I think I finally did it. I figured out my 'why' (at least for the time being).
A while back, I wrote a post outlining my quest to figure out why I want to do this performing thing. I ruled out a couple of answers -- the admirable but as-yet-not-completely-true 'for the glory of God' and the too-general 'because I love it' being among them.
But in the past couple of days it's suddenly occurred to me that the reason I dance, the reason I perform, is so I can escape.
I don't know if this was the case when I was a child -- after all, I really didn't have much to escape from (even if I sometimes thought I did). But definitely in my teen years it was that. After I returned from my dance hiatus (which happened to be smack in the middle of my nine-year depression episode), that one hour a week of dance class slowly chipped away at the despair that engulfed me -- so subtly that I didn't notice it for several years. It distracted me enough to lessen the intensity of my own self-hatred, and the venom I directed at myself gradually waned (mind you, dance wasn't the only thing that got me out of that, but it helped start things).
In college, dance was the only thing that brought me back for a second year. And in my second year, being in The Secret Garden was quite literally the only thing that kept me sane as I was trying to stay on top of eight classes, failing what had been my best subject, and watching helplessly as my entire extended family unraveled. I looked forward to rehearsals, costume fittings, hair and makeup, anything that would transport me to this other world and distract me from the unrelenting stress and the fact that I hadn't eaten in two days.
And even in recent weeks -- more than once I've driven to dance in the past couple of weeks and arrived at class determined that once I get out of class I'm going to drive onto an overpass, pull over, get out, and jump onto the highway below. But by the time I actually get out of dance class, the thought doesn't cross my mind. I drive home the way I normally do, without a thought of quite literally jumping off a bridge. Dance class has invariably distracted me enough that this is no longer a rational thought that I seriously entertain (at least for a while).
All this has made me realise that dance (and performing in general) is my escape. This is why, even though I was so exhausted I could hardly stand up through my second year of college, I never missed a dance class. This is why performance season is my favourite time of the year -- the extra rehearsals and shows give me more time to be focused on performing and not whatever is stressing me out at the time. There's so much to remember and execute perfectly that there's no space in my brain for self-hatred. That thought pattern is interrupted and dies on the vine -- at least temporarily; enough that I get a break from it and therefore it's weakened slightly at intervals.
That line from that unwritten poem all those years ago is closer to the truth than I thought -- I dance so you can't see me cry. I dance to block out (or at least cope with) stress and heartache. It's the only thing I've found so far that reliably offers me some relief. And even temporary relief is better than no relief at all. And, logically, the more I perform, the more relief I will get. I do love it. But it seems it's also a bit like a drug.
And, of course, this throws a wrench into my whole nice-sounding 'I got into dance to touch people's lives' philosophy...