Editor’s Note: Slam books are a thing of the past, but there is one question that has remained unanswered: What is love? In an attempt to answer that this love month, the Scout team writes personal essays about the troubles and bliss brought about by this thing called love.
I was eight months old when I danced for the first time.
Before I can walk from down the crib or crawl to my parentsʼ arms, before I uttered the words “mama” and “papa”, and before I learned my ABCs—I knew how to shake it to Aquaʼs “Barbie Girl.” It dawned on my mother that maybe I am a prodigy of dance. That at the age of six, I would cry if I am parted from my pointe shoes or maybe break my ankle for doing toe-pointed turns wrong. But I was too busy smiling to know all of that.
I was three years old when I danced in front of my relatives for the first time.
Like any other parent, they paraded their child during reunions and birthday parties. They found me adorable and chubby. My minuscule frame held my doll dress from OshKosh perfectly. Surrounded by my uncles and aunts, I swayed to whatever music they played. Maybe they were hits from pop groups like Spice Girls or Steps. I didnʼt know exactly which artist it was; I just knew that following the beat and letting it dictate my body movements made me feel happy. In return, they gave me money, but I didn’t know what colored paper was for back then.
Dancing is the one thing I canʼt fuck up. It made the people around me happy—and that made me happy.
I was seven when I danced for a ʼ70s themed school program for the first time.
Hearing vintage music for the first time didnʼt feel like listening to tracks from a forgotten era. When I was younger, I didn’t have a hard time swaying my hips to bass lines and spinning my fists around each other, for god knows what. Teachers complimented my ability to pick up choreography easily. As they play “Baby You Can Drive My Car,” I eerily pictured a music video in my head, starring me and my classmate whose name I canʼt recall.
For a while, I thought I existed to dance forever. Dancing is the one thing I canʼt fuck up. It made the people around me happy—and that made me happy, too.
I was eleven when I danced in school functions for the last time.
Looking back, the fourth grade seems like a moment in time I didn’t bother to remember all that well. One memory served as the only exception; my junior dance squad days. We danced in school fairs and functions. During a school fair, I remember Gwen Stefaniʼs “Sweet Escape” playing as we enter the stage. Sadly, I canʼt remember the rest.
I only remember how I barely smiled. A friend of mine, who was also my bully, told everyone I was a bad dancer for the corners of my lips barely move upward as I moved. This used to bring me joy—when did it stop? When did the beat of a good song no longer jolted my nerves to move?
This used to bring me joy—when did it stop? When did the beat of a good song no longer jolted my nerves to move?
I was fifteen when a friend dragged me to modern jazz with her.
In high school music classes, we used to choreograph steps to ’70s music together. She thought it was because I loved vintage music ever since I was seven. As she observed my movements, how my hips easily swayed and how my body grooves to the beat, the thought of my “pointe shoes destiny” never crossed her mind. Was it intuition that pushed her to grab me by the wrist, pulling me to absorb French ballet terms that I will only use for prose in the future?
“To Build A Home” by Cinematic Orchestra filled the dance studioʼs corners. I gasped. “I sleep with this song playing.” Cold stares greeted me before everyone proceeded to shadow our instructorʼs movements. When I was younger, my agile body mimics flowers in our garden—graceful, feminine, and naive. Ballet is an art form that demands this energy.
From the start of those lessons, I learned these French terms: My plié, passé, arabesque, and chassé. It’s strict, precise, and graceful. My technique only absorbed those first two words. I have gotten more aggressive than graceful since then.
Somewhere, somehow, I found myself alone with my instructor when I was fifteen.
Nowadays, I can’t remember what those French terms equate to. But it was the only language I spoke back then.
“Observe your movements,” she instructed as she made me face the mirror. She calmly instructed, “Plié in the third position.” My hands were on my hips as I slowly bent my knees, with my right foot in front of my left. “Demi plié in the second position,” I slid my left foot away from my right one, making me look like a cousin of Kermit. “Transfer the weight up,” I pointed my right toes, lifting my body upward from squatting frog-like position. “
“Close in front,” as she says it, my right foot brought my body down slowly, settling in front of my left foot again. It was mundane. Routines like this calmed something inside me. So why am I unsatisfied with how I moved?
Routines like this calmed something inside me. So why am I unsatisfied with how I moved?
I was still fifteen when dancing broke what’s left of my heart.
The center stage is a dream that I picked up, let go, then back up again. This is similar to a familiar routine I picked up when I do secret pirouettes after every dance lesson. For the first time, it will happen in front of hundreds of people. My parents had pined for this as they watched me grow from three-foot to five-foot tall. But I guess, some things just change over time.
