Home 2018 Collegiate Magazine Finding my voice through dance

Finding my voice through dance

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Torin Ives poses for a photo at Grand Rapids Community College. (Najd Ayari/The Collegiate)

By Torin Ives

I can’t stand the thought of giving a presentation to my class. My chest tightens and my throat closes up when I think about having to speak in front of large groups of people. But the thought of going on a stage for three minutes and having all eyes be on me warms my heart.

I’m 17 years old, and I’ve been dancing for 14 years. My mom put me in dance classes for the same reason most moms do, it’s fun to see your cute little girl smiling on a stage in a pretty costume. But, I ended up loving it. I hated every other sport she made me try. Basketball, softball, tennis, swimming and soccer were just not for me. I think my mom caught onto the fact that I hated everything except dance when the sad image of five-year-old me crying in the middle of a soccer field became a common occurrence. So she let me keep dancing.

I started to dance competitively when I was eight, and I haven’t stopped. I spend roughly 13 to 15 hours training on a normal week, but on convention weekends it’s more like 30 to 35 hours (not including travel time).

All of the blood, sweat and tears that are put into my practices pay off when I step onto a stage. I’ve been performing for people since I was three, and you couldn’t pay me to give it up. There’s just something about the environment that is so exciting for me.

Dance is the one thing that releases all stress, worry and concern from my body. I can cry and laugh and feel every emotion under the sun, and then be done with it and move on to the next thing.

But what’s the difference? What’s the difference between presenting for 30 people and dancing for 300? If anything, it should be harder to dance in front of an entire auditorium full of people judging you and the way you look.

But for me, I am a storyteller. What I can’t convey with words I tell through movement. There’s no greater compliment to me than hearing things like, “Your performance brought tears to my eyes,” or “Your facial expressions are so powerful.”

I remember stepping off the stage last year when I did my first self-choreographed solo and the first thing my mom said to me was, “The dance moms in front of me were crying, Torin. You did so well.” That was everything to me. I couldn’t care less if I won first place or if I walked out with a trophy that day.

If I had known when I was younger how much of my time and energy dance would consume, I don’t know if I would’ve stuck with it. But at this point, I couldn’t imagine my life without it. I depend on it. Dance has been there for me through all my struggles and problems, and it’s helped me express myself.

I’m generally very open about my mental health complications and the struggles I’ve gone through because of them. I’ve struggled with major depressive disorder and anxiety from a young age. When high school came around, it got worse. I couldn’t pull myself out of the hole I fell into, and after showing my face at school a handful of times over the course of months, I had to look for outside help. I spent a little over a week partially hospitalized at Pine Rest. And then when summer came around and school was no longer a factor of my depression, I had other triggers that landed me fully hospitalized for several days.

Those two hospital stays had an enormous impact on my life, and I was a changed person after them. But, hospitalization doesn’t magically solve all your problems. They started me on multiple medications, and I still take them every day and night. I’m comfortable with who I am and what I’ve gone through and I know my strengths and weaknesses. But, it can be hard to explain myself to other people. How do you tell someone gently that you are a ticking time bomb, waiting to be confined to your bedroom by your own brain? That’s where dance comes in for me.

Before my mental health became a major burden on my everyday life, I had only done happy, smiley group competition pieces. But after everything I went through, I felt like my story would be told best through solo work with my own choreography.

I somehow have been able to find a release through dance, and I’ve been praised for my work. Through dance, I can tell the audience that I’m different from everyone else who steps on the stage. I can tell dozens of strangers that I grew up being the poor girl with a dead dad. I can tell the judges that I’ve worked harder than anyone else just to be standing there in front of them. I can tell my teammates and my family that I’m controlled by medication, that I can’t function normally without them, that I struggle every single day of my life. I can tell them that I’m hurting, that I’m not doing well, or I can tell them that I’m feeling great and I’m finally on the road to recovery. I can tell all these people all these things without ever speaking a word.

That’s why I dance. Movement is there for me when words just don’t do the job. I’m thankful for every hour I spend improving my technique, every weekend spent stressing about my performance quality, every time someone gives me a confused look when I say I’m a dancer. I’m thankful for dance because I don’t think I’d be here without it.