In 1981, if you were to ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” I would have quickly said, “Zoologist.” After this proclamation, I harvested the adoration from adults who told me I was “smart” or “good” for choosing this career (and at such a young age). However, in reality, I had a secret. I had no passion for caring for animals. I didn’t hate animals, it’s just that there was something I wanted more and that was to be a Solid Gold dancer.
I watched every episode of Solid Gold in the early 80s and studied the movements executed by the attractive male dancers. Later, beyond my closed bedroom door, I mimicked what I remembered of their dance numbers by quietly practicing my step turns, side sweeps, and lean-back kicks while wearing a bed sheet as an elegant cape/scarf that I often incorporated into my routines. On the plus side, I already felt like I had mastered arm flare and prop-ography. Once exhausted, I plopped on my bed and daydreamed of hanging out with Dionne Warwick or Marilyn McCoo on the set between rehearsals.
However, despite my ambition, nobody was allowed knowledge of this goal. Why? Because I feared people would make fun of me. I imagined they would say, “You’re not good enough for Solid Gold, Cary,” “You’re stupid for even wasting your time trying,” or “You would look awful in an awesome-looking, silver leotard and matching headband.” With such a fragile personality, any negative comments would discourage me to the point of giving up. That’s just how I was. I practiced in private, scared that someone would walk in at any moment and ask why I was only wearing Mom’s white, satin opera gloves and white briefs.
As I grew up, my desire to join the Solid Gold dance troupe faded. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I’m not as comfortable flashing my bulge in spandex pants as I thought I would be. Maybe it’s because Solid Gold was cancelled in 1988 when I was only 15 years old. Maybe it was because I didn’t open myself to a support system that would encourage me to accomplish my goals. Honestly, I feel it’s the latter.
What would my life be today if I had opened up about my true ambition with friends and family? Despite being outed at a very early age for wanting to be a Solid Gold dancer, my parents could very well have (probably) enrolled me in dance classes, or my friends might have cheered for me at the junior high dance competition. Unfortunately, I will never know because I wasn’t brave enough to try.
As a matter of fact, I recently learned that according to a 2012 survey conducted by the UK’s Anti-Bullying Alliance, “1 in 4 [children between the ages of 11-16] quit activities they enjoy because they’re scared of bullies.” Even “[d]espite the popularity of programmes like X-Factor…many children are scared to excel with 11% having stopped singing, 8% drama and 9% dancing.”
With these numbers in mind, imagine how much art we are losing daily. How many young, beautiful minds were stunted from developing its gift because they were stifled by fear and embarrassment? How abundantly rich in expression would our world be today if a young writer, dancer, painter, or actor was lauded as much as a young athlete?
For me, there’s no sense in regretting what could have been. It’s gone now. The flame I once carried to light up my dreams of being a Solid Gold dancer have long since extinguished. But it may not be too late for you. Do me a favor; don’t be afraid of expressing what makes you happy because one day, you’ll be 41 years old, and you’ll look back on your life and think about everything that could have been if only…