by Rachael McLaren
When I’m dancing, I feel so alive, like every
single part of me that makes me who I am is par-
ticipating in moving my body.
When I was little, I wouldn’t stop dancing if I
could help it. One of my favorite things to do was
to pretend to be Gene Kelly in the backyard on
my parents’ deck. As soon as a prairie sun shower
came raining down I would drop everything and
run out there to sing, laugh and listen to the echo
of my tapping toes. Dancing was my joy and my
therapy. I grew up in a home that was often punctuated by anger and deep unhappiness. I often
helplessly watched my dad struggle with bouts of
depression and aggression. His unhappiness was
particularly hard for me; he was the parent I spent
most of my time with and I loved him more than
anything. Dance became my answer to this sadness. While dancing and eventually pursuing my
dreams of doing it for a living, I could both escape
the darker realities of my life and bring healing
into my family’s lives. I recognized my joy in
dance as a gift from God. I felt strong, intelligent
and fearless when I moved my body.
I dance because it is a language that transcends
the language of the tongue. It connects with
the heart, and it so beautifully and thoughtfully
reflects the human condition. Dancing with the
incredible Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
has taught me so much about this.
A favorite moment was when I was invited
to perform Alvin Ailey’s solo masterpiece Cry as
part of an event hosted by a branch of the United
Nations that focused on fighting human trafficking. This event brought experts together to
use data and their collective intelligence to try to
solve one of the world’s most urgent problems.
I was there to use my body to offer a story of
inextricable struggle, triumph and freedom in the
form of 17 intense minutes of dance. I was there to
influence hearts and minds in a way that perhaps
My mantra when I’m in the wings before I step
onstage is “Be generous, without fear or hope.”
Of course, there are times when I’m afraid I might
execute a step poorly, especially if I’m exhausted
or injured. And who doesn’t hope to hear roaring
applause after something they’ve done onstage?
But at the end of the day, I believe that dance is an
offering best committed to with a sense of purity.
I dance to be a vessel for love, empathy, generosity
and healing. That is why I dance! n
Dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
SEPTEMBER 2017 72
Dance has provided
McLaren with an escape
from troubling realities.
“I dance because it
transcends the language
of the tongue. It connects
with the heart.”