On the morning of the opening performance of Springdance 2016, I woke up with a horrifyingly sad, exciting, terrifying realization. The date: April 1st, 2016.

The realization: I can’t let this end.

This camaraderie. This teamwork. This rush you get from it all.

Forget the performing. Every true performer feels that. The way you feel when the lights are off but the curtain comes up with you holding your shape like a statue, eyes burning with energy in the darkness while the audience waits eagerly to see you and your teammates, your peers, your fellow goddesses, illuminated by the lights from the wings of the stage. Forget the performing. Forget the way you wait on the lights to rise, to ignite the fuse of desire that runs from them straight into your soul, causing it to leave your body and transpose itself on the stage through your movements.

Forget that. Everyone feels that.

The rush I’m talking about is very different, it’s the rush of the process. Of auditioning, of making it, of struggling through choreography that you’re determined to get but that you never really nail until the final two dress-rehearsals; as if your mind possesses the same blazing hot competitive fire the best professional athletes are known for. The fire that dictates that, when the moment is crucial and everything they’ve ever worked for falls upon their shoulders and a single, solitary moment, they come through seemingly effortlessly.

I’m talking about the rush of casual, sweet conversations with the beautiful dancers backstage. The casual jokes about the week or the way the assistant stage-manager looks “adorable” running across the stage. The joy of dancing with people. Of doing something that at times can be so solitary but is inherently social, even to the point that you know you never actually dance alone, even if you have a solo, because people in the wings and people around you love what you do because you do it.

In such a competitive world, that’s a beautifully dissonant concept. And it’s one I’ve been so blessed, to the point of being spoiled, to be a part of.

On April 1st, I woke up and realized how bitterly sad it was that I only had these two, and next year’s two, Springdance performances left. I woke up and realized that, ok fine, these things have to end eventually. Time, after all, waits for no one. But damn it if that means I have to stop performing, or at least stop trying to.

Because here’s the thing: Such sadness, matched with the joy of making so many friends through rehearsals and short conversations, can overwhelm the heart. It can do so to the extent that you realize you need to change how you live because of how special it all is.

Even if it changes, even if what we feel is just the naiveté of college dance and in the real world it changes to the point of being totally unrecognizable, the very fact that it existed at all makes it worth seeking for all eternity. Makes it worth fighting for for all eternity.

Makes it worth creating anew in the case it has gone extinct or been forgotten.

In a way, I suppose that’s what Love is, isn’t it?

I guess what I mean to say is simply this: I want to dance for the rest of my life. Not just as something that supports my running-life, but maybe even professionally.

And I know my dancing peers would say that might be a bit “ambitious,” maybe outright “insane.” I get that, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against me. All I’ve got is passion, the desire to work hard, and some of the best friends and teachers on the planet who are willing to put up with my inexperience and help me mosey along.

Yet so many have told me they disagree that I’m “wasting my time.” So many have told me to go for it, from those I have known closely to those that I haven’t known at all but who I have still bounced questions off of randomly (like I did to one former professional-ballerina who lives in the Boston area). I get it; I’m not a great dancer yet. I started old (at age 24). I’m a dude in a girls’ sport. Hell, I’m a straight dude in a predominantly girls’ sport, which can make things even more complicated. There’s a lot to navigate both socially and physically (as an athlete). I have so far to go to get to any professionally-respectable level.

But when I woke up that morning, I realized that what we’ve done, and what we were doing, and what we did, were all I wanted from life.

So I’ve spent the last few days contemplating. Now, I’m ready to say it:

I’m going to get good.

Not only will I keep dancing, I’m going to push myself athletically and make that my focus so that maybe one day, I’ll be good, or, even crazier, “great.” And, by “great,” I mean good enough that I can land a low-level gig performing. Certainly teaching, but maybe even performing.

If nothing else though, I’ll never stop auditioning. My love and passion for it, my unquenchable craving for it that I can’t restrain, won’t allow it.

Athletically, I’ve always been a long-distance runner first. Today, I’m announcing that I’m going to change that up and become a dancer first, and a runner second. Not because I don’t like running, and not because I don’t love runners, because I love both.

But my soul burns with icy desire to be a better dancer, to help those dancers around me, to inspire the world that way.

I was put on this earth to tell stories. I can serenade everyday citizens with my poetry and can seduce poets into reading long writing segments with my prose.

Now though, I want to learn to do it with movement as well. I always did, but the other day, I learned that this is inescapable, and, because it is, I need to give it absolutely all priority outside of my writing, even to the point of sacrificing my emphasis in something I’m good at, like running.

So perhaps I should reintroduce myself. I am Shelton Matthew Burch. I am a Writer, and I am an aspiring Tap Dancer.

I train to be the best storyteller and athlete possible, both through writing and dance. Athletically, I choose to be a dancer first. To support and thrive at running, but to use it to support the endurance needed to dance so that I might inspire the world not just with my words but with my movements. I strive to become as flexible and strong as an olympic-level athlete, but with the endurance of a competitive half-marathoner.

And, above all, I seek to glorify God through my excellence in both. This is what I chase. This is how I serve, and this is who I will be. 🙂

Have a great day everyone. 🙂

Misguided Chain Reactions

I saw a meme on Facebook the other day:

“You wouldn’t worry about what people thought of you so much if you knew how little they did.”

I saw another, which I’m paraphrasing because I’m not sure I have it worded exactly right.