Before they would drag me to the living room to dance to a contemporary girl group’s latest single. With dreams of taking center stage when I grow older, they clapped along to the beat and watch me move to my own rhythm. I’ve learned to stand on my toes, spin my weight without puking, and smile through the pain of my soles.
My parents had pined for this as they watched me grow from three-foot to five-foot tall. So for the first time I pliéd in front of hundreds of people, they weren’t there. Maybe my father got impatient and thought, “if I scream at her loud enough, it might break her spirit and ankles for good.”
My parents had pined for this as they watched me grow from three-foot to five-foot tall. So for the first time I pliéd in front of hundreds of people, they weren’t there.
Tardiness is a trait frowned upon by my father. So being me, I disappointed him for being not able to meet the deadline again. I learned this the hard way, similar to my inability to comprehend advanced French ballet techniques—with uncontrollable tears, confusion on its difficulty, gnawing physical pain, and self-depreciation that Y.A. novelists canʼt begin to illustrate.
Somewhere, somehow, I was sixteen when I found a book about dance that’s not about dancing.
The fingers of my right hand flipped the pages of a contemporary Japanese novelist. Out loud, I read a passage loud enough to send ripples down my soul.
“Dance,” said the Sheep Man. “Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougotta dance. Don’teventhinkwhy. Starttothink, yourfeetstop. Yourfeetstop, wegetstuck. Wegetstuck, you’restuck. Sodon’tpayanymind, nomatterhowdumb. Yougottakeepthestep. Yougottalimberup. Yougottaloosenwhatyoubolteddown. Yougottauseallyougot. Weknowyou’re tired, tiredandscared. Happenstoeveryone, okay? Justdon’tletyourfeetstop.”
ButIletmyfeetstop, okay? WhydidIletmyfeetstop? DoesitmeanIcan’tdanceanymore? Myankle’sbroken. Mytwostepsarefucked. ImightbefuckedforlifebutImightbewrong.
I was twenty when I traded dancing for fist fights.
When I was younger, my mother would pick up my hands, caressing and glancing over them. “Ang lambot talaga ng kamay mo,” she cooed at me. She pressed my small digits as if it was bubble wrap. As I grew older, a slap from me leaves a red imprint on people’s skin that lasts for 15 minutes. If strangers stole a glance, they donʼt see a lady, but they see an entity of rage. I almost punched my trainer square in the face once while we sparred ‘till the sun went down.
“Bubbly” by Colbie Caliat found its way in our gymʼs playlist. Laughing over the misplaced melody, he did a pirouette like how a person expects a male boxer in his 30s would. I tapped his shoulder and corrected him. “Hindi kuya, ganito kasi ‘yun.” Plié, passé—and then I twirled with gym shoes instead of pointe shoes.
He watched me in awe. At that moment for him, the aggression that is often present on my face disappeared. He saw a glimpse of who I was when I was fifteen…then seven….then three. “Sumasayaw kasi ako dati,” I explained to him, leaving it to that.
For once in my life, my hips didn’t sway for expectations to be met. I framed my face not because I wanted to impress instructors. The body wave I did with disco music playing was for me.
I was barely twenty-two when I danced mended my heart again
Your first love is your first love. Thereʼs nothing that can change that. In life, I found myself entangled with the field of misfits and artists. Writing proses and think pieces on a daily has been my day-in-a-life. The word plié is found in my life through ink, not through movement. But sometimes, my arms will bend backward and my body will move with a good melody. Last night, I vogued my way to the dance floor while “Mighty Real” by Sylvester plays.
My knowledge of ballet has become a party trick. And whenever I dance, it will be in dim-lit bars with fellow queer people in it. I haven’t stepped foot on a dance studio for seven years. My pointe shoes are rotting somewhere behind my shoe rack. In hindsight, I think my parents have forgotten that I danced in the first place.
They played “Mighty Real” loud enough for my heart to follow the beat. Without thinking, my drunken body went on autopilot, it started gliding toward the dancefloor. My hands were framing face as if I was the cover of a fashion magazine. As I move to the middle, queer people I never met cheered me on.
“I feel real, I feel real, I feel real,” Sylvester’s voice echoed out. The illusion of happiness and freedom overtook me. For once in my life, my hips didn’t sway for expectations to be met. I framed my face not because I wanted to impress instructors. The body wave I did with disco music playing was for me.
For once in my life, I finally danced for the sake of me.
Art by Aira Ydette