When I was in college my junior year I was a mess. For starters I had a messy living situation where two of my roommates were abusing drugs. Meanwhile they would always turn on me as the bad guy for not doing my laundry as constantly as they did but what they were doing was illegal. On top of all of that I found myself engaged to someone who was sucking all the life blood out of me. The relationship was a disaster but what had become a snowball was becoming an avalanche that was consuming me. As you could imagine my mind was not always on keeping my eyes on the prize. The classes that were easiest for me were a breeze however those that were more difficult and took more effort for me were an unwelcome challenge to a woman being eaten up by the outside world. One of those classes was dance.
I remember my dance teacher at the time was a man by the name of Jeffrey Ferguson. Jeffrey had been a dancer with both the Joffrey Ballet when they were located in NYC and also toured the world with Alvin Ailey and his dancers. In his fifties Jeffrey could move better than the rest of us. Sounds incredible right? Well my plan was to hide in the back the entire year and copy off of my neighbor. He would never know the outside world was kicking my ass and I was less than engaged. Not to mention while tumbling had been my strength as a kid, keeping the rhythm had been my weakness. I figured Jeffrey would never know I was choosing to take the hour and fifteen minutes allotted to teach us how to dance as space to drown my thoughts in my fiancé and my impending roommate doom.
Wrong. Jeffrey knew right off the bat what I was up to. The first day of class he told me to pay attention not once but three times and told me right off the bat, “I see tremendous potential in you.” Translated, Jeffrey was like Santa. He knew who was sleeping and he knew who was awake, and if I chose to be an errant student in this class I would get my ass beat. Right off the bat Jeffrey let me know that my boy problems as well as my roommate problems were not welcome in to walk through his door in not so many words. Taking a deep breath while it was the kick in the behind that was being firmly delivered and that I desperately needed I dismayed because it was going to be a long year. Being a standup comedian dance was low on the list of priorities. I knew my quirkiness and puppets would open the doors for me. However when Jeffrey entered the building it moved up several notches on the ladder.
I thought about faking an injury to get out of dance class. Maybe I could take another singing elective. My voice was getting decent because I was starting to train it. Not to mention mask and gesture was one of my favorite classes because of my continual work with puppets, and Carlos and I got along swimmingly because of my free use of my imagination. Or maybe another movement class with Michael who adored me as well as the ideas I brought to each different assignment that I did. I also thought of a third acting class but two that lasted four hours every week were enough. So I decided to hang in there and dance.
There were times where I struggled, like how I cried my eyes out my first tap class having never danced. Then there were times I shined and got it, especially when I chose to get out of my own way. Still, even when I wanted to quit Jeffrey never gave up on me. Sometimes it meant telling me he was proud of a mountain I climbed that day in class. Sometimes it was letting me know the answer was not to tune out when I felt everything was overwhelming me. Sure I was probably one of his most errant students but somehow he always had faith I would get it.
My last day of class with Jeffrey I let him know I would not return the following year because I was graduating. I figured Jeffrey would have been stoked that he would never have to deal with me again. Not to mention I thought I was getting married and dance was the last thing on my mind. Instead of saying “good riddance” because after having me in class maybe he wanted to, Jeffrey told me something that I will never forget as long as I live. He said to me, “Don’t ever give up on yourself. You can do anything you want to in life, remember that.”
I always remembered those words. I remembered them when I eventually had the courage to break off an engagement to a man who was unhealthy for me in every way possible. I remembered them when I graduated from college, moved into my own apartment, and took the risk of a quirky job in order to pay rent. I have remembered them every time I set foot on a standup stage and tackled an audience that has been a challenge. I remembered them when I cleaned up my life and started anew.
Yes I have danced since graduation. I am not dance captain and have since moved to the middle of the line. I don’t let choreography overwhelm me either. Maybe I didn’t join Ailey like Jeffrey did and tour the world but I have the courage to do so many things that words do not cover them because of this class and this man, time step included.
Thank you Jeffrey. Thank you for pushing me and giving me the ability to dance into the wind. And now I live my life fully and courageously dancing, leaping, spinning, as fast as I can. Above all things my moves are tight, my mind is present, and I am pointing my toes. Love April