The Butterfly Effect
By Maya Cruz
This memoir is about a seemingly small experience that transformed the way I see dance, as well as the world.
Dance was the single flit of butterfly wings in my world. It had enthralled me at eight years old. Something in my soul burned for it. I remember the constant craving I carried with me; the radiant, deep, beating passion I kept somewhere in my body. The birth of emotion, movement and beauty to create a story allured me. I chose to dance, which evolved me into the person I am in the most unexpected way.
Gradually, the passion I once had began to dim. It terrified me, the idea that I’d be empty and left without purpose if I were to stop. In my eyes, I was losing myself.
There was always something missing in the studio. My eyes began to find the clock more. I was used to it—the window, gently washing me in the wind of whichever season, the gray barre that would creak quietly during adagio. It was comfortable, but I wasn’t. The air felt thick, and I could never distinguish whether it was the warm humidity from our working bodies or the tension from our sleeping souls. In my mind the class seemed incomplete, but what was present were the constant wandering eyes of comparison.
“Thank you,” my teacher would say to our pianist, clapping her hands a couple times. “That was not the combination,” she’d utter as I’d pretend to be surprised, while mentally going over the names of the directions of the body and the numbers of the walls and corners. Wall one, corner two, wall three … en face, croisé, effacé. “Does anyone know the combination?” I couldn’t bring myself to say anything, and usually, neither could anyone else, so we’d all just nod. She’d stop us constantly. The first time she’d said what she did, it stung. It stung in my eyes when I’d think too hard about it. “You guys are not dancing.”
Despite this, I managed to get into a rigorous summer intensive ballet program. I found that during the intensive, the feeling which tugged at me during the year was even more vivid. People didn’t seem to care about the big picture. It was more about technique, miniscule details. What we were training to create felt like an afterthought. Validation came from teachers when their eyes would momentarily skim your nametag. Every move was compared to someone else’s. I was being washed away, water gently poured over my passion—just enough to go unnoticed—until I was drowning.
The next school year, I transferred to a different studio where I had a transformative experience.
In class, my teacher had us do an improv to warm up. She changed the color of the spotlights on the ceiling. The bodies in the room blended into an ethereal light of red and blue, blue fading into purple. The music became a heartbeat, rather than counts. No longer did I feel stagnant—I was actively lost in the moment. We focused on ourselves, which melded us together, so individual yet so connected, in unison. Maybe this 15-minute improv wasn’t an epiphany to everyone, but I knew that this was what I craved from dancing.
Looking back, I finally understand where I went wrong. It wasn’t in the positions of the body, the walls and corners, or any of the technicalities. Instead, when I dance, I will dance without enclosing myself. I will dance without the claustrophobia of my own mind and the atmosphere around me. I hope to reclaim what dance began to lack, and not let the illusion of lines restrain me.
At the time I wrote this memoir, my sister was going through college applications. The prompts were all about introspection, telling a personal story that created a shift of some kind. Hearing all the different prompts made me want to reflect and recall a personal story of my own. At the time, COVID was peaking, and dance felt so distant. Dancers everywhere were taking classes fully online and I really felt the absence of the unity, energy and freedom that feeds my passion. COVID in combination with this experience drove me to create this memoir.
Maya Cruz is a New York City born and raised daughter, sister, and student. She has a burning passion for the arts and the overlap they have with the natural world. Writing especially has helped her evolve her perspective, which she hopes to continue sharing.