“Dancing Back to Me”

“I didn’t know that missing home could be so painful. I was eighteen when I moved to London. I had a boyfriend and friends there, but my first year at the London Contemporary Dance School was a struggle. I’d been dancing my whole life. It was what I dreamt of doing and trained so hard for, but the competitive element was intense. I found that there was an emphasis on masculinity, and that a lot of the work was extremely physical. I kept thinking; I have to be stronger. I have to be more flexible. I pushed so hard.

Born and raised in Devon, Isobel emanates the kind of warm-heartedness that most people reserve for close family and friends. Her eyes turn to the ceiling. She appears to consider her words and then resumes.

“When I lived with my family, we danced around the kitchen laughing. In London I was dancing 9 to 5— ballet and contemporary. It became my whole life. I started calling home less and when I did, I usually broke down.

“My mum got on the train to London to come meet me. ‘Maybe you should see a doctor…’ she said. We talked about it and agreed that I’d travel home at least once a month. It was the lowest I’d ever felt. Growing up, my mum used to say that the most important thing you can do is to be your own best friend. It’s not that easy. I had to learn to be kind to myself.

“Things got a lot better after I started going home regularly. The other two years felt quite calm in comparison, but I kept asking myself, is this making me happy?

“There was a moment when I was in Devon and I was working on a solo dance—something just for me. I was in the studio with my mum and I was trying to come up with movement. She came in to help me. I was standing with good posture: my pelvis tucked under, my shoulders back. She turned to me and asked, ‘What would it feel like to just do you?’ I just relaxed and cried. As I let go, I felt the body that I’d forgotten about. I’d been so trained.”

“Over time, I’ve worked on noticing and hearing all of the different parts of myself and letting them be. Accepting feeling low. I learnt so much from that period of homesickness—living through the low moments, knowing that they change. You have to be proactive, but they pass.

“After I finished university, I moved home for a year. It was tough. Everything changed so quickly.

“My girl dance group (10 friends from all over the word) has kept me connected to dancing and performing. It’s how I’ve held on to being a dancer. It acts as my bridge between Devon and London, between professional dancing and what I do with my family in our kitchen—laughter, movement and joy.”