There have been many times in my life when I’ve questioned my choices. The choice to be a freelance artist (dancing, DJing, and acting) as opposed to choosing the corporate world after graduating from college. The choice to move to New York alone, without the support of my family. The choice to fall in love with a man of no means, the choice to still have his baby. I’ve questioned my decisions because each of these choices have come with struggle.
When my daughter Willow was 8 years old, I had split from her father. I was living in Brooklyn, New York, had no steady work, no rich lawyer husband, no million dollar condo, no 401Ks, no benefits.
I didn’t know what to do or which way to go. I would lie awake at night worrying about everything—how to pay the rent, how to generate more work—and wondering what kind of life I could offer my daughter.
I tried to hide my fears from Willow, but since she was already a very perceptive 8-year-old, she could sense them.
One day I sat on my couch in the living room looking at its adobe-colored trim, my crates full of records, and the dozen or so tchotchkes placed in every free space. Willow’s artwork covered the crumbling walls. Willow sat beside me, and looked at me with big hazel eyes.
Looking into her eyes, I felt compelled to apologize to her. “Willow, I know you don’t have everything you want and I’m so sorry I can’t give it to you…”
I realized that living my truth was the best way to raise my daughter.
But just as I was about to list a litany of excuses and apologies, she interrupted me. ”Mom,” she asked, “Why don’t you be happy with what you have? I am.”
After that fateful day on the couch, I learned to be happy with what I had. I came to understand that it wasn’t the fancy clothes that I could buy her, or the expensive places I could take her, or the fabulous house that I could give her that would make her happy. Instead, I realized that it was all the little, intangible things that were more meaningful: the love we shared, the music we listened and danced to, the friends we had, the cuddles we gave each other at night, the books we read, the cultural events we experienced together. To her, we lived in a magical apartment in a magical world, in our small, brightly colored Caribbean home in Williamsburg. I realized that living my truth was the best way to raise my daughter. With those words, I decided to stop making compromises.
I had never defined myself as an artist before because I was afraid of the implications of the word—broke, no future, not a real job. The day that Willow sat next to me, her words allowed me to see that I needed to live my life being true to the person I really was. And I embraced it.
I know now that every decision that I have made has led me to the life that I’ve lived, to the life that I now live. And after more than 25 years fraught with all the insecurities that come with being an artist, I am still a DJ. I am still an actor. I am still a dancer. And my daughter Willow is a dancer now, too. For years, she has witnessed my expression on stage in the raw, powerful movements of Afro-Cuban and Haitian dance. In turn, I have gotten to witness her express herself in dance. Once, in an 11-hour marathon performance of improvisation, I watched Willow, alone on stage, for almost one hour, fully experiencing and reveling in each moment.
In her performance, I witnessed the way she sees life. She danced with presence, with honesty, self-confidence and depth, with humor, imagination, and poetry. Then 12, she was the youngest performer on stage—one in a cast of 11 more seasoned dancers. The truth she revealed was the truth I’d tried, and still try, to live in my own life, thanks to her. She made me proud.
Now Willow is 17, and I can appreciate the fact that the choices I’ve made have helped her develop into a smart, kind, intellectually curious, funny, and amazing person. A young woman who already knows that the secret to life is to live your truth and be happy with what you have. So, today, we both dance. And in our dance I see that by living my truth, I have allowed her to live hers.
As a DJ, dancer, and actor, Belinda Becker is a triple threat. Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Becker is well-known on the NYC DJ scene. She has studied and performed Haitian Folklore and Afro-Cuban dance for over 20 years. Becker now lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn with her daughter Willow.