In my earliest years, all I knew was dance.
I started dancing when was 5, and from that point on it was a place I truly came to be myself. I was an extremely quiet child who kept to herself. I was frequently bullied in school and had trouble making friends. But at my dance studio I was a completely different person. There, I knew what I was doing and I knew who I was. I grew up. I put my entire heart into learning every form I could and tried to perfect every movement. This tunnel vision allowed me to foster a true talent. I wanted to dance for the rest of my life. I knew I could turn it into a profession, so when I was 12 I mapped out every phase of my life so I could guarantee success: Performing Arts High School in New York, then NYU's Tisch, then auditions, auditions, broadway, broadway. I could do it.
Twelve turned out to be a terrible age to set my heart in stone. This same year, I was told the scoliosis I had been watching since I was 7 took a turn for the worst. I need a spinal fusion within the year. They slapped a back brace on to me in the meantime. This spinal fusion meant they were going to fuse two titanium rods to the upper two thirds of my spine so my curve would never progress, and my health would never suffer because of it. The part I couldn't make peace with was how this surgery would completely take away the mobility of my back. I would never be able to move in the beautiful ways professional dancers could. I would never be able to arch my back in port de bras. How could I try to achieve my dreams when I was going to be at a severe disadvantage with my already harsh competition? How far could I even get? Is it a waste of time?
I didn't give up dancing. After I had taken about a year to heal, I returned to dance, but it was never the same for me. I felt like I had lost a big, expressive part of myself. My abilities were limited and I could only do so much. I was incredibly hard on myself and I struggled to find solace anywhere.
At this point, cooking had always been a part of my life. I frequently helped my mother in the kitchen and asked her about how she made this or that. I knew cooking well. When I was resigned to bed rest and limited movement for months on end, I turned on the Food Network. I don't know what was going on, but for a while it seemed like they only played Good Eats. I was absolutely captivated by Alton Brown. I wanted to soak up everything he knew. I wanted to stand up and try out everything for myself. He made cooking look so interesting and exciting. He experimented with ingredients and flavors I didn't think were possible.
It took me months after my surgery to be able to stand without incredible pain. But when I finally could I went to the kitchen. When I was my saddest or my darkest, I turned to food. I busied my mind with experimenting with the transformation of all of these ingredients lying around my house. It let me forget about the physical pain and the emotional pain of parting with my lifelong dreams. And then I got to eat it too!
I didn't know food could be a career. I struggled through high school trying to find my "thing," as dance was no longer it. I tried photography, singing, acting, and writing. I was surprisingly decent at everything I tried to do, but nothing could ever match the passion I felt when I danced.
It was a hard road. It still is. My spinal fusion still affects me daily. If I stand too long, sit too long, or walk too much it hurts; I can't do hundreds of poses in my yoga classes. There is always something to be thinking about, or cautious of. I'm always worried about displaying any part of my back in public for fear of comment, even though it took me until recently to begin to be proud of it.
It took me nearly ten years, but I think it's truly amazing how humans can recover from the seemingly inescapable darkness. I didn't think I was ever getting out. I didn't expect to find so much love, warmth, and passion in cooking, but I'm so glad I brought myself to that stove when I was barely able to stand. I'm so happy I allowed myself to feel that love again: the love you only have for yourself for doing something you're proud of. My experience was the biggest heartbreak of my life, and I still managed to come out (literally) stronger. For that, I'm grateful for my experiences.