There’s something about turning 40.
It’s a pivotal time, especially for a woman, and especially for someone who grew up with a somewhat traditional family model of what to expect: life partner, family, staying home.
“When I was younger, I think I did really want to stay home. In high school, I thought I’d get married at 23 and have the white picket fence. My mom had that mindset: A woman gets taken care of.”
When her daughter was going into kindergarten, an opportunity to teach preschool fell into Erin’s lap. It was a sensible move in many respects: It fit with her family’s calendar and objectives, plus she’d have summers off.
But something was missing; she felt lost after being out of the job market for the years when her daughter was young.
“When you take that time off, you don’t really devote that energy to yourself.”
For Erin, then, it was hard to know what she really wanted. She had seen other friends with children who had started home-based businesses, and that was enticing, but she had never worked for herself, before, and thought she wouldn’t know how. There had always been a boss to report to.
Still, turning 40 was still a milestone, which brought with it some uncomfortable but also some empowering truths.
“You’ve got the ability to do something pretty big, and half of your life is gone so now: What are you going to do with the other half. I love the idea of living life by design. Especially in the last decade, you see it so much now. And you just see a lot of women, in particular, being pretty successful with it.”
Erin is a dancer. She’s danced since she was six years old, and she's had experience with a variety of styles: ballet, tap, jazz, Highland, which she competed in from the age of 11.
Later in her career, she had an opportunity to join a professional Scottish dance troupe called Shot of Scotch. She hadn’t done Highland dance for a decade, and she put off the audition for two years, thinking the troupe wouldn’t want to bring on someone her age.
“But I wasn’t thinking about all the things I could bring to the company that the 20-year-olds couldn’t bring. Fortunately I was in shape and could still do it.”
The initial audition was by tape, and Erin had to dance the Highland Fling, which is one of the more difficult dances.
“I had to do several takes, over several days because I’d be so winded by the time I finished it. Plus I always had to pee a lot, because pregnancy causes some incontinence. So I’d have to pee right before, and then I’d start the tape.”
She sent the video and was invited to an audition class at Scotiabank Dance Centre, a big gorgeous space right downtown with sweeping windows overlooking the city. Not the typical audition space.
It wasn’t a typical audition, either: “It was just like I was participating in their class.” And so her first reaction was that they didn’t like her, because she was just hidden in the back, following along. But as the class went on and she relaxed enough to watch herself and the other dancers, “I thought: ‘Okay, I’m just as good as everyone else.’”
Just after she joined, Shot of Scotch asked Erin to travel to Paris with three other dancers to perform at the International Body Music Festival. It was all expenses paid, and it was a weeklong trip.
She said no at first. She told herself she had way too many responsibilities at home: husband, daughter, work obligations.
After some thought, she realized it was the kind of opportunity you don’t say no to.
And after some familial jangling and support, she hopped on the flight.
“In Paris, we were doing workshops and performing all day, but we were exploring the city, too. I’d been there before, but doing something I loved so much, at the age I was—I was feeling pretty badass, actually.”
“It made me think: I need to do this more often, put myself forward more often. And manifest something in my life that’s just for myself.”
Erin says her personality is as a nurturer, but like many of us, she says such a focus has taken away some of her own awareness about what she wants. "Like maybe I would stop everything in my life, especially for the people close to me, to make it better for them."
In Paris, they stayed in the Montmartre district, an area rife with picturesque Parisian cafes and restaurants, in a tiny AirBNB that the four dancers crammed into. The conditions weren't romantically ideal; Erin describes the experience as "basically backpacking." And though they were busy much of the time, they also had some freedom to explore.
"The weather was also shit," Erin says, "because it was November. But you know. I was in Paris."
She said what surprised her most about the experience was the freedom to just enjoy being herself, and the experience of being with herself. A voice began to rise up, an invitation to claim more for herself, but she has a competing voice that also told her she had no choice.
Her way of sorting that out?
"A lot of lonely walks on the beach."
She says this year has been a lot of self-reflection. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to peel back those layers of your skin, she says, and to look at everything and not beat yourself up, but also to recognize that where you’re at now is not where you’ll be forever.
"So as challenging as this year has been for me, it’s been necessary. There’s been so much that I needed to bring to the surface. Not to keep pushing it off and making excuses. Some days are diamonds, and some days are stones."
This year, Erin began another new adventure that is just her own: She's starting a Pilates studio where she teaches out of her home in Qualicum Beach.
She says starting the business feels, in some ways, like as big a risk as the trip to Paris. The equipment used in Pilates is expensive: she bought two of the machines, which are called Reformers, which was $8,000 on her line of credit. Now she is asking herself questions like how long it will take to pay those off, and what the path to get to that point could look like.
"So it's exciting. And terrifying. But I've learned it doesn't really matter if other people don't believe in you," Erin says. "There'll always be someone who doesn't believe in what you're doing. The exciting part is the chance to believe in yourself."
Erin Robertson is a Pilates instructor, choreographer, dancer, and mom who lives in Qualicum Beach. Her studio, Pilates With Erin, is now open, and she is accepting new clients for 2020.