In my lifetime I have been lucky enough to choreograph many times… but I can honestly say I have never done anything like “twenty one.”
I came up with the idea over the summer, shortly after I tore my right ACL. And previous to this injury, I had never gone more than a month without dancing since the age of 4. It was a weird feeling…losing something that I loved so much. Honestly, I didn’t even realize how much I loved it until I had to go without it. But you know what they say… You don’t know what you have until it’s gone… When I would look in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I honestly did not know who I was without dance. I could live without friends, family, even pizza… but not dance. Dance was my refuge when everything else failed me and in a matter of seconds… it was gone. I lost an ACL but it felt like I lost so much more. I had so much bottled up anxiety and anger and there was nothing I could do about it or at least at the time.
So I listened to a LOT of music. I would day dream about choreographing combinations and dancing without a care in the world.. and then I heard “Goner” by twenty one pilots. I had listened to it so many times before, but I actually heard it… like really heard it… for the first time the day I was officially diagnosed. I just sat on my floor and bawled my eyes out. I was gone.. the best part of me was gone and it wasn’t going to come back for at least 6 months if not more. And heck, it might not come back at all. I felt so close to Tyler (the lead singer of TOP) at that moment. I knew exactly what he was singing about. Every lyric began to make sense. So, I started choreographing and within a week and a half after my surgery I had choreographed an entire mini ballet of about 11 minutes long (which eventually had to be cut down to 7 minutes due to time constraint issues) using all music by twenty one pilots.
I used “Doubt” first. I really related to this song pre-ACL tear because I have always doubted myself. I always doubted my creativity, my passion, what I actually wanted to do with my life… I questioned it all and it scared me. The lyrics immediately inspired me and I knew it would be a great intro to the piece, as it represented my life before I was injured. It made me realize, looking back, that I was probably gone a long time ago and just did not realize it… and next of course was “Goner.” It symbolizes what I went through post surgery and what I am continuing to go through. And then I chose “Fairly Local” to come last because it represents what I hope my life will be moving forward from this point on. I hope that at the end of this long, challenging road I can look back and say “I’ve been there and it has made me a stronger human being.” Will I still have fear? Yes. Will this be a part of my life that I can’t get back? Yes. But, am I going to forget what it felt like to lose myself? No. And I hope that one day I can help someone overcome the same doubt, fear, and loss that I felt. I hope I can make this into a learning experience. I know that I am not truly gone, but it took this experience to make me realize it.
I knew starting the choreography process that I wanted to set this piece on students at USC. So, when the student choreography showcase auditions rolled around, I was looking for 15-20 dancers to represent this part of my life. And after people dropping out, saying no, and quitting mid-process.. I ended up with 15 beautiful, amazing dancers. 15 people that would share my story onstage. And for that, I am thankful. But to say that the process was “bump-free” would be a lie within itself. The devil threw every curve ball he could at me.. and a couple hit me hard. But my dancers kept me sane and we kept going.
And now it is finished. It may not be the most successful thing I have choreographed. It may not be the most innovative dance ever done. But choreographing it and watching it happen was like therapy. It truly has helped me heal. It motivated and pushed me in ways that I didn’t know was possible. I can’t help but think that if it wasn’t for Tyler and Josh of twenty one pilots that this wouldn’t have been able to happen like it did. I could not have choreographed something that meant so much. I know the likeliness of them ever seeing this is slim to none… but I just have to thank them for making music like this. It heals people. It makes people think. And it inspired me to choreograph it and title it “twenty one.” I hope they continue to make music that heals for as long as they possibly can.
Now, all I can do is wait (and clean the piece.. dancers don’t think i’m letting you off the hook!!). The show premieres in two weeks and is ironically titled “Meteor.” Tearing my ACL felt like huge meteor that hit me in the gut and took part of me with it. But, with that I can heal.
“Meteor: Student Choreography Showcase” premieres at Drayton Hall across from the USC Horseshoe on December 1 at 6 pm and runs until December 4. I hope that you can come and experience my story (and the other talented choreographer’s stories) with me.
“Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.” -Joss Whedon