I Was A Professional Dancer Who Quit 20 Years Ago. Then I Returned To The Dance Studio

For the first time since I was a child, I moved my body with genuine curiosity rather than comparison.
A pair of peach-coloured slippers hang on a wooden barre in a dance studio (Photo: iStock)

Beyond a dance floor at a wedding or a dance party in the kitchen with my kids, I hadn’t truly danced in 22 years. But in 2023, at 43 years old, I travelled to New York City and did what I said I’d never do again: I signed up for a dance class.

I used to be a modern dancer. I stood in front of a mirror in an old converted church in Toronto in the late ’90s and early ’00s in tights and a bodysuit every day, forcing my body to do whatever my teachers and choreographers asked for. Their voices drowned out my own, and all I could hear were their corrections, their judgment and all of the things that were wrong with my body—my Achilles were too short, my hips were too tight, my elbows were hyperextended, my arches weren’t high enough, I wasn’t strong enough, I wasn’t flexible enough. I wasn’t enough.

Somehow, I kept on, dancing for independent choreographers not much older than I was at fringe festival shows and at tiny theatres across the city, rehearsing in moldy church basements and carpeted convention centre lobbies, and taking barre class whenever I could afford a morning off from my day job at a juice bar.

When a hip injury threatened to sideline my dance career at the ripe old age of 21, I was desperate to keep going. I believed that I just needed to work harder, burn more Band-Aids onto the fissures on my feet, take more Advil, get more cortisone injections. But the body doesn’t lie, and eventually, my hip gave me no choice. I quit dancing.

Two decades later, I sat on the plane to New York wondering how I was going to pull on tights and not emotionally return to being a broken 21-year-old with no self-esteem.

Even though I’ve spent my professional career as a writer adjacent to dance—writing grants for dancers, working on So You Think You Can Dance Canada, writing for a dance magazine and doing outreach for a dance company—the realities of being in the dance world felt solidly in my rearview. I rarely ever thought about that 21-year-old who fought back tears almost every day in front of the wall of mirrors. But as I was finishing up a draft of my second novel, and figuring out what to write about next, a character appeared on the page. She was a former dancer turned arts administrator, struggling with her identity as a mother and artist. She trained in the Martha Graham technique, a precise, demanding form that, as of this spring, is no longer taught in any sort of comprehensive way in Canada. As I wrote, I mined my memory and watched Graham classes on YouTube, but eventually I realized that to finish the book, I was going to have to take a Graham class, and return to my 20-year-old self to make sense of what she lived through.


In the cab from the airport, I tried to figure out how I was going to walk into class and not compare every part of my body to the other dancers in the room. I walked through the West Village as the magnolias were bursting into bloom, terrified of slipping back into the person who let very damaged people define my self-worth.

I showed up early for class, heart pounding in my throat. Mirrors lined the front wall, and discarded sweatshirts lined the edges of the room. I was at least 15 years older than everyone else there, the teacher included. I found myself in the back corner—“my corner” as I used to think of it—tucked as far from the teacher’s sightline as possible.

The teacher had us sit with our legs crossed, and I started wondering if I had taken enough pre-emptive ibuprofen, if my body was actually going to be able to do any of the work, how I could slip out without making a scene. But then the music started, and my body took over. Without thinking, I was contracting and curling over my bent legs, bouncing and then unfurling my spine, opening my legs into a wide second, amazed that after all these years, the movement was embedded in my muscles, in my bones. I’d rejected it for more than 20 years, but the movement was still deep inside my body, still undeniably a part of me.

A woman, wearing her hair in a bun and a mask, sits cross-legged in front of a mirror in a dance studio. She is wearing a blank tank top, blank leggings and yellow socks. The author takes a selfie in her New York City dance class. (Photo: Courtesy Lindsay Zier-Vogel)

Standing work comes after the floorwork, with plies and tendus similar to a ballet class, and when I finally had the courage to look up, all I saw was a 43-year-old woman with a messy bun, faded leggings and bright yellow socks.


I hadn’t stood in turnout—heels together, feet pointing out—for 22 years, and as I did, my right glute seized with the effort. I tried to massage it out, shaking my leg and pounding my butt with my fist, but no matter what I did, as soon as I stood on my right leg, my glute seized.

I literally couldn’t stand up.

Old me would’ve instantly felt like a failure. Twenty-one-year old me would’ve pushed through, refusing to listen to my body’s cues, but standing in that studio in the West Village, with my right glute in spasm, I laughed—out loud! I wasn’t a failure; my body wasn’t failing me. It was just a tight muscle that was working too hard. Eventually, we moved onto triplets—a travelling waltz—across the floor and my glute let up.

After class, before I’d even turned south on Greenwich Street to walk back to my hotel, I knew the final scene of my book would take place in the far corner of a dance studio, with a middle-aged mom with a messy bun sitting cross legged in faded tights. She would curl over her bent legs and unfurl her spine, and the movement would still be inside of her, as it was inside of me.

I’ve never been a perfectionist, but for years I was a desperate people pleaser. I couldn’t even do an in-person yoga class because of my unbridled need for a teacher’s praise. But in the back corner of that New York dance studio, I realized it didn’t matter what the teacher thought of me. It didn’t matter that she corrected my shoulders, or had notes for my long leans—I didn’t have to be good. I didn’t have to be strong, or flexible, or have the best arches in the room. No one was going to punish me with the silent treatment. No one was going to kick me out if my Achilles was still too short, or my elbows were hyperextended.


Even though I did the whole standing combination a half a beat behind the music, and couldn’t even stand on my right leg, I let my body take over. And for the first time since I was a child, through pleadings and triplets and jetés, I moved my body with genuine curiosity rather than comparison, leaning into a deep, unshakeable joy.


Subscribe to our newsletters for our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers.

By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.