I have always known in my heart that dance is a gift that is borrowed, but I rarely ever think about the dreaded day when I will have to give it back. The first dance class I ever took was at a Dolly Dinkle Dance Studio around the corner from my house. I was 6 years old. To be brutally honest, with the childhood I had, dance saved my life. A few decades later (bite your tongue), I feel at the top of my game and believe I have many more years to embrace this God-given gift, so you can imagine the DEFCON-1 level of fear that engulfs me when I hear people around my own age say they are "retiring" from dance.
Retiring? What the bleep?!
Let me just say: No matter how hot to trot you think you are or how much "game" you believe you may possess, few things will bring you back to reality like hearing someone born within five years of you say they are of the age to retire from your field. Don't even get me started on the countless people I know (also around my age) who are having their faces poked and prodded with God knows what by dermatologists, in hopes of erasing any visible signs of emotion. Now, I know being in my thir... twenties does not make me old, but like the title sequence of that famed soap opera suggests, like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of my thighs.
The idea of time marching on (over my face) and leaving the wreckage of beloved things like dance and smooth skin in its wake not only scares the bejesus out of me but brings up so many ugly issues I have with getting older. Grandma Moses, party of one!
(Now, Reader, I understand that our relationship here on The Huffington Post is rather new, but this is the point in the story where you are supposed to jump in and tell me how young I am!)
Throughout the majority of my youth, my identity was solely rooted in being a dancer and wanting to be good-looking, two ticking time bombs in the eyes of Father Time. As a kid, I was badly bullied and mostly got attention from my peers when being pushed around and called a faggot. It was during that time in my life, when I felt worthless and invisible, that dance and my physical appearance started bringing me positive attention. I was fortunate enough to receive praise from my dance teachers, and the older men in my community theater troupe sure seemed to think I was attractive [insert laughter]. I had learned to define my self-worth based on how others saw me. I held on to these perceptions like they were lifejackets on the Titanic and never bothered to define my own.
As an adult, I've come to realize how much of my self-worth is tied up in areas that are out of my control. I have also come to understand that I built the entire foundation of my (low) self-esteem on fickle, fleeting qualities; after all, neither dance nor looks will be around to lovingly tuck me in at night if and when I reach old age.
I find myself asking questions: Why am I fixated solely on the number of years I've been on this Earth? Why does the inevitable end of my dance career and the probable deflating of my ass instill me with such fear? And probably the most important question of all: What is the proper cut-off age when I have to stop shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch? I am still heartbroken over recently having to say goodbye to other age-inappropriate stores like Hollister, Spencer's Gifts, and Gymboree.
I remember when people started thinking I was younger than I really was. If someone asked me if I was 26, I would simply say, "Well, isn't that something? You should work at a carnival!" That way, I never said my real age and never had to tell them a fake one. It wasn't actually lying, just withholding the truth. As time went on, I got greedier. I'd tell people I was 24, and if the lighting was in my favor, I'd go even younger. I started playing a fierce game of limbo with Mother Nature. You know, "How low can you go?" Once, in a club, I told someone I was 18 (it was really dark) and waited for their face to contort in horror and disbelief. They didn't even blink. I figured either they were kind, drunk, or legally blind.
My mother says that Oprah says, "When you lie about your age, you are denying your very existence." Well, Ms. Winfrey has more than proven that she knows a thing or two about a thing or two, but I venture to guess that she has never worked in a field where once you hit your mid-forties, you are looked at as though you should be carbon dated.
There are many people whom I have loved and lost who would die (ooh, bad pun) for another day on Earth to grow older. I truly am very grateful for every minute of the journey. If I make it far enough along the way, I'll have many things to look forward to: gray hair, wrinkles, obscenely large earlobes, problems digesting raw vegetables, and the wonderful gift of not being able to recall anyone's name on a moment's notice. I could very well continue to "rage against the dying of the light," or I could come to terms with it all and embrace it.
Now, let's get one thing straight: I'm not saying I'm willing to throw in the towel and walk around looking like Old Mother Hubbard or that guy from Crosby, Stills and Nash (you know the one!). I just have to learn that there is a huge middle ground between looking like Mother Nature made you her bitch and looking like my generation's version of Jocelyn Wildenstein.
The older I get, the more I learn that I possess many age-defying qualities. It's as if the universe is teaching me that I can now define myself. While it takes patience and a willingness to be vulnerable (not my strong suits), I am discovering that I am also smart, quick-witted, and a good writer. I am a loyal friend, a caring family member, and a loving husband (and apparently very humble). Years ago I never would have acknowledged myself in such ways, let alone taken the time to cultivate and celebrate them.
When my anxiety settles and I am in a clear state of mind, I truly do see the many roads that lie before me. While I have been a dancer since I was 6 years old and will remain a dancer even after I can no longer walk, here I sit, the boy who thought he had nothing else to offer, writing on The Huffington Post. Talk about a lesson from the universe!
Also, this notion that we expire at a certain age is absurd. Who's to say that there aren't other forms of passion and success waiting further down the road for me? Just look at some of my newfound idols: Zelda Rubinstein didn't start telling people to "go into the light" in Poltergeist until she was 49; Colonel Sanders didn't start his franchise, Kentucky Fried Chicken, until he was in his 60s; and who could possibly forget Kazuo Ohno (cricket... cricket...), the famed Japanese dancer who began his dancing career at the ripe old age of 43? There's hope!
So it's decided: I am going to try my best to grow old gracelessly... I mean gracefully. I will celebrate all of my enduring defining characteristics and dig even deeper to discover new ones. I will choose to believe that there will be magic and miracles in my life right up until my last breath (which could very well be taken through the underside of a pillow, thanks to my all-too-hungry beneficiaries). I am going to cancel my consultation with Dr. Botox, learn how to jump rope using my earlobes, kick back, relax, and break wind with my loving husband What's-His-Name.
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