The earliest birthdays I have concrete memories of are around age 8 or 9, when I would have my close group of friends over (which remained the same set of people for years) for a sleepover. Maybe “normal” kids play silly games or watch movies at their parties, but growing up under the dance reign of my family‘s studio, my parties were quite different. We would MAKE movies! I remember assigning each of my friends to a different dance in our remake of “A Chorus Line.” In another one, we all did a dance and lip sync to our favorite singers (I admit: many a Spice Girl theme…). Though not musical in nature, another of our birthday films that stands out in memory is “Who Killed the Rabbi?” at my make believe Bat Mitzvah on my 13th birthday (don’t ask hahaha)!
As the years passed, however, I started attending ballet intensives for increasing amounts of time over the summer and was almost always away for my birthday. My first summer away was for two weeks at a performing camp in upstate Vermont, beginning on the Monday of my birthday. Not only was I thrilled with the immediate independence I had by turning 12 years old away from my parents, but I was so happy with the surprise party my counselor, roommates, and new friends of 24 hours had thrown me! I still remember the moment when they locked me in my room to set up the common room with balloons.
I spent one more birthday at that camp before attending a different camp a year later: one where I would soon spend 2 full years of my life. My two summers here were perhaps the most fun I had because I made 3 really close friends who remain pen-pals to this day. For my birthday during both summers they completely surprised me by cleaning and decorating my room with streamers and confetti. Also, the year I turned 14 I got a later curfew for “coming of age” and so we went to get ice cream late (8pm?) just because we could. Another summer I remember staying up until midnight on the 30th with my roommates just so they could sing to me when it officially turned 12:01am on my birthday.
More importantly, during these years (as well as all birthdays since) I was always dancing. We would have a regular full day of classes and rehearsals at whatever camp I was at, and most of the time I was too shy or quiet to tell the teachers of my birthday. I would treat these ballet days like any other day of work, and only celebrate later back at the dorms. Even though other dancers had their birthdays during the intensive and got to wear special leotards or have the class sing to them, I always seemed to remain quiet during ballet. Even my birthday couldn’t disrupt the work.
Unfortunately (or, maybe fortunately?) this remains true years later, today, on my 19th birthday. I spent the day working at ballet, even though I did not attend an intensive (for the first time in 13 yrs) this year. Though the little kids at the ballet camp I’m working at sang “Happy Birthday” 3 times and I received several homemade presents and cards, it was still work. Yesterday in open class they sang to me as well, an unexpected surprise. But later this afternoon, for reasons unknown even to me, I decided to take the open ballet class that I don‘t particularly enjoy anymore. Maybe I felt it was tradition that I dance on my birthday, or maybe I just felt like I shouldn’t take a day off.