Simple living was a concept first introduced to me back in 2008, when I attended sleepaway camp for the first time. It was an all-girls traditional camp in the middle of Maine. I remember the initial feeling of exhilaration as I drove up the main road on my first day. The camp reminded me a lot of the one in The Parent Trap: the vast lake, the green and white uniforms, the campers abundant with glee and moxie. It was no surprise that I returned year after year, and while most of my friends set off for prestigious internships in big cities, I became a dance counselor in the middle of rural Maine, at the place that had become my second home.
Dancing at camp was always an incredible escape from the traditional dance programs I was accustomed to during the year, but I didn’t realize just how incredible of an escape it was until I began teaching dance back in 2015. I had always relished in the use of uniforms and no electronics at my camp. Going “off the grid” and living a life of simplicity was fantastic because I didn’t have to concern myself with anything superficial. Growing up as a dancer, I was constantly concerned with my appearance. In this environment, I wasn’t because I wasn’t exposed to daily pressures and toxic media influences.
One of the most challenging adjustments I had to make was to not take myself or my teaching too seriously. School was where I would allow myself to worry about my dancing and technique as it was my field of study. At camp, I was going to have to let that seriousness go and focus on the enjoyment. I had to project this on my dancers and I was delighted to see how much they wanted to contribute to creating a positive and supportive environment. These incredible girls didn’t have to concern themselves with outside drama, stressors, or insecurities; they were present and they were there for themselves. When it came to the dancing, the focus was not on physical capability, but rather on the pure feeling and bliss these girls felt as they moved.
This was a huge shift for me. As their role model and mentor, I had to monitor my use of language and actions to ensure that I wasn’t promoting body shaming in myself, something that I unfortunately had become accustomed to in most other dance settings. For so long, it was expected that I would critique my dancing by critiquing my body; blaming my poor performance on what I ate that day and my physique. Eventually, I lost all confidence in my ability to dance because my relationship with my body was draining me of my passion to dance. I nearly called it quits.
Then, I started teaching dance, and these girls saved me. Nothing else mattered except for them. I wasn’t there to dwell on my insecurities and the battle I faced everyday; it was about challenging these girls, pushing them out of their comfort zone and bringing out the best version of themselves.
It’s funny: I went to this camp to teach, but I ended up learning so, so much from my dancers. Sure, I wasn’t focusing on myself, but by preaching self-love, acceptance, courage and confidence to these girls, I found myself beginning to practice what I preached. My desire to quit dance quickly faded away, and this became a pivotal moment in my journey to self-love and acceptance. There’s this common expression at my camp: people often say that they are “the best versions of themselves” when they’re at camp. That statement is never wrong. Every day that I’m not at camp, I strive to be the best version of myself: the girl who isn’t so caught up in the everyday evils of negativity and being unkind to herself, but rather focuses on the good in everyday and the good she sees in herself and others. I strive to focus on my character rather than my appearance, knowing that my worth is not defined by anything you see on the surface. I strive to have more genuine relationships, with others and with myself. Most importantly, I strive to thank my body for everything that it has done for me rather than scrutinize it. My body and I are a team.
Thank you to everyone who has provided me with a wealth of knowledge and love that goes beyond Island Pond.
Grace Bradley is a senior at Connecticut College majoring in dance and sociology. Working with the Active Minds chapter at Conn College and NEDA, she is an advocate of mental health and eating disorder awareness after personally dealing with both. Grace is dedicated to raising awareness about both of these issues, specifically within the dance community.
Photo Credit: KE Wrethem