Student Stories: Pulsating Collectively Through Dance

By Chris Richardson

For as long as I can remember I have been infatuated with Michael Jackson down to ruining my good socks and shoes for church and school sliding across the floor and tripping over the sofa trying to do 4 spins, moonwalk and stand on my tip toes. And yes if you happen to be by my apartment you will occasionally catch me cranking up Michael and trying to keep up with him in my living room. When I retired from semi-pro football in the fall of 2010, I made a promise to myself that if I didn’t sustain a serious injury that I would pursue my lifelong dream of dance and theatre. And wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t get injured and all the cards were lined up for me to finally start realizing my dream, right? Then my macho pride kicked in as it had for most of my life and I delayed even typing the word ‘dance’ into Google to find any local studios. Then one day, one person after another kept dropping hints of things I had said in my past to them, it was like a broken record “Chris when are you going to…” So I surrendered and Googled “dance studios in Washington DC” and up came and the rest was history…not so fast…

I was petrified of anyone knowing this has always been my dream because with playing football it’s accepted that you take ballet/dance only for balance during games. Little did my football team know that while taking ballet with them, I was secretly begging the instructor to teach me more. All that pride and macho stuff went out the window during my first night as a theater workstudy at Joy of Motion Dance Center’s Jack Guidone Theater! It was a tap show and the energy in the room can’t be described with mere words. It awoke something in me that I felt I couldn’t go on living without trying to connect with. From that night on I dove feet first into ballet, modern and jazz with ballet and modern taking charge and capturing my interest and energy. Side note, for any man who thinks ballet is just for girls, I dare you to come into any class fresh off the street and try to muscle your way through and survive the whole class.

Being a theater workstudy has afforded me the opportunity to work for and witness a variety of shows and dancers. This peaked my interest in taking class, but dare I go on stage and be put on display? Yes! I reluctantly came to Helanius Wilkins before his Sunday morning modern dance class and asked nervously about his Studio to Stage Performance Class. He told me “if you’re signing up there’s no hiding in the back or in the huddle, Chris. This isn’t football, you’re dancing now!” Throughout the 12-week class, there were ups and downs, but the energy and passion from Helanius and the other women in the class made it for an experience of a lifetime that I will always cherish.

I was a complete chatter box in the hours leading up to the first performance, I think I ran through my life story at least 10 times with anyone who would listen and I couldn’t explain why I felt so nervous or why I felt my heart was going to jump out of my chest and dance without me. And it didn’t help that this was my first time, EVER, performing on stage and that all the important people in my life were attending the show. All this coupled with me being the only dude in my class so I had to represent for the fellas and come off as cool, calm and collected. Then show time came and they called for dancers to take their places on stage. I felt like I was walking the plank, but in that moment my mind went blank and before I knew it, the music started, the lights came on, and it was time to perform and all those nervous feelings, worrying about not being perfect, wanting to talk my way out of it all turned into a force of energy I can’t describe. After the music faded, lights went down, we formed our line to bow in the dark. Then the lights came on. I couldn’t hear anything. It was eerily quiet, then it came….APPLAUSE! We bowed and on my face I felt this huge smile appear and at that moment I realized what I had been missing all this time in my life…DANCE.

Want to experience the thrill of performing like Chris? Sign up for the next session of Studio to Stage Performance Classes. Choose from African dance, Middle Eastern dance, jazz and hip hop.