Vibeke Toft – Time to Reflect

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Time to reflect WDCED project.

I saw the following quote and this compelled me to share with you parts of my dance story.

There is no life’s calling, but life is calling both from within and without.
“Only when you truly respond to the call of life will you know life is its entirety. Only when you know unprejudiced and absolute involvement with the universe, with every atom in the universe will you explore, experience and know the full scope of who you are. “

I know it sounds banal, but often when we are stopped in our tracks and our journey is at a pause, that that is when life is calling us.

But you have to listen and you must know what generally makes you happy and content in order to realize and respond to the call.
I have experienced those life calls twice in my dancer career. In both instances it happened at a point in my career, where I felt stuck or even totally stopped in m pursuit towards my dreams.
I hope my realizations might give food for thought during a time where the entire dance industry is on Pause.

The first incident happened in and around 1994. Allan and I had won the World Amateur Championship 2 years prior and were heading full steam ahead towards our next goal. We were young, naïve and obnoxiously confident in our abilities. We had zoomed through our amateur careers with full blast managing to feel a constant upwards curve and this path eventually led us to believe that everything in life ought to be coming your way, so long as you worked hard and persistently. However coming back from Blackpool in the summer of 1994, almost overnight, something changed for us emotionally.
We had dealt with some trials and tribulations in our very last incline, that had taken a toll and we felt rather isolated. The initial burst of energy that most dancers experience when turning professional was wearing off and instead we were overcome emptiness!
Back in the 90ties most couples had only a couple of teachers and teachers back then were educators. They stayed away from their students and carried themselves with a very professional attitude. There was no personal interaction between teachers and students. Once a lesson was over that was it, you were on your own.

We had no energy and no clear vision. We knew only one thing for sure, when Laird played his music for us, we smiled! And when Laird talked about his trips to explore the “Latin” roots, we listened with open hearts!!

How we got the idea exactly, is a bit fuzzy, but we literally took our backpacks and off we went the entire summer into the unknown with only images in our heads from the stories told us by Laird. No money for hotels to sleep in overnight, but for some reason we never stopped to think about the logistics, we just booked a flight as close to Cuba as possible. (Flying to Cuba back then was near impossible, but thankfully we were ignorant of such limitations).

In hindsight I know for sure that Life was calling us. As the people we met, the dance experiences we lived, that summer fueled our dance hearts and gave us a direction. At that point of our careers it was exactly what our spirits had urged for. Upon returning to England it became our daily inspiration as we explored the links between the International Latin American dance style and all that we had seen, learnt and felt.
This life-altering experience also opened up our mind for other explorations and generated deep kindred spirits relationships such as that with US National Professional Champions Tony Meredith and Melanie La Patin. We first saw Tony and Melanie in 1994 at the famous south London dance studio “Top of The Stairs” owned by Mick Stylianos and Lorna Lee. I recall that night as if it was yesterday; there we were practicing amongst the world’s best dancers, yet all eyes were drawn to the Americans. The soul, the music, the feel, something so intangible, yet so real!
We made friends (and still are to this date). They helped us navigate through the concrete jungle when visiting a couple of times a year, having soon realized the connection between New York City and it’s Afro Cuban, Afro Brazilian and Swing societies. I am forever thankful for their guidance!

(BTW Melanie also introduced me to James, my husband of over 17 years and father of my son. Talk about coincidence, I think not! Want to guess what connected James and Melanie at first? Well, MUSIC of course! )

In 1998 my dance career came to a halt. I got hit with a severe thyroid condition, which literally stopped me in my tracks. Life went from fast lane to zero in no time. Not much unlike this pandemic.
Well eventually I got back into dancing, but not back to “normal”. The new normal for me had shifted to teaching. I remember thinking to myself; “all right fine, it is what it is”, not exactly my dream ending, but also not terrible either.

It wasn’t until spring of 2002 when I decided to go visit my friends in NYC, that I realized how far from “living” I actually felt. Whilst walking the streets of New York it hit me almost like lightning. I have to live here in NYC, where I would have access to all the music, the clubs, and all the resources that had helped me out back in 94. Within one month I had sold up and moved from London to NYC.
Again I dived head first, no clue whether I could afford to live in an expensive city, not knowing if there was even an International Style dance scene that I could become part of. But I knew the resources the city had to offer was essential to me feeling truly alive.

I can honestly say that not a morning walk to the studio goes by where I don’t feel thankful for being exactly where I am. Where I am, is surrounded by students, colleagues and friends who all share with me a similar passion.
My dance journey took a detour from what I had planned for. Yet I am happy, I feel fulfilled. Life called and I listened.

The moral of the story; don’t be afraid of this time. Pauses can bring new amazing pathways.

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey. I have admired you as a dancer for a long time. While training in London I had the opportunity to take part at Latin practice at Simley’s studio where with many other dancers, You were practicing your craft. You were the amateur champion from your country I believed. I wanted to talk to you then as I saw you sitting down between rounds but felt it wasn’t the right time. I sensed that maybe practice wasn’t going well with your partner… maybe in my recollection there were arguments between the two of you. So I shied away from approaching you. By the way it wasn’t Allen.
    Your journey is a success story that depicts the many curves like a winding road that finally take you to your destination. The end of the road is no doubt further then where you are – I am therefore sending my best wishes for you continuous success!
    Stanley McCalla

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