In 2007 I had my first encounter with the city I now love as much as my own: New York. I was a student, studying for my BA in Dance Education and all third year students went on a study trip to the U.S.A. This was a huge deal for me, growing up in a small town in the Netherlands I’ve always wanted to go to the country where we hear such great, but also crazy, stories about. This was the country where the greatest movies are made, where the best dancers come from, the country full of possibilities. It was exhilarating; I was going to NYC and it was going to be awesome.
Or was it?
At least, so I thought. Yes, the city was absolutely awesome, but its awesomeness completely overwhelmed me. There was so much to see and do. Aside from taking loads of dance classes at several great Broadway dance studios, I wanted to walk around, explore and see tourist places like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. I found out that the city that never sleeps actually never sleeps, and I wanted to stay awake for all of it.
After only a week there I was completely devastated going back. More than half of what I had planned turned out to be impossible to do in such a short amount of time. I remember coming back home and not being able to remember all the things we did, because it was just too much. It was a total blur.
Or at least, most of it was. I did vividly remember one incident on the subway: it was a cold, snowy day and my friends and I were taking the subway back to our apartment. Exhausted from our busy schedule, we were very happy that there was enough place for all of us to sit down. The subway started moving and we shared our stories of the day. Across from us, an old man was scribbling something on a piece of paper. He looked at me, but I turned away and started talking to my friends again. And just right before we had to go out at our stop, the old man gave me the paper. In my hurry to get out, I took it and ran out the door. The doors closed behind me, the subway started moving away and I looked at the folded paper in my hands. I opened it and saw a beautiful drawing of my face on one side. I was stunned. How did he draw this so fast? I turned the paper over to the other side and to my great surprise I saw a ballet dancer making a beautiful high jump. I couldn’t believe it; how did the man know I was a dancer?
The real New York
And eventually it didn’t matter how much I remembered. Because this was the real New York for me. It’s not the Empire State Building, or the crazy dance clubs or the (gorgeous) skyline, it is the magic of the city. And that subway incident was just one of many magical moments I had when I was there. And it was that same magic (and I’ve heard New Yorkers talk about this a lot) that pulled me back into the city a couple of years later. I decided I needed to go back and take more time to experience the real city. And I did, for six months. I got accepted on a dance program at Steps on Broadway and into the International House, where I lived with over 700 other international students. And this time, it was amazing. I danced, enjoyed the city and met the most incredible people. The city gave me many more, unforgettable magical moments. Small things like unexpected snow while walking in central park, and big events like performing on stage with people from all over the world. Somehow, I’ve noticed, you can’t know New York from spending just a week there, or by reading the stories in a book. You really have to have lived there to know the feeling of how magical the city can be. And even six months are way too short to call yourself a real New Yorker.
And now, seven years later, I’ve returned. I have arrived in the city that gave me some of my most wonderful memories. And this time I’m not here for me, although I am taking a very exciting Creative Non-Fiction Writing course at Gotham Writers. This time I am here to share stories of others. I will be talking to Joan Finkelstein; executive director of the Harkness Foundation for Dance (and past Director of Dance for the New York City Department of Dance), Susan R. Koff; Clinical Associate Professor of Dance Education of New York University, Catherine Gallant; dance teacher/choreographer and one of the educators featured in the documentary PSDANCE!, and Laura Johnson; Senior Director of Education at the New York City Ballet. I am very excited to share their stories with you!
Oh New York, how I love you. It’s good to be back.