Sixty-four times I’ve sat down to write this column, trying to capture the tone of whatever feels immediate and/or important in the age of information overload. I haven’t wanted to fill your quiet thoughts with more “content” or local politics but give something personal not only in my life but in our culture.

Sometimes, I’ve taken a pass on the immediate or important and opted instead to delve backward — like today. Did you know that the dance studio nearest you is gearing up for their annual recital? I bring this up because not only do I want you to go out and support these young dancers, I can’t help but think back to when this all started for me.

I’ll just say it: Watching dance on television is not enough!

My mother used to say it would take me most of my life to find the one thing I really wanted. I can faithfully say she was wrong about me.

A newfound confidence

I was only 5 when I took my first pre-ballet class, where the pink-sequined world of the Miss Anita’s Dance Studio opened like a door that led to all I ever wanted. I closed my eyes, and this-is-what-I-want hummed inside me louder than the music she played.   When I opened my eyes, I bent my knees to the puzzling, new sound of the word: plié. In spite of how difficult it was to keep my wobbly thighs from turning inward, there was something in the air that took the pressure off the rest of me — it just did. It was a whole new way of looking at everything that — once I learned all about it, which I would with a lot of practice — I suddenly believed in, in a whole, new, unbelievable way.

I might have been teeny at the time, but I sensed deep inside my first real stirring of confidence. And I knew the stirring meant only one thing, a fact that was true in the beginning, is true now and will be true forever: There might be other ways to feel like I truly belong, but entering a dance studio will always be the quickest, surest way.

It might have been all I was sure about, but I was sure. 

The power to be

After class, I twirled around our living room in another round of enthusiasm that can only come from wearing layers of crinoline too good to be true.  

And when my father came home from work, I told him I would be a dancer forever, and he rolled his eyes as if to say I was silly to think I had it all figured out. It took me a minute, but I found the nerve to say the words I’d read on a poster that hung over Miss Anita’s cardboard box of lost-and-found: “Ask me why I want to dance, and I’ll tell you it’s like asking me why I want to breathe.”

I can still see his eyes getting big at those words. “What the…?” he mumbled under his breath. But I could hear him.

A father sees things differently about his daughter once she talks to him like this. And a little girl sees everything differently once she realizes she has the power to make something happen for herself.

It’s tricky figuring out these sort of things at any age, but my decision to dance was as clear-cut as all the trees they’ve felled between Redmond and Issaquah.   I may have tottered from tip-to-toe, but I never stumbled or strayed from the path that was set in front of me that first day.

So, to all the young dancers at the Arc School of Ballet, Westlake Dance Center, Spectrum Dance Theater, eXit Space School of Dance, Pacific Northwest Ballet and all the other studios that enliven our city, today I say: Break a leg!

MARY LOU SANELLI’s latest book is “Among Friends.” Visit her website: To comment on this column, write to