No Left Turns, by JJ Smith

By November 9, 2018NVLD Bloggers

One of the quirkiest aspects of NVLD is the motor skills deficit. We can speak with the highest confidence, then walk away tripping over our own feet. My weakness is left turns when walking. It never fails: I misjudge the angle and bang my elbow on the door frame or jam my knuckles on the door knob, and sometimes both at the same time on especially clumsy days.

Image from pexels.com

I hadn’t been diagnosed – I didn’t even know what NVLD was – when I started dance classes in high school at age 16. I spent the entire summer teaching myself how to snap the fingers on my right hand because my sister, who had already taken the class, told me that we had to snap in some dances. I worked hard, trying over and over again to get that distinct popping sound of middle finger sliding across thumb. I was finally able to do it consistently the week for school started, after three straight months of practice. And wouldn’t you know, the first dance we did with snapping was with the left hand. I panicked, but I knew if I could do it with my right hand I could do it with my left, and I got it just in time for the test two weeks later. I was an ambidextrous snapper just like that!

I got pretty good at dance to the point I pursued a career after high school. I took studio classes three times a week at first before taking on six classes between two studios, one for jazz and one for ballet. I became what my ballet teacher termed “a good little dancer”, which was code for “talented but not enough to go pro”. She was right. Although I eventually got good enough to be on stage, I was never quite good enough to take it beyond the studio and onto the likes of a Broadway stage. I could do just about everything with the right side of my body, but everything to the left felt cold and methodical. Four pirouettes to the right and two to the left consistently. Petite allegro (small and fast) was a lost on me.

I was frustrated at the glass ceiling I kept bumping my head on, but I still had a good career as a teacher and choreographer. I was much better at that because, although I couldn’t do everything I needed to, I could still express major ballet concepts with my vast ballet vocabulary, which I picked up faster than the movements themselves. I was happy when I retired from the stage, yet heartbroken when the studio closed. I knew I couldn’t start over again with new people in charge, so I decided to leave with as dignity as I could. There was no way they would understand my quirks. Still, it was a satisfying journey from novice to expert.

I still bump into walls when walking down hallways and I run into doors when I turn left. But thanks to dance, I do so gracefully.

JJ Smith

I’ve worked in customer service most of my life never knowing how terribly wrong it was for me. Now I aspire to write professionally. I feel so disconnected from others that I can’t even refer to myself as a person, and I’m OK with that. Nothing ever made sense until I discovered NVLD, and now I refuse to compromise my identity for work. I am who I am.

Share your own story