The evolution of exotic birds

I am a dancer.  I am also an academic.  I am a curious wanna-be polymath who does quadratic equations in her spare time and helps run a podcast on aerospace medicine.  I’ve spent the last seven years working in disability provison, and the last two teaching in primary schools.  I swim, I bike, I go and look at beautiful things and I am a human being who defines themselves both in and outside of their professional sphere – just like all of you!

And yet…

I’m proud of being a dancer and I would’t do anything else.  In fact that’s how I decided to go to dance school in the first place: I looked at all my options and all my interests; where I seemed to get high marks; what might get me a decent job at the end of it all, and at the end of the day I stuck with the one thing I couldn’t NOT do.  Whatever else I might be doing, I never stop being a dancer.

And yet…

I know I am guilty of covering my dancing self.  To cover, as beautifully explained by Kenji Yoshino ( – is to downplay a disfavoured trait in order to blend itnto the mainstream.  Not that I believe dancing is disfavoured as such, but rather that it places you in a very specific box in the mind of non-dancers.  A fellow grad student put it perfectly when she refered to it as “exotic bird syndrome.” “Either you’re the Dancer, which means you have all kinds of special artistic/somatic insights, or you’re a dancer, which means you’re vulnerable, you can’t think, and you don’t know what to do in the real world.”  Usually I find it’s somewhat a combination of the two, and sometimes I downplay the dancer side of me just so I don’t have to explain my way out of that box.  That yes, I can go to grad school.  That yes, I do write, and read, and think.  That yes, it’s a career, and it’s just like your career except that I happen to like mine better.

Because if I tell them I’m a dancer then two questions down the line comes “So what IS contemporary dance? ….what does it look like?” And I just don’t know yet whether I’m invested enough in this stranger to get into that discussion.  (Readers, how do you deal with this?  Anyone got a great two-sentence definition you can hand out to the curious new aquaintance?)

And yet…

I’m so happy with the gifts that persuing dance has brought into my life.  I attend one of the best dance graduate programs in the united states, and it kind of appalls me when students from other programs don’t even know that we’re here!  Dancing has taken me to a plethora of countries that any gap year student would go green over, and has put me in touch with some of the most smart, generous, open-hearted, talented and beautiful individuals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.  Dancing has given me the skills I’ve needed to organise projects, to communicate where no language existed, to do all kinds of generic jobs to bring the rent in month by month, to be a better friend to my friend and to greet each new day from a deep wellspring of joy.

And so…

New academic year, new leaf.  Here’s to throwing off the covers and dancing in the streets.  If I’m an exotic bird, then I need to adapt and evolve until I’m one of the more brilliant native species.  Here’s my pledge to be a better advocate for myself and the things in my life that truly matter – the things that I can’t not do.

And yet….


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