The world-renowned choreographer Martha Graham once said, “a dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful.” 

As the popularity of Graham’s quote suggests, this “first death” is not an uncommon feeling. Anyone who’s pursued a creative field knows that there is a clock ticking down to the day when they can no longer create art, the inevitable day their body simply won’t support them anymore — hands get too shaky to hold a paintbrush, feet are no longer strong enough to pirouette. Or, perhaps even scarier, there may come a day when the drive to create just goes away, and the passion to continue is lost. 

Although I have reached neither of these points, it pains me to admit I stopped performing a few years back. There is nothing stopping me from doing it; I am both physically capable and plagued by a hunger to continue, and yet, I cannot bring myself back to the stage.

I’ve always had a need to perform. It’s odd — going about life I never wanted to be the center of attention, but I always found joy on the stage. The arts were my home. I spent countless days in studios and practice rooms, training long into the night.

I sang in choirs, performed in musicals and danced ballet. I played the clarinet, I marched in band; my whole life was a tangled mess revolving around music and performance. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Equipped with nothing but my body and my voice, I could express myself and tell stories that would have been impossible otherwise, and these creative outlets became the center of my world.

Coming to college meant leaving a lot behind. A new town, new people and new activities awaited me at every turn. When I stepped onto campus here at the University of Michigan, I felt as if I was becoming a new person — and maybe I was. Gone were the days when my life revolved solely around band; my instrument now sat in its case collecting dust. I signed up to audition for dance groups on campus, but when the tryouts came, I found myself drowning in schoolwork and other obligations.

Before I knew it my days were filled with class, homework and more class. At that point I was just glad I’d been able to make friends, much less join a club. The time for my hobbies and passions had vanished before my eyes, and when I realized it was gone I was already knee-deep in exams and impending life decisions. I could barely recognize the person I’d become, doing monotonous classwork with no end goal or fulfillment along the way.

Now, let me be clear: Growth is not a bad thing. Finding new hobbies and sources of joy is a part of life. But there is a fine line between finding new sources of inspiration and simply losing the ones I previously had.

Near the end of my freshman year I resolved to make a change for the better: To seek out clubs and groups where I could nurture my desire to perform once more. “Once sophomore year starts,” I told myself over and over, clinging to the hope that what I wanted would come true.

Had fate been a little kinder, this would be the point where I say it gets better, that I was able to find time amid all the work and take to the stage again. But, much to my chagrin, my freshman year was ended by a global pandemic, and all the plans I’d set for myself came to a screeching halt.

Cliché as it has always seemed, Graham’s quote has begun to resonate with me more and more. These days my pointe shoes sit in the back of my closet unworn and forgotten; when I happen to catch a glimpse of them, or hear the distant lilt of a clarinet echoing from a speaker as I walk downtown, I am filled with an intense longing, a burning passion to see myself up on that stage again. It feels like a distant memory, but I know those days will come again.

Why? Because the desire is still there. 

I long to pull my instrument from its case, the pointe shoes from the back of my closet, even if I have not brought myself to do it quite yet. I get by one day at a time and once I’m done, there is nothing left to do but start all over. But what keeps me going is the knowledge somewhere in the back of my mind, whispering like a mantra:

One day I will step onto the stage again. 

Daily Arts Writer Hadley Samarco can be reached at hsamarco@umich.edu.