Since a very young age, I’ve always been drawn to individual sports. This was a realization that took years of trial and error to discover. When you have a twin brother and two other siblings, your parents try to limit the hours of their “chauffeur” service and tend to put the siblings in the same sports. My parents tried to put me in baseball with my twin brother for years, but I soon realized this wasn’t a fit. I vividly remember, during a game in one of my years of youth baseball, chatting with my buddy on second base while the ball zoomed passed me. “Will, go get it!” “Hurry, Will!” I remember looking at the ball and thinking, I really don’t want to “get” it, do I have to? Reluctantly, I got the ball, probably allowing the opposing team to score a few runs during my moments of stubbornness.
So America’s favorite pastime was clearly not my cup of tea. My parents understood that there might not be an “I” in “team”…but whatever team Will was on would surely have an “I”. So while my twin brother ventured off into football, which he would later excel and participate in through college, my parents attempted putting me into tennis, golf, you name it. Again, even though I didn’t have anyone barking at me to get the ball for them, I still had no passion for what I was doing. I simply went through the motions and looked forward to the moment when Mom would pick me up to go home.
When I was 8, my mother asked if I was interested in giving drama camp a try. Theatre had always been in the family. My older brother participated in a couple community shows and my sister was a talented ballet dancer. I quickly jumped on the opportunity, because I thought everything my older siblings did was so cool, especially Haley, the dancer. I grew up watching her dance and would find myself itching to be on stage in her shows. It was something I dreamed about, but I never spoke up when my mother signed us up for our extracurriculars. Dance was for girls. I couldn’t do that! As a kid, I never quite fit in with the other boys in my schools. My best friends were girls, my favorite power ranger was the “pink one” (go Kimberly!), I hated sports….I had plenty of ammunition for other kids to make fun of me and oh did they ever! I remember every harsh word, every negative look, every time someone pointed out that I was “different”. Every experience made me a little less confident and a little more closed off to the world. I was frustrated beyond belief, especially because I had a sibling my same age who didn’t seem to have these struggles. My experiences left me scared to do anything that might make me stand out as even more “different” and I always felt the need to prove my worth to make up for the fact that I was in fact, “different”.
During my years of failed sports involving ball retrieval and shouting bystanders, I knew I was a passionate kid, I just hadn’t found my niche yet. This theatre camp turned into other auditions, auditions turned into bigger roles….it seemed like I had found my niche in theatre. Meanwhile, after many years of winning the “beep test” and “one mile” in PE, I turned to track and cross country by middle school. It was something I was naturally good at and a sport that only required work ethic, a pair of running shoes and myself…Perfect! There is something very therapeutic about the internal struggle you face as a runner. I put my frustrations into that struggle and got noticed. I won awards, placed well in races…I felt like I was finally able to prove that I was an athlete just like my brother. But after years of competitive running and theatre, I still felt like something was missing, something wasn’t “me”.
It wasn’t until I was asked to do a solo in a musical that dance came back into the picture. I realized there was a reason I had that urge to dance so many years ago…it was something that came natural and just made sense to me. It’s hard to describe. All I knew was when I was dancing, my worries and frustration seemed to disappear. It was at this point I got up the courage to take on dance full force. I stopped running completely and devoted every hour of my spare time to be in the studio.
I might have found my passion, but of course, having spent my formative years feeling as though I had something to prove, I simply couldn’t let myself enjoy my passion that easily. After years of training, I couldn’t accept my growth and talent as being “enough”. No amount of training or hard work ever seemed like it was “enough”.
Dance has taken me all over- San Francisco to New York. I started dancing for a professional company at 19 and from that point on, I continued seeking more experiences to fulfill whatever “enough” was to me. I’d spend all day sweating…While I was in SF, I would wake up at 4:45am to trek to a pilates class across the city and then head to the dance studio to do a 60 minute warm up before a 2 hour ballet class. Then I would be in and out of rehearsal until 6pm. On the weekends, I tried to do as much heavy lifting as I could. Did I mention I worked a retail job 4 days a week as well?
During one of my last months in SF, I got to experience Pride for the first time as a resident. I had my assumptions about the festivities, but was looking forward to experiencing it firsthand. My roommate, a Bay Area native, wanted to give me the best experience possible. It was during this time I had reached an impasse in my dance career. I was taking time off to focus on teaching fitness, mainly because I had many conflicting emotions and doubt about my profession. My roommate helped me keep my mind off of my frustrations and gave me the full Pride experience….we went from place to place, made new friends, held parties at our house in Ingleside every night. It was never-ending joy. SF was bursting at the seams with diverse individuals…all with similar stories to me. They understood what it was like to grow up as a kid that felt “different” and learned to overcome these hardships.
Yet, there was one key difference between us. On the surface, Pride might seem like all glitter and rainbows (literally), but it’s actually much deeper than that. It’s a celebration of self-love and self-respect. The exuberance of the festivities reflects on the many years individuals felt like they were not “enough” or felt like they had to hide their true feelings from the world. To make up for all of those years of darkness and confusion, for that one weekend in June each year, they live as loud as they can! After observing these festivities firsthand, I understood that I didn’t approach my daily living with this kind of self-love and I needed to make a change.
Ever since my time in SF, the idea of pride took on a new meaning for me and I try to carry its meaning into my daily living. I have learned that I am enough. As me. No matter whom I love, what I do for a living or how I look on stage. As soon as I allow judgement to take over my thoughts, my self-worth is determined by others and imaginary standards. Pride is not only about accepting yourself, but living a fearless life in the pursuit of whatever makes you happy. If I were to go back in time to chat with the 8-year-old me, I’d tell him to be you, dance and forget about the rest.
I'm so happy to be celebrating Pride in another city so full of life, diversity and acceptance. I urge you to continue to celebrate the meaning of Pride throughout the rest of the year, even though some days might be less “colorful” than others. When in doubt just remember to be you, dance and forget about the rest!
All Hail the Treadmighty!