Confessions of a Former “Most Talented”

Post Author: Ann Bonner-Stewart

After six years of lessons, all I can conjure up are bits of Beethoven’s Fur Elise and Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do (I Do It For You) when I sit down at the piano. I associate my sketch of marbles reflected in a pocket mirror more with punching the boy next to me for laughing that I had “chicken legs” than with the middle school art show second place ribbon it garnered. I can sing in a surprisingly loud, mostly on key alto, but good projection is only that. My poetry, well, it sucks so hard that I’ve destroyed everything I’ve tried to write for the past decade.

And then there’s dance. Well, to be more accurate, there was dance.

When I was a toddler, I begged my mom to let me take dance lessons. Convinced that my older sister had begun too soon, she wouldn’t let me start until I was in first grade. I still question my mom’s logic, but the fact is that m y dancing years still outweigh my non-dancing years about two to one.

Over the years, I took tap, jazz, ballet, and modern. During high school, I focused on ballet. I spent hours and hours at the studio. I lived and breathed The Nutcracker, Les Sylphides, Coppelia, Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty (pictured here, with me downstage). Significant portions of my summers were spent at various dance “camps,” for lack of a better word. Though I stopped performing after high school, I continued to take modern and ballet classes while I was in undergrad and in graduate school.

Right now, between work, parenting, and household duties, I don’t dance, unless you count the random, spontaneous pirouettes in the kitchen, which I don’t. I am exiled to the good ol’ American role of consumer. Since I work with high school students, I attend recitals by the dozen. I go to museums and to the ballet sporadically. I scribble on paper place mats with my sixteen-month-old at restaurants. I read others’ short stories, novels, biographies, poetry, and sometimes edit my friends’ and colleagues’ attempts at the written word. Others create while I watch or occasionally make marginally helpful suggestions.

These others, some of whom have been represented in this column over the past several years, have been better than I have been at keeping up with their chosen creative outlet. I respect and admire their tenacity. The truth is, I’m not sure I could have picked an artistic endeavor that is more forgiving to people in their thirties (and older). I didn’t really choose dance. Like the Triune God’s prevenient grace, dance chose me. Yet I’ve had to let go of acting on that part of my identity go for now.

Here’s how I see it: everything about us and about this world is finite. Creatureliness, and ergo our own creativity, comes with a degree of transiency. Though we can and do create, as creatures, we are not that which defines creativity; no matter how wonderfully creative we are at certain times in our lives, we are not the Creator, capital C. The “You can have it all”/”You can do everything” meta narrative in which many of us swim is not only unhelpful, it’s untrue, and, despite what some extremely popular preachers would want us to believe, it is decidedly not Christian.

I don’t want suggestions on how to integrate dance into my life right now. I’m also not looking for reassurance in the form of, “Aw, Ann, you are so creative!” comments. Whether or not creative is a good descriptor for me, I am a dancer. I was a dancer before I took a single step. I’m still a dancer though I don’t dance right now.

Ann Bonner-Stewart is the chaplain and a residential faculty member at Saint Mary's School, an all girls' boarding and day high school in Raleigh, North Carolina. She wrote this while parked on the couch during a recent flareup of what she assumes is mild tendinitis, which made her feel not only finite but also like a good candidate for the not so young clergy woman project.

Image by: Randlom
Used with permission
8 replies
  1. Betsy T
    Betsy T says:

    Oh good Lord, you have just afflicted me with the earworm of the opening of Everything I Do- it must have been a seminal piano piece for us children.
    My favorite dance teacher was from college: she helped us to envision our lives as adult dancers who’d never “be” anyone, who might never perform again after college. We learned to be at peace with appreciating, to learn to push ourselves to be strong and limber without the payoff of an audience.
    I realized as I’ve gotten older that I have been picking and choosing what I do. I really can’t have everything like the super-feminists have told me; but I can choose to really invest in certain things. I think there are seasons in my life when certain elements are stronger.
    For example, I’m a violist. I am not playing right now, but I am still a viola player. When the season is right, I’ll practice and regain my skill. For right now, it’s just not the right season.

  2. says:

    I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed”. In recent times, I’ve come to reflect on how nebulous and horrible a superlative that is. Succeed at what? Have I succeeded? Am I done? Has no one else in my h.s. succeeded? Have they and, if so, at what? Prayers for your tendonitis. Successfully yours, jbs

  3. Cheri Baker
    Cheri Baker says:

    Everything has a season. Talents dormant are not lost. Creativity comes by finding ways to help others, which you do so well. I miss you. I find myself playing mom/grandma, unexpected but worth every second. Enjoy your current season and know God’s leading the way.

  4. Father Stacy
    Father Stacy says:

    Thank you so much for this! Your have really spoken some truth to another (former?) “Most Talented.” Watching “So You Think You Can Dance” religiously has taken over any inclination I once had to turn, shuffle, or jete. I would love to find a way to incorporate dance back into my life…but have no idea how that might come about. Regardless of that regret, thanks for speaking these words. They mean more right now than you know.

  5. Louise H
    Louise H says:

    Your writings on dance as a metaphor for where you are in life is very timely for me. I am embarking on new territory this year with my empty nest as I attempt to revive the Liturgical Dance at St. Paul’s. Most of my formal training ended around 1st or 2nd grade and yet I have always loved dance as much as some that make it their life. For me it is a beautiful art form to express my feelings or to observe others and cheer them on.
    It feels like only yesterday that my children were the age of yours and now one is going off to college. I am also a dancer who will not be dancing. I will encourage rather than participate in the liturgical dance. Thank you for this wonderful reflection and your beautiful writing, which is in itself creative!

  6. Annika Linderfalk
    Annika Linderfalk says:

    I dance circledances in my parish and in my prayers for myself. I was never a dancer -not talented at all but the circledancing found me. It gave me a body and movements for my being being in the church-now I am preparing for autumn and dancing Chrsitmas oraorium (bach)

  7. Alex
    Alex says:

    I’ve loved this column over the years and I look forward to see where it moves under your editor-ship (is that a word?!)

  8. Elsa
    Elsa says:

    It’s your meditation on God that strikes me most. It speaks volumes to me — as someone that was actually voted “most creative” at some point long ago and still hears it from members of the church I serve. Thanks for your words.


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