In my early 20s I lived in San Francisco and worked in an office with a lot of other young, recent grads. It was a small, social office and on the weekends a lot of coworkers would hang out together. They’d get together in Dolores Park on Saturday afternoons to picnic and people watch, they’d bar hop Friday and Saturday nights, or take weekend trips to a nearby beach town and go hiking and surfing.
At first they invited me to come along.
“I can’t,” I told them over and over again. “I have dance.”
When they went to a Shakey Graves concert, I went to a salsa social where the New Swing Sextet was playing. They bought tickets to Coachella; I bought new dance shoes. They saved for a trip to New Orleans to celebrate New Year’s Eve; I saved for a trip to New York to take more dance classes.
Eventually I stopped getting invites.
At the time I was dancing on two teams, working on a pro-am routine, preparing to compete with an amateur partner, and trying to social dance as much as possible. Working full time meant my weekends were all about dance. Most weeknights were too.
It was both a very happy and very lonely period of my life, made stranger because the majority of my time was spent with other people. I wanted to dance more than anything else in the world, and I loved dancing, but there were still times when I felt left out of other things. On Monday mornings I’d listen to my co-workers recount their weekend adventures, see the way their friendships had deepened after months of spending time together, and wonder if maybe I was missing out on an important part of my twenties.
I found it increasingly challenging to relate to other people in my life too, not just my colleagues. Here I was immersing myself in an entirely different world, one that my family, my roommates, and my close friends from college and high school didn’t understand and had never experienced. It was difficult to explain to them the way salsa lit up my heart and set my soul on fire, and why I’d rather pursue this thing I wasn’t actually good at yet, than join them for the activities they found entertaining and enjoyable. Our lifestyles––and the things we chose to spend our money on––no longer looked similar, and it felt like the foundations on which we’d built our relationships were slowly, silently crumbling.
At the same time, I was still too new to the dance scene to have made real friends. Despite how much I wanted to be part of it, the salsa scene seemed dramatic through my new-girl eyes, and I felt compelled to keep my dance-world separate from my personal world of friends and romantic relationships. I didn’t want to mix one with the other, fearful that doing so would taint them both.
During that time, the travel company I worked for launched a new internal program, and I found myself traveling through Fiji with two of my coworkers and a group of teenagers for two weeks.
“You light up when you just talk about dance,” my coworker told me as we walked along the beach one evening. I smiled because I knew it was true. Dance saturated me in a way nothing else ever had. While I often felt uncertain about pursuing a different path, I could also feel somewhere deep inside my gut that I couldn’t not do this.
Soon after I got home from the trip I talked to my boss about the possibility of working remotely from New York the following summer. He said we could work it out, so I spent the next June, July, and August living in Chinatown, in an apartment that definitely had mice, taking dance classes every evening and social dancing every weekend.
I returned to San Francisco in the fall, but a few months later I sold my car and moved across the country permanently. I found a cheap apartment and didn’t buy new clothes for a year so that I could focus on dance more seriously.
It’s been almost three years since I moved to Brooklyn and my weekends still aren’t filled with bar hopping or boozy brunches in parks. I rarely eat out, I don’t live in a super nice apartment, and I’ve never made it to Coachella. But I have found a way to bring together my two worlds and build a life filled with the people, things, and experiences that make me happiest.
I’ve pursued a career in marketing, but I’ve been able to work remotely from New York, which has given me more flexibility when it comes to rehearsing and traveling to different dance events. I’ve brought a boyfriend who didn’t dance to a salsa social, and one that did to a party with all of my coworkers. This year I celebrated a friend’s wedding in Costa Rica, hiked through Mongolia for two weeks, and placed first with my solo at the Calgary Salsa Congress. And when I taught my first dance class in Manhattan, two of my best friends from college, my roommate, and my coworker and his wife were all there to support me in the front row.
Sometimes I still daydream about moving into my own place, especially when I scroll across a beautiful, sun-drenched apartment on Instagram. But each time it comes down to taking the next step on a possible apartment, I realize that being able to attend and compete at several dance events each year has made me happier than living in my own, newly renovated place ever would.
I’m open to those two desires switching places on my priority list in the future. Maybe there will even be a period in my life when I can have that picture perfect one bedroom and dance as much as I want to. But even if there is, I’ve learned (primarily during those five months last year when I was injured and couldn’t dance at all) that there will still be things I’ll have to say “no” to so that I can say “yes” to others. It’s not just because I dance…it’s because making compromises is part of life.
My secret to balancing dance with everything else is this: you can’t have it all, but if you mercilessly cut out the things you don’t care about as much, you can create a life filled with the ones that matter to you the most.
So keep a calendar, plan ahead, and make use of “in-between time.” But most of all, don’t be afraid to make different choices. Be intentional about the people and experiences you make time for. Consciously spend your money. And always trust yourself.