The thrilling conclusion to last week's blast from the past.
By Jen Littlefield (Choreographer/Librettist)
Welcome back Crazytown! As you might remember, we left off with me in LA killing time as I waited to hear if I'd made it into the life-changing, year-long training program at the EDGE Performing Arts Center (for the whole story, click here). I have no idea what the other 24 did to pass the time that night, but I went out with my friend and host for the weekend and his close friend who happened to be one of the judges. All I remember is this teacher telling me how much everyone in the room liked me, especially Cindra, and how he was sure I would be on the list tomorrow; don't worry.
I got to the studio at 9am and headed straight to the bulletin board. I read the list. I read it again. Then I saw below; the alternate list. I was the third or fourth alternate. I'm pretty sure I stopped breathing for a while. How could this happen? This was my dream, my life. I was meant to be in LA training every day and preparing for my future as a dancer who was going to make a living dancing, and dance forever. I have no memory of the time between reading the list and finding myself in the director's office listening to his explanations of why I didn't make it:
"Jennifer, (I was still a Jennifer then), it just seemed like you didn't want it bad enough. I couldn't find the passion in your eyes."
And then the truth came out - "Jennifer, it's your body. Not that I'm saying you're fat or need to lose weight, but the shape of your body is not ideal for a professional dancer. Take a look for yourself."
He then let me look at the judges notes. I received all high marks on my technique, my execution, and my personality, but the body type/weight section had consistently middle to low scores, especially on body type. Body. Type. Something I was born with and have absolutely no control over. I'm basically pear-shaped, so I carry most of my weight in my hips, thighs, and ass, which is apparently a deal breaker for choreographers, agents, and directors of scholarship programs. And I thought I had issues with my body before this experience…
So what happened next? I stuck to the plan and still moved to LA. I made my own way by working 2-4 jobs and paying my roommate's parents half my rent on the 1st and half on the 15th, while supplementing dance classes as a work-study student and assisting teachers so I could train for free. And I had a great time for a while (parties! a super boy friend! independent shows!), until I realized that I wanted to learn with the other half of my brain again.
Then I applied to a few schools in big cities (UCLA, NYU, U of C), was accepted to the University of Chicago, and went there to study Anthropology.
It was the best decision I ever made (a close second is moving to NYC after I graduated, but that is a story for another day). I danced, taught, choreographed, created, explored, and grew more at this non-dance school than I think I ever would have in LA. I joined a burlesque troop for 8 months. I developed, scheduled, and produced a six-week master-class series. I created a giant all-inclusive show for every possible student-run dance club, giving them a platform to present their often underrated talents to the administration, faculty, and students. I did an archaeological field school in New Mexico for 6 weeks and later wrote an honors thesis about my systematic study of a collection of bones held by the department, where I searched for evidence of Tuberculosis (I didn't find any but I found some really interesting diseases and injuries).
It was perfect. And in no way resembled the life I thought I would lead when I graduated high school.
So what is the point of all this, you ask? I ask myself the same question multiple times a week. And this is my current answer: you may think that you BELONG somewhere. That there is one perfect place for you and if you don't "end up there" or "get into such and such school," or "book this one job," your life as you know it will cease to exist. I know for a FACT that this is not true. The Universe (with a capital U because it's like God with a capital G) often has bigger and better plans you have yet to discover.
And your only job at this point is to just keep going. No matter what happens or doesn't happen to you along the way. Because if you give up at the first sign of doubt (both internally and/or externally) you'll never meet the people who will become your friends for life (my U of C dance friends), or find a new passion (narrative choreography and musical staging), or discover a hidden strength (teaching beginners and actor/singers who have always been terrified of dance), or uncover a related but completely different talent (writing musicals).
JEN LITTLEFIELD is a freelance choreographer and writer with a few steady teaching gigs at Pace University and Concordia Conservatory. As she's come to discover, freelance is code for constantly working, so she is also a single gal who lives and lives-it-up in Hell's Kitchen. www.jenlittlefield.com
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