My story starts with my name: Jordan Maria.
“Jordan,” most people immediately say. “Oh, like Michael Jordan?” I love basketball so that never bothers me. But Jordan is actually Hebrew, and it means to “descend or flow down.” Since I’m a dancer, that translation’s fine with me. It sounds graceful.
But names can also carry baggage.
My middle name, Maria, has a few different meanings—including “bitter”... and “rebellious.” I’m only 22, but I’ve learned that those two things can make their way into your life because of choices you’ve made, but also because of choices you never had.
As a kid, I tried not to call attention to my sand-tinted skin. I went to a lot of trouble to straighten my hair every day and do what I was told. But I didn’t fit in. Baptized at ten, I knew I wanted to follow God, but everything was so focused on following rules. And what I loved most in the world, dance, was viewed as a sin at my school.
That was a big problem for me. I was one and a half years old when my mom brought me along to my older sister’s dance class at a local studio. The teacher, watching me move to the music, said I could start hip-hop as soon as I was potty-trained. Dance was a huge part of my life that I couldn’t give up.
“Dance was a huge part of my life that I couldn’t give up.”
Trying to Belong
In sixth grade, my life did a 180. I auditioned and got accepted to a local school of the arts where the students came from all over. Finally I didn’t stick out because of the color of my skin, and my classmates were a mix of atheists, Muslims, and Christians, and still others who didn’t bother thinking about spirituality at all. At this school, you could say and do practically anything. But still, I was told I spoke too White — and for others — too Black. Where did I fit? Depending on the people I was around, I adapted to their traits. Theirs. Not mine.
That same year, my parents divorced after three years of painful transition, and my going to church went from every week, to every other, to only on holidays. I tried to pretend everything was okay, but it wasn’t. That’s why I had dance.
And dance was going well—actually, too well. At the studio, my teacher put me into a higher-level class, with kids my sister’s age. She’s five years older than me. My peers didn’t like that and made sure I knew it. They started bullying me. And the older kids I danced with didn’t want to hang out with someone so much younger. Once again, I didn’t fit in.