Dance can be so much more than just moving

Dance can be so much more than just moving

“It is one thing to dance with your feet, and another to dance with your heart”

Sharida Rejon, Photographer

“Oh my god, stop dancing while you’re driving or you’re going to kill us!” These are words that are often said to me by whoever is in the passenger seat in my car.

It doesn’t matter where I am: the supermarket, the mall, work, standing in line in the cafeteria, in my seat at school, and yes, even behind the wheel. If I feel like dancing, I will dance. I don’t even need music, the rhythm is within me.

It all started when I saw a live production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” when I was 4. I remember so vividly being amazed by all the performers and the glitz and glamour of the stage that I leaned over to my mom and said, “I want to be up there. I want to be on that stage.”

My mom replied, “You can, if you work hard enough.” And that was the moment. The moment I decided to make performing my life and the day my dream was born.

After that trip to Disneyland in the summer of 1993, we returned to our home in Mexico where I started taking ballet and jazz lessons, as well as voice lessons.

I became involved in musical theater and performed in numerous shows and recitals throughout my childhood. I quickly fell in love with the stage. It was my home.

However, my life as a performer took a dark turn when my grandparents, who live in California, became ill, and my family decided to move to the United States so my mom could be close to them and take care of them.

I was OK with the move itself, after all, the stage of my dreams where I saw “Beauty and the Beast” is in California, but I just did not feel ready as a performer yet.

However, performing became the least of my worries when my real torture began: I was teased and bullied at school, beat up and thrown into trashcans. Black eyes, bruises, a hurt ego and being made fun of became an everyday thing for me.

Kids always found a reason to torture me: my appearance, my clothes, the way I talked, the books I read, even my favorite color would become the subject of their cruel jokes. In the first few months, I couldn’t understand a word anybody was saying, since I didn’t speak English.

I thought the kids in the English Learners program would be supportive and understand what I was going through, but I was sadly mistaken. They did not like me and they also made fun of me for having a different accent than them.

I did not fit in anywhere. Do you remember that scene from the film “Mean Girls” when Cady would lock herself in a bathroom stall and eat lunch by herself? That was me, except I didn’t eat lunch because I was starting to develop an eating disorder.

I just cried and told myself that things would get better eventually. When I started to feel like they weren’t, however, I became isolated, insecure, sad and felt worthless.

With all this going on in my life at the tender age of 12, I distanced myself from dance studios and dance classes, but I started doing a lot of self-training at home.

I would choreograph my own routines and watch dance shows, music videos, concerts and dance in front of the television. I managed to learn English in a few months and eventually returned to the stage, as a singer this time, and although my social life was still non-existent, all I cared about was performing. Being on stage was the most amazing feeling in the world, and that was enough for me.

Things were OK for a while. Although the teasing and bullying, along with my battle with the eating disorder came back in high school, I had a few friends who knew about my dancing abilities and I was comfortable around them.

I wouldn’t dare mention the word “dancer” to anybody else, simply because I was extremely self-conscious and felt embarrassed and afraid that they’d make fun of me.

Unfortunately, I learned to bottle everything up and never talked to anybody about my problems and worries. It is almost as if I had something against expressing any type of negative emotion, and became under the impression that shedding tears was a sign of weakness, so I stopped crying.

I survived those tests, but then in college, my problems became overwhelming. This time, they were more “grown-up” problems. It just became too much for me to handle, I fell into a state of depression and felt completely lost. It didn’t help that my habit of keeping everything to myself was still haunting me.

My little bit of remaining strength was running out and it felt like my life was hanging on by a thread, and I was ready to let go.

Then, I came across a prestigious dance school in Los Angeles, and although I felt like I had no chance, I took a leap of faith and got into their summer program. Little did I know that was going to be the summer that was going to change my life.

Being away from home for the first time, completely by myself was difficult at first, but from the moment I walked in that studio, it became clear to me that this was a whole different environment. I instantly became inspired and amazed by all the talent surrounding me.

It was surreal to me: all the dancers that I looked up to growing up, and still admire to this day, all those people performing on the dance shows, music videos, and concerts I watched when I trained at home were now my teachers and classmates. It was truly a dream come true.

On the last day of my trip, I had a conversation with Robert Baker, the founder of the school, who told me that I had talent and that my passion for dance was visible.

He also mentioned that they were not only his words, but some of my teachers as well. Those words will live in my heart forever, for they changed my life.

Although I have been back to that studio countless times and I am inspired and motivated each time, that first trip was special. It helped me find myself and the purpose of my life, as well as restoring my confidence. I never once looked back into the darkness, and it is always positive thoughts with me now, even through rough times.

I learned that dance is a form of expression, and I no longer just dance with my feet, but with my heart and soul. And even though I am still not very verbal about my feelings, I let people see me, the real me, when I dance.

Now my goal in life is not only to follow my own dreams, but also to inspire others to do the same with theirs. Since that summer trip, my life has consisted of auditions, rehearsals, performances, and being on camera. The first time I was on set, filming a promotional screening for the dance film “Footloose” was my first “oh my god, this is really happening” moment when I had to pinch myself.

Since then, I have done countless performances. I will soon be attending the International Dance Academy of Hollywood, as well as performing in a professional dance show in Hollywood, and was recently invited to perform in “The Dance Awards” in New York City this summer.

I now own a dance studio in Bakersfield where I get to teach and inspire kids every day. Remember that stage I talked about where I saw the live production of “Beauty and the Beast?”

This year, I will not only perform on it, but I am taking my dance students as well for their moment on that stage, and I am just getting started.

Dance not only saved and gave meaning to my life, but it is my everyday motivation because like one my teachers, who is now my friend, once told me, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

That, today, is my life motto.