says, “See. This is proof. Your body isn’t lying. You don’t belong here.”

In a blur, everything I had piled inside of myself for years just spilled out of my mouth. I remember saying, “I’m a dancer. All I want to do is dance. I want to tap dance to live music. I want to teach. I want my own studio. I want to make shows.”

He kept talking to me, and I kept getting more and more fired up. That’s all it took. Was all I had to do to say it and believe it?

I called my husband during a break and saying, “I’m going to quit my job and do this.” It took me about a year after that phone call to make my plans, hustle and take the final leap, which I did on July 27, 2013.

Before I left the conference that day, my Clarence said, “make sure you go home and draw a picture of what you want.”

I went home and I told my six-year-old daughter, Violet, to draw a photo of me tap dancing with jazz musicians on a big stage. When she drew the photo, I remember thinking about how, if the scene in the picture came true, that I’d consider it quite a pinnacle - almost an impossible achievement. She dated it May 25, 2012.

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Since that day, I’ve performed many times on a stage with jazz musicians. In just this year alone, I’ve achieved more than I ever thought possible.

I was accepted into the Stam-Pede showcase at Symphony Space in New York City! On January 6, I showed 17 minutes of my own choreography, with my own musical arrangements, along with some of the baddest tap dancers and musicians I know.

Photo by Whitney Browne

Photo by Whitney Browne

And then, just last night, I performed in two sets at South Jazz Club . What?

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This story is just getting started.