When I was in the eighth grade, I walked into my Life Science class on the first day of school, and in the middle of the orange lab table was a candle that had been lit, the flame waving back and forth as we all took our seats and waited to hear what the teacher had to say. She had turned out most of the lights so that the candle would be the focal point, and then she said, “All scientific hypotheses begin with an observation. What you see in the first ten seconds is never the whole picture and never the end of possibilities. On this first day, some of you have already decided if you love science or hate it, and some are indifferent. So you have thirty minutes to observe, analyze, and find as many things as you can about this lit candle. You can walk around it, touch it, pick it up, do whatever you want, but write down everything that you discover.”

I found over fifty things that were unique about the candle and its flame. There were properties that it innately possessed and things it could do (or couldn’t) with a little manipulation and push. There were many things that revealed themselves just by watching for a few minutes. One of my favorite findings was that unless deliberately extinguished, the flame never got smaller, was never hesitant, and the brightness never diminished. Even when I picked up the candle and turned it upside down for a moment, the flame was unrelenting.

When dancers start out, full of anticipation, expectations, and encouragement, that flame of passion and inspiration has been ignited, and it’s high and bright. Everyone sees only opportunities ahead, and the future looks wonderful.

Let’s cut ahead a few decades. If the dancer had eventually progressed into the performing arena, the inevitable transition into the world of “used to be” can be a bit more intense for some; it’s more than simply bittersweet. Many dancers seem to catapult into unrelated careers, perhaps a hidden dream, and they turn joyfully to a whole new chapter. Others snuggle into a relaxing, yet wistful departure and are happy to remember those wonderful years of dancing, but they’re relieved to take it easy on those overused and abused feet!

Then there’s another category. There are those who feel that a portion of their life has been torn away, and that their waning career does not coincide with their flame which is still burning.

There’s an interesting similarity to my eighth-grade science class. Even when the career of a dancer (or anyone who is passionate about what they do) is turned upside down, that flame does not diminish. Others who are looking on for that brief ten seconds may assume and presume that a dancer just “waltzes” through to retirement and goes on to something else with an attitude of “Oh well, that was fun.” But unless deliberately extinguished, that flame is still hot, bright, and capable of producing heat. With a little extra push and manipulation, that flame continues to burn and light other wicks without diminishing itself. But that isn’t apparent right away. And here’s another observation about the candle in eighth grade: As the candle burned down, the flame stayed the same size, becoming larger in proportion to the base it started with.

This tells me that the inevitable wearing down and aches and pains of the body have nothing to do with the flame’s ability to ignite someone else’s life. The performing and execution of the dancer’s technique is the top layer of the candle, but the real heat of the flame is that blue light closest to the wick. That doesn’t diminish. Others may tell you that when dancing, or life, becomes more of a struggle, or when things become challenging, or when they are turned completely upside down, it’s time to stop and do something else. No, it’s not. If your flame is still the same size, just as bright, just as hot, then you still have the ability to provide some light into a dark room or light someone else’s candle. We are trained from childhood to be tenacious; use that for such a time as this.

By the time we finally die, many other flames will have been lit from the one candle, just like the candles on a Hanukkah menorah, or the candles at a Christmas Eve service—one lit candle lights the one next to it, and on down the line.

Just like the candle, burn, ignite, inspire, illuminate, and in the best way you can,

Dance on.

Robin Conrad Sturm is the primary ballet instructor and Executive and Artistic Director of the Northern Virginia Dance Academy and the Asaph Dance Ensemble. Robin won the 2018 Inside NoVa’s Best Author in Prince William honors and also writes a blog. Contact her at Northern Virginia Dance Ensemble: or call 703-330-5227.

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