Happendance Family in Jennifer Barnes’ Words

About a month ago, a dream of mine came true. The first annual Happendance Family Reunion. A group of 36 folks whose lives have been touched by Happendance came together to reconnect, remember and celebrate the central place Happendance has had on our lives. Jennifer (Palmer) Barnes wrote a beautiful post on her blog about it.


It is exciting to see that my passion and gratitude for our beloved organization is shared Jennifer and so many others. You can read more of her posts at: http://heymamaguesswhat.blogspot.com/

Here is an excerpt of what she wrote:


I grew up in a small town in Michigan and from a tot I was obsessed with dancing. My mom found a dance studio to try, little did she know we would end up basically living there for the next 15 years. I lived and breathed dance, 6 days a week. Classes, company, rehearsals, teaching. My studio was not your typical dolly dinkle school of dance, we didn’t care about the shiny costumes all my friends were wearing at their recitals because we made ours, we created our own world of exploration in that studio. You see Happendance is about so much more than steps. It’s a place to explore ideas, emotions, events; you name it we danced about it. My mentor, Diane is the type of woman you gravitate towards. She is so committed to her craft, art, and students. She was my guide to finding my love for the stage, for travelling, and a deep passion to go out and affect the world. She left me with a quote around the time of my high school graduation that has been a standing motto of mine since. We were hovered around her in our comfortable circle and she asked us to think about where we wanted to be in our lives in ten years. For me that was easy; dancing with a company and travelling from city to city. I never saw myself truly getting married but I wanted a baby at some point. One that would travel with me and grow up in a dance studio. I know not everyone’s idea of perfect but at the time it was mine. Next she said to forget it, wipe the slate clean. She told us as long as we always “Follow your Bliss” we may not end up where we think we should, but we will end up where we’re meant to be. In the moment it resonated with me but at the same time I never thought I would end up anywhere differently. I have thought of that conversation at every major turning point in my life. It has been a beacon, a guide on how to make decisions. I am so thankful that my mom sought out and believed in such a different approach to dance. She was right there with me until I could finally drive, and even then she was still my biggest supporter.

At 18 I ran to NYC, went to college at Marymount Manhattan College and pursued my career in dance. I was lucky again to find a group of like minded dancers in school and we continued performing together after graduation. Throughout my career these shows were definitely a highlight. Rehearsing in Central Park or a loft in Brooklyn, and performing wherever and whenever we could. It didn’t matter because we were creating art together and we were inspired. I only wish that it was enough to sustain me. I loved every minute of it, but the business side of the industry, among a few things took it’s toll on my love for the art and I started to lose my passion. I went to South Africa with one of the best ladies I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and toured her beautiful country. I was there for 6 weeks and literally road tripped around the country, spent time on her family’s gorgeous farm, touring Kruger Park, sun downers in Cape Town, team USA at the Cape of Good Hope… One of the most incredible journey’s of my life.

One of my most vivid memories on the trip is of the sky. It was huge, no gigantic, actually I don’t think there’s a word for it. It went from your toes on the left, overhead, and all the way down to the toes on your right.Now maybe because I had been living in New York for 8 years that any sky would be huge, but even so I was in awe and was struck by the enormity of it. I truly felt so tiny in this world, so insignificant. That trip, I realized how unhappy I had really been and knew I needed to make a change. Within the year, I would leave New York. Anyone who knew me at the time, was in utter shock upon my revelation and ultimately my decision. I worked hard, held numerous jobs to fight for my dream, and had no intention of going anywhere anytime soon. Back from Africa and my whole world was shifted upside down. I knew I needed to follow where my heart was telling me to go. The hardest part was leaving the family we had created there. I moved to Chicago at the end of the year. I meant to only take a short break from dancing. To “find out who I was without it”. But the truth is I don’t think I ever had any intention of going back. Not at that time.

It’s been more than a few years since that coming of age moment of my youth, and of course she was right. The picture I had painted for myself doesn’t exist, and I am thankful for that. I am married to my best friend and partner in life. We have a beautiful family and are just starting our journey together. These are the sweet years that I know one day I will long for again.

I went home recently for a reunion my studio, Happendance was having. I struggled about going, 3 kids — 4 year old b/g twins and a 10 month old, I live far away, we were in the midst of moving, yada yada. This has been a tough year for my family, and I’m tired and a bit drained to be honest. In spite of all that, I felt compelled to go, I couldn’t imagine missing it. It worked out that my husband would be busy working all weekend and I haven’t been home since Christmas, so I was due. I took my oldest daughter to see the current students perform at Jazz Fest (to say she loves to dance is an understatement. “She doesn’t walk thru life, she dances” to quote my husband.) At the reunion I was so happy to see a few old friends and of course Diane. Many gave testimonials that felt as if they were reading a page from my own heart. I felt a sense of community and family in a way that I haven’t felt very often. On a side note, anyone that has a child interested in dance in the Lansing and surrounding areas, please head this way. You will be giving your child an incredible gift. The new CEO, Missy Lilije, is someone I am honored to say I danced for and with. I couldn’t think of a better person to succeed Diane. She has the same level of commitment, drive, and talent to grow Happendance and continue evoking change in peoples lives.

I read this blog titled Am I a dancer who gave up? right before I went to the reunion. In it the girl talks about a young student asking her if she had any breakdowns when she gave up on her dreams? Ugh, pretty harsh and it cut thru me to the core. I have definitely struggled at times with my decision to walk away. But I loved her answer to that question and it changed the way I view myself. It has been many years since I was on a professional stage but I am still a dancer, I always will be. I looked around to the women before me, that I only knew as girls, and I was so proud to be apart of that group. There is a business owner whose an artist, a teacher, a doctor, a director, a mom. All artists trained to go out into the world and do things differently. I left with a renewed energy and desire to approach life the way I know in my heart I want it to be. The world needs full time moms, ones that are artists too.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I was in South Africa and came upon a fork in the road. I am so glad that I listened to that beacon and followed my bliss without knowing what that was. I am far more blessed than I could ever have dreamed of. I am ready to own that now and to pursue life as a mom who’s also an artist, wherever that may lead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: