|High School Jess|
I tried out for dance team in high school because all of my friends were doing it. My high school's dance team was amazing. National champs over and over. Traveling to Japan year after year for world finals. Amazing dancers and beautiful girls doing awesome things. We all wanted to be a part of it.
I'm not really much of a dancer. I love to dance, but I'm not that great at it. (What I came to realize a lot later is that I love to perform, to be on stage or be in front of a crowd. That's why I love dancing so much even though I'm not that great.) Especially at fourteen, when I tried out for the team; I was close to six feet tall already, and I was a gangly, awkward mess. All arms and legs and no grace at all. I wasn't really a natural dancer.
But somehow I made the team.
I felt special. And I was thrilled to be doing this with my friends, starting high school already a part of something awesome.
I came to find out a little later that it was a mistake that I made the team. They were calling off the numbers of the people who made it and they accidentally called mine. But by the time they realized the mistake, it was too late. I was on the team. They couldn't kick me off.
But they could make me want to quit. And they did.
I didn't quit, even though the advisor made me feel horrible. Always. She mocked me. She made fun of me in front of the team. She never let me perform. She kept me on the sidelines at football games and competitions. (I realized this picture was from sophomore year because my hair is straight instead of curly...because I didn't perform at this competition because she wouldn't let me, so I didn't have to bother doing my hair like the rest of the team.) She made sure I knew I was never really supposed to be a part of this group.
But I didn't quit, even after all of that. I wanted to be with my friends. I didn't know what to do with myself if I didn't do dance team. So I stayed a part of this group that so obviously didn't want me, that made me miserable almost every day, because I was so worried about losing my friends and about losing myself somehow.
Finally I quit after the end of my junior year. After three years of this treatment. One of my best friends had graduated. Two of my other good friends had already quit the team. My tight group of friends was breaking up. They were moving on without me, even though I had stayed in this situation that made me unhappy just for them.
My senior year I used my free elective to sign up for Repertory Theater, the advanced drama class. I got the lead in the fall play at school and then later I got a major part in the spring musical (where I also got to do my fair share of dancing). Finally, my senior year of high school, I left behind this awful group and my awful advisor and this thing that made me so sad, and I actually realized I could have fun doing something I enjoyed. Crazy.
(The first book I finished, AVOIDING DRAMA, is about a girl who is kicked off of her high school dance team and finds herself hanging out with the theater kids. I am nothing at all like my main character, Chelsea, but, obviously, my own situation inspired her situation.)
My second year in college, on a whim, I went down to Disneyland and auditioned for a part in their annual Christmas parade. AND I GOT CAST. Disneyland paid me to dance in their parade. Do you know how satisfying it was, after my horrible experience on dance team, to be able to say I AM A PROFESSIONAL DANCER RIGHT NOW, SUCK IT YOU HORRIBLE ADVISOR WHO MOCKED ME. Oh man...it was satisfying.
So, my advice for Teen Jess is this:
I wish I would have learned to make myself happy right away in high school. To pursue theater, where I was good at it and I loved it. To not worry that it wasn't what all my friends were doing, because I could make new friends. To follow my own passion and my own joy and not spend so much time worrying about other people because they SO. DON'T. MATTER.
What advice do you have for your teen self?