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Melissa Presser reflects on how the art of dance brought her back to herself.

We forget our childhood. Our dreams and passions. The wide eyed, heart-open innocence lodged deep within our bellies. It’s easy to let the early years be a distant ocean, a moment in time, a forgotten land. We are swept away in the complexities of what we call life.

It’s easily been twenty or so years since I’ve been back to dance class. This is what I grew up doing and loving. Expressing emotion through movement and music. Using my body to tell a story, paint a picture, evoke a feeling. And while many perform for an audience, I always performed for an audience of one, just me.

Emotions were complicated but dancing was not. It was always home there, familiar and embracing. Practice and practice and practice again until it was just right -- the right angle and note and sound and feel. Back then when I danced it was a solid eight count, no “and ones” or in-betweens. It was strict, boxy and left no room for self-expression. And while I loved to dance, I left it because it didn’t allow me freedom. I didn’t want to be forced to take ballet or stay within an eight count, I wanted to fly around the room.

I guess on the inside I never did really fit in. The look fit and maybe even the resume, but not my insides, not my soul. I was attracted to spiritual things and nature, and found great solace in writing. But I created a world for myself where those things couldn’t exist. I created a world that molded and pleased others.

When I got into the real world and became an attorney, my passions all dissolved. I was back to boxy, back to that strict eight count with no room for the both/and. I stepped completely into the picture of what the world expected of me, and expected that to make me happy. I surrounded myself with people who suffocated me and placed conditions on their love for me. I was a bird in a cage.

When the pandemic hit, I was still looking from the inside of the steel bars that entrapped my mind. With nowhere to go, a family to take care of, and the constant stream of work drowning me, my soul bottomed out. I knew it was time for a change, and I was right. God concurred.


dancer leaping


It took a long while for me to realize that God wanted me to be happy. That He wanted me to be exactly who He made me to be. I had spent so long being someone else that I had forgotten who I was, and I knew that emptying that other person was going to take some serious hard work.

Our identities are like fingerprints, unique to each of us. God stamps those on us in the womb like a gentle kiss and makes us who we are. But we are human- we forget, we doubt, we give in to sin. We so often become a version of ourselves that we never imagine, an image for someone else rather than the image that God created us to be.


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It took a long while for me to realize that God wanted me to be happy. That He wanted me to be exactly who He made me to be. #catholicmom

So, I decided that now was as good time as any to get back to being me. I signed up for and attended a self-improvement event, got serious about my fitness training, connected with people who supported me and my journey, and finally went to therapy to deal with my trauma. It was a long year, my exodus year, but it was the best year of my life. I pushed through boundaries and broke through them, made so many new and amazing friends, quit so many things that were no longer serving me and made peace with my past. God placed people in my life who held me up and cheered me on. He also made me shut the doors in my life that I had left open for far too long.

I am at the tail end of my exodus year and am already seeing the beauty in it all. Just last week I decided to come back to dance class. I was nervous about that eight count and the memory of that little girl who just wanted her soul to move and soar. That was until the dance teacher announced that to really feel the piece that he created, we had to live in the “and.” That we had to be ourselves and nobody else in that class.

“You shouldn’t look like me when you dance,” he said, “you should look like you.”

It was then I saw the promised land, it was then that the cage doors opened.

Copyright 2021 Melissa Presser
Image: Gabriel Sanchez (2017), Unsplash