I remember the first time that I visited New York City at the age of twelve. I made the trip with my mother and was joined by a group of other young aspiring dancers. We were attending a summer convention with classes in all genres. Most of us were also experiencing the Big Apple and all it had to offer in 1979. I can visualize like it was just last year—stepping off the bus completely overwhelmed and smitten at the same time. Without pause, I said the words that so many New Yorkers have said: “I am going to live here one day.” How I felt, knew, or even imagined that at the age of twelve and within twenty-four hours of arrival, I couldn’t begin to say. But I knew. Seeing the original production of “A Chorus Line” certainly didn’t hurt the experience either. Even though my mother covered my ears for half of the show.
I guess that I can compare it to being as sure as a person can be about anything so important to them in life. A child knowing what he wants to be when he grows up, or having that deep in your gut feeling when you have finally found your life-partner. Throughout my teens and also into my young adult years, dance in New York was always my love. Yes, corny as it sounds, all of the meaningless dates and imaginary boyfriends never quite cut it. Although I searched, I had never found the type of love that lasts a lifetime.
I thought my first true love was classical ballet. But of course my desire to dance in the ballet was in New York City. It was always New York. I can think of at least four separate occasions over the years when my opportunity crumbled.
After my multiple attempts, I finally put the dream behind me and tried to forget about my love affair with this city. I failed for the last time in 1985. I remember thinking that I had finally done it. At the age of almost nineteen, I would become a New Yorker. I slept a night with my head on a kitchen table in a filthy apartment that was to be my sublet with another dancer. Live here? No way…. I scoured the city that day and searched for a cleaner alternative with no success. A large one bedroom on the Upper East Side at $700 a month sounded too good to be true, and it was.
Then about a year or so later, I got a call that my friend and roommate-to-be had found an apartment. I could pack my bags and go—just like that. But I didn’t. The last experience had left a bad taste in my mouth. As hungry as I once was, I was now scared and confused. I wanted to stay in Pennsylvania with my friends and my minimum-wage job. I felt like a grown up in real life and I liked it. I gave up on New York and did not even return as a tourist for seven years. Just like a dead-end relationship, I thought it was over for good. And so I moved on.
I relocated to Philadelphia and attended art school for several years. After graduation and a brief stint back home in PA, I considered giving it another shot. But something stopped me. Perhaps I knew that I could no longer accept the rejection. Or maybe it was my acceptance that some things are just not meant to be. So I had an opportunity to migrate to the south, and Atlanta became my home for twelve years. I met my husband, started a business and had a “good” life with lots of friends, the big house, and all that is expected when you are “thirty-something”.
When 9/11 happened, I remember how devastated I was. All of America was distraught. But for me, something seemed to feel different from others. I remember thinking that this horrific tragedy happened to my city. And it was a city that I had not visited in years. And still I felt the connection. I wanted to be there despite the tragedy and chaos. I felt helpless and too far away.
Then I began visiting Manhattan again in 2002, and not to my surprise, I fell all over again. I began to dream the dream more than twenty years later. My nostalgia returned and it was more intense than my early years. I looked for every opportunity to come back again and again, sometimes several times in one year. I would daydream on almost a daily basis at one point. I thought that I would never live here, but I could fantasize.
Then in 2007, unexpectedly my life changed course. Due to the housing crisis and a weakening economy, my husband found himself without a job. After many applications and interviews, he had multiple offers in Manhattan. My dream could now become reality. Could I actually make the move and adjust my life at the age of forty?
Questions raced through my mind. Could I take this chance once again? My lifestyle would drastically change. I would downsize from my 2800-square foot Victorian bungalow to a 900-square foot apartment. I would ride the subway every day instead of driving. I would have to give up what I thought was an “easier” lifestyle. It’s funny how destiny takes over. Somehow all of the questions were answered. And here I am.
Now thirty years later as I walk many of the same streets that I walked so many years ago, I stop and think. I think about my time here when I was young, inexperienced and naive. I think about the way the city has changed mostly for the better. I think about the blood, sweat and tears and all the emotion through my years of training and aspiration to dance professionally.
I also think that perhaps my love of loves was never really ballet to begin with.
What I adored was the adventure and excitement of coming to this city to be a part of it all. I was like a tiny needle in a haystack, but also an individual. I felt a sense of belonging and comfort that I never felt before. The thrill, energy and beat of this town that no other city can even begin to touch was an addiction for me and still is.
In 2011, I have found my home is here; and probably has been since my heart arrived in 1979.
It was always New York. Now that I am a New Yorker and proud to be one, I have to coin the phrase—“True love never dies.” And after all, any love that enduring deserves another chance.