And seven years ago this time, I was just about to leave for New York for the first time. I said, “everything in my life has been leading up to this (as with all things!) and I’ve nothing to lose. Everything I did have to lose by going, I’ve already made the choice to give up.” I then noted, “bonds can be reforged even after time passes and we are no worse for the wear. If anything, we’re better off” and ended with a toast, “Here’s to our lives – every day a new beginning to be shared with those we love.”
Everywhere in New York is damp with the sweet, steady rain that’s been coming down since midmorning. The dance studio is nearly empty, and I breathe deep of the spaces between the scattering of couples who shift across the floor. Here is the place that ever drew me to New York, scouring miles with long drives and bus rides during school holidays just to get here, and even now the co-owner of MBD, Steve, sometimes says, “I always forget that you are here for good now.”
The more I throw myself into dance, the more I feel this unnerving sense of guilt. Am I wasting my degrees by doing this? What am I doing it for? Is it really for good?
My dad describes the same feeling when he goes fly fishing – an activity he does for no other reason than the pure pleasure he gets from it. He doesn't know why he does it, but he obsessively pursues the perfect cast, delights in the sensation of a crafted loop unfurling like a banner onto the water. “Why do basketball players spend hours perfecting their free throw?” he asks, “What societal benefit does that fulfill? Nothing." But maybe, we decided, there is value in the act itself, in the effortless grace of creating that loop, of laying the fly line precisely in front of a fish's nose. And my grandmother - she painted amazing works of art to portray the strength of women, made a sculpture to demonstrate the wind moving through trees, and did she ever ask herself, "why am I doing this?"
Despite this, I feel selfish spending thousands of dollars on dance lessons, when there are people starving and homeless. I used to think I wanted a Corvette, nice clothes, better electronics, things. But it turns out, what I really want is a perfect tango walk, and an effortless feather step in foxtrot... My dancing is my way of giving, even if what I have exists only in the fleeting moments of the time I have used to make it. What I value in my dancing, is what I value everywhere in my life: To be technically strong and emotionally vulnerable, to take those things and, with a partner, to create something both expert and beautiful.
Of course dancing is many other things too: it is a means to interact with an incredible community of people. It is exercise, it works wonders for confidence and posture and musicality. But for me as Jennifer Chin it is an act of love, because being an artist is in my blood, and because when the music starts and I feel the floor under my shoes, the dancing is all I want.
I don't mean for this entry to legitimize selfishness. I admit that I am writing because I feel a constant pressure to prove to people around me that this pursuit is meaningful, and because I think other people might feel the same pressures and maybe it will make them feel better too. This is worth me doing, instead of going into the high-powered job that those graduate degrees prepared me for, instead of being a person with a 9-5 job, or a girl who just wants the marriage-and-children path. This is more than just a hobby or a passing interest.
Usually other people can express my thoughts better than I can. Today my practice partner put it best: You do it because it makes you feel good, and because deep inside, you know this is who you are. And even if dancing might seem selfish, we can dance in a way that is humble and that creates a place of warmth and joy. People celebrate this, if it is who you are, they will understand and love you all the same.
Then he said, if you feel selfish, then go do something else in your spare time that makes you feel more generous.
Seven years ago, I predicted that in New York, I would "find myself". A year ago, I was in North Carolina, still looking. And now? I'm here for good.