Don’t dwell too long on the negative things in life, but rather turn your energy to those things and people that inspire you.

Maybe it was Tara Stiles, a famous Yogi I’m a fan of, who said that last one. Maybe it’s written in the Holy Bible; I’m sure it’s certainly wise enough a sentiment to be in there. Regardless, there’s an inherent vitality to the ideas presented in these two modern morals if we just listen to them.

On one hand, we have a quote telling us not to worry about what other people think, while on the other we have one telling us to focus our hearts on those that inspire us, not those that bring us down.

I think we ought to focus on thanking those who inspire us by becoming great enough that we inspire them to keep on inspiring.

We ought to seek people around us who build us up, people who we know will think of us in their nightly prayers and who will look forward to our company in the coming days. We ought to surround ourselves with no nonsense people who will push us and inspire us and put us in our places when we aren’t living up to our obligations. People who will call us out not just when we aren’t living up to the physical obligations we make like showing up to meetings on time, but the obligations we make that are more mental, such as showing up prepared and energetic and ready to work whenever we arrive somewhere. We should seek people like my friend and mentor in the Tap Ensemble here at K-State who tells me bluntly when I need to work on a step and master it, even if it’s a basic one, but who I believe also will call me out in the morning if I don’t bring my normal energy to the place as well. We should seek to put ourselves in company of people like this, people who’s toughness with us is founded in care and the desire to see us grow. People who’s skill in our chosen crafts inspire us to push ourselves harder; not so that they’ll think more of us when we’re not around, but so they’ll think more of us when we are.

As we strive to be better and to fulfill the expectations of those who inspire us, we should deliberately think more of them. We should think of them in our evening prayers, we should tell people about how grateful we are for them, we should thank God for them or the universe for them, or maybe both depending on your beliefs.

The people of the world generally have a problem: we focus too readily on things that bring us down.

When I say “bring us down,” I don’t just mean things that make us “sad.” I think that’s part of the problem too, our communicators and writers have gotten so cliché in their use of the word “down” that it can seemingly mean nothing else beside “sad.” But thoughts and emotions that bring us down can be completely unrelated to sadness. Fear or anger are obvious ones that can make a person feel “down,” but there are less obvious emotions such as resentment, jealousy, and even irritation or annoyance that can do the same. These things cause us to think more about negative things, things we don’t like or believe in, and they draw our focus away from what we should be focused on: our passions and using them to benefit the universe as much as possible.

This morning, I woke up and checked Facebook and saw my employer, the newspaper, posted an article about the band’s performance at the K-State football game last night. I saw how many people were offended by the performance. I was irritated, not at the newspaper at all by any means, which I’m grateful and blessed enough to be employed by, but at the idea people were so offended by what I thought was an amazing performance. I was irritated at how many people saw a sexual innuendo in it. Maybe I was too naive to see it, even as I watched it live online and had a “bird’s eye” view of the thing. Maybe I was too naive or stubborn to see it even as I watched the meme online afterward while trying to focus on the video itself instead of the childish giggling of the twenty-something-year-olds in the background. Maybe my mind isn’t in the gutter as much as I sometimes beat myself up for it being.

Either way, the performance was good, and I can’t imagine performing music while marching in such specific patterns while listening to the music, keeping rhythm and beat, and staying in step. The difficulty of such a combination is unimaginable for me. I sang choir for four years. Maybe I wasn’t any good, but just singing the right notes with the right dynamics and tempo alone was hard. Doing it while moving would have been nearly impossible. Still, people were hating on/criticizing the band members and the band director, so much that the band director put out an official statement on Facebook. This really angered me. It still does when I think about it.

I digress again, and there you see how quickly it can happen! There you see how easy that trap of negativity is to fall into even as I write about it and am consciously aware of it. That quote up near the top of the page about focusing on what inspires you, instead of what brings you down, immediately came to my heart even as I read the article and got annoyed at all the Hatorade baths people were giving the band instead of the Gatorade baths they deserved.

When I realized my irritation, it felt like a gentle scolding. It came from all I’d been taught by God and life. It was not an angry scolding but rather a disappointed one. In my soul, it felt the way the words “Son, come on now. What are you doing?” would have felt had those come from my mom or dad as I grew up. It wasn’t angry, but it was clearly a distinct, unhappy call to step up my game and focus.

That’s my point in all of this. We as society need to focus more. We need to stop dwelling on what’s bad or what irritates us. It’s okay to feel those things, it’s even okay to ponder why they are bad or irritating. It isn’t productive to dwell on them though. We need to find our passions in life; those things that we can do as energetically as we used to play on the playgrounds in our elementary schools, and focus on those.

We should be focused on what we love. We should be focused on serving God and the universe (depending on your beliefs here) through our passions. We should be so focused, in fact, that we don’t have time to keep dwelling on what upsets us, or bothers us, or angers us beyond the point that it inspires us to try and change it. In other words, if it’s not something we can control but it’s something we don’t like, we must be tough enough and disciplined enough to turn our attention back to making the most good with what we can: our passions.

When start to do that, when we start again to dwell on those people or things that inspire us to be better, we will begin to inspire others to be better. We will think of them when they are not around and they will think of us, and we will start to create a circle of inspiration that will spread like a nuclear reaction, and the world will be better for it.

It has to start with us, and it has to start right the hell now.