If you would have driven through my neighborhood in 2008, you would have seen a strange and humorous sight: a 12-year-old girl dancing outside her garage, blonde ponytail flying.
You would have seen the long, bright orange extension cord hooked up to a silver boombox and the concentration on my face as I practiced the moves from class. I’ve never been a confident or carefree person, but as I danced, you would have seen a girl who was free and fearless.
But what you wouldn’t have seen was the teacher who made it all possible.
It was the great recession and times were very hard. My parents, small business owners, were literally working night and day. And although they protected my brother and me from feeling that weight and kept us in our many extracurricular activities, I could see the deep worry lines on their faces.
But one day, my mom broke the news to me that I was going to have to quit dance lessons for now.
My heart dropped, but I tried to be strong. It wasn’t my only extracurricular by any means, so I told myself it didn’t make sense to be upset. I put my shoulders back and went to the garage for one last dance session.
The next day, after lessons, I slowly took off my jazz shoes as my mom quietly pulled my teacher aside to tell her we would be dropping out. But when we climbed into the car, my mom turned to me with tears in her eyes . . .
“She’s going to let you dance. She’s going to let you finish out the year. For nothing.”
My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my 12-year-old chest.
From then until the end of the school year, every time I walked into dance class, I felt a sense of awe. Dance was my haven from how serious the world felt outside. I’d look at my teacher and wonder why she would be so generous to me.
And every single afternoon, I’d grab my silver boom box, turn on music, and dance, feeling every worry melt away.
Years and years after that experience, I thought of that dance teacher again. I was a brand new mom, home alone with my brand new baby, feeling the weight of worry and anxiety. But something reminded me of that teacher and that experience. I wiped my tears, put my shoulders back, and took my son to visit our elderly neighbor who had just lost her husband.
When I got home, I turned on music and twirled my baby around the room until he flashed a toothless grin.
So, to the teacher who let me dance (and to my parents, who put me in dance in the first place!)–here’s a long overdue thank you. I didn’t deserve your generosity, and I still am not quite sure why you were so nice to me.
But because of you, I’ll always remember that showing kindness is one of the most important things in life. And when times are hard, I know you must always keep dancing.