I’ve been dancing since before I can remember. My mom signed me up for ballet when I was four. When I was eight I would spend some afternoons blasting Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake on my dad’s enormous Technics stereo and performing for an imaginary audience. Dance took all of the emotions lodged inside and sent them through my body in surges of leg lifts, arm gestures and head tilts.
Dance has been my passion, my obsession, the house for my soul. You would think I would have become a professional dancer by the age of 14. But my father the scientist was appalled by the idea of dance as a career. In fact, to him it was merely a hobby.
The first fork in the road came when I had to apply to high school. Living in New York City, there were many prestigious schools: Stuyvesant for math and science, LaGuardia for the fine arts. “You will starve with dance,” was my father’s verdict. We spent the summer studying for the Stuyvesant entrance exams. And when I got home with that green slip of paper that was my acceptance letter, I just could not ignore the joy in my dad’s eyes. He was so proud of me.
Making my dad proud was not easy. When I came home with a 94% on an exam, he’d ask why I hadn’t gotten a 98%. Being critical was his way of pushing me to do more—it was his way of showing he believed in me. But to a teenage girl who adored her father it was heartbreaking. I never seemed to be good enough.
When I was in college, I rebelled from my dad’s reign-of-science by taking Political Science, Literature, Languages, and Philosophy. “What are you going to do with all of that?” he asked. I didn’t know. I took Calculus and Physics to make him happy. I felt like I was constantly walking two paths, never fully on one or the other. I finally chose to major in Psychology, thinking it could combine the two.
Ironically, it was my dad who pushed me to learn Argentine Tango, the first partner dance I ever learned. He became obsessed with it when I was 14 (perhaps wanting to go back to his roots) and decided I would be his partner so that he could practice at home. At the beginning I was resistant. When we started out the Tango community was dominated by people ages 40 and up—a very unappealing environment for a teen. But eventually we got good enough to learn choreographies and perform and I grew to love it.
While in college in Montreal I met a couple who had learned Tango in Paris, home of a thriving and young Tango community. They were in their early 30s and were hoping people closer to their age would become a part of the Montreal community. I started taking a lesson with them once a week and going out dancing about three times a week. Eventually we recruited more young enthusiasts and built a lovely social circle. We’d organize trips to Tango festivals in Boston, New York, Rhode Island, even to San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. My social life revolved around tango, as often did my school work.
At the festivals I met many wonderful people that taught dance for a living. They traveled all over the country (and some all over the world) teaching and performing. What a wonderful life—I wanted to do that!
I entertained the notion for a while. But, “you’re too smart for that kind of life,” was my dad’s argument. Doubts and insecurities lingered. I had a boyfriend that I was living with. It felt unrealistic.
I graduated. I started a Master’s in Neuroscience. I finished the Master’s deeply unsatisfied with my life in the laboratory. I didn’t want to “waste” my undergraduate and Master’s degrees so I looked for something that could build upon my existing knowledge base. Science Writing! I started a certificate in Journalism. I broke up with the boyfriend I was living with. With my certificate I moved back to NYC and did an internship with Psychology Today Magazine and then the prestigious Scientific American Mind Magazine.
I was successful. But unhappy. At every fork in the road, the same feeling came back to nag me: the “what if” feeling. What if I had chosen dance?
While doing my internships I began to delve into Brazilian Zouk. I had started with a few classes in Montreal, and was instantly reeled in by the soft undulating body movements and the very uncommon head movements. In NYC I joined a performance team. I began working with a partner on a choreography to compete at a congress in Toronto. I was hooked.
Seeing my articles published in a magazine never gave me the sheer joy that dancing and performing did. I made a decision. I would pursue dance. I was 28—it was now or never.
It was May. I took a part time administrative job and dedicated the rest of my time to Zouk. by September I decided that I wanted to go all the way. I would go to Brazil and train there for four months. I wanted to be a professional, I wanted to get on the congress circuit and teach and travel.
My Zouk friends told me that I had a rough road ahead. Most of the people who were paid to travel were Brazilians. Unless I partnered with a Brazilian, I had zero chance of international travel. And all the girls wanted a Brazilian partner… good luck finding that!
But the “what if” was stronger than any of these so-called road blocks. I didn’t know how far I would get, but I was going to put myself out there and try. Try my hardest. The universe could decide to take it away from me, but for now, no human voice could deter me.
I had taken a leap of faith, and even my dad’s anger and protests at this insane decision couldn’t stop me. I felt invincible.
Thus armed, I headed for Brazil.