This past Sunday morning I woke up feeling all the familiar nervous energy of show day. In the past few years I’ve shifted my focus from performing to teaching. Honestly, I think I’m a much better instructor than I am a dancer but that’s here nor there. In any case, it’s been a very long time since I’ve taken the stage to perform choreography that wasn’t my own and I was excited. As I started to prepare and get ready to go to the venue I felt like I was 12 years old again. I was brought back to that same exact feeling of packing up my little caboodle, going over routines in my head, triple checking my dance bag and feeling full of joy, knowing that soon I would get to be on one of places most comfortable to me, the stage. This feeling has been a part of my life at so many junctures. As a little girl trying to win a trophy, as a high school student looking for respect and admiration from her peers, as a college student with a new understanding about dance composition and as a young woman in Vegas paying the bills with show gigs.
The feeling was comforting in a way that I didn’t expect and I couldn’t help but to stop and observe that despite me feeling 12 years old inside, how much my life had changed on the outside. As I prepped my face for makeup I chuckled to myself that my routine now included age renewal eye cream. Lack of flexibility has always been my weakness so I’d always give myself extra time to stretch, now I went to an actual stretch studio where trained massage therapists release my fascia and guide me through assisted stretches. Wow. I never had to go on stage carrying any real baggage. On this show day however, I discovered my 11 year old daughter had reactivated a social media account that I made her delete and I was furious. I had to set that aside for the time being.
Damn. I felt 12 inside but on the outside I was dealing with age creams, stretch studios and mommy problems. For a split second I was like damn girl you old but before that thought could even settle in I was overcome with gratitude. Gratitude for my mom and dad who paid for all of these dance classes throughout the years. For shuffling me around to this practice and that rehearsal, this recital and that competition. For showing up in the audience and making sure I was supported. Gratitude that I’ve found a warm and welcoming dance community in Austin. Gratitude that 33 years after I put on my first little tutu at daycare I’m still here. I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to find and hold on to the thing that keeps my spirit young and joyful. I ain’t stopping anytime soon.
Photo Credit: Earl McGehee
In the past two weeks I’ve been a part of 2 performances. One behind the scenes as the choreographer and the other front and center as a performer before an audience. As I contemplated both experiences it hit me just how important performance is to the learning process. Of course not all art is performance based, some art is created and is then interpreted by the person viewing it or reading the words on the page. The artist themself has completed the work and they don’t necessarily perform it. But that’s what I love about the performing arts, the variance in the skill sets of songwriter/singer, screenwriter/actor, choreographer/dancer.
My greatest strength has always been in performing. I love to choreograph and bring out the best in others and I love being a student of dance in general but it’s in taking on the task of trying to convey something to an audience where I’m most at home. I’ve always loved dancing in front of people but I as I got older I also focused on my performance out of necessity. My body type, lack of flexibility and decent but not outstanding technique were all working against me but I knew that despite all of that I could always be a commanding presence on the stage. My kicks may not be as high, my feet may not be pointed as beautifully but damn it when I take that stage you will take notice and look at me.
My students that I set choreography for absolutely killed it last week. They commanded the stage and made people look. No one in the audience knew that their trio started as a group of 6, or that they had never twerked on stage before or that the shorts they ordered to perform in weren’t quite what they had in mind. During the show I went backstage to congratulate them and a dancer in another piece was in tears, mascara running and all. I’m not quite sure why but usually if a dancer is crying backstage it’s because they feel they’ve made a blunder onstage. All I know is that in the 2 minutes it took me to get back to my chair she was onstage in another routine and crushing it! I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. After the show I was compelled to tell her that I had seen how upset she was just moments before and how proud and full of respect I was after seeing her pull her shit together and give the audience life!
This is what it’s about. How do you show up in your life?
We all deal with so many behind the scenes things that happen day-to-day that can impact how we take the proverbial stage of life but we can decide if we allow them to affect our performance or not. It’s not about impressing other people or wearing a mask, it’s about deciding to show up every day as an active participant in your life. As the saying goes “Life is not a dress rehearsal”. While I agree with that in a sense, I feel like it’s a little disrespectful to the concept of dress rehearsals. Dress rehearsal is where you figure it all out. Where you tweak, adjust and get comfortable with all of the variables . I was always taught to go full out in the dress rehearsal as the only difference between that and the performance was the addition of an audience. The beautiful thing about life is that if you’re lucky you get another day to take stage. Another chance to show up for your life and the people in it the way you want to.
Image Credit: Earl McGehee
If only I had a dollar for every time someone told me “I would love to come to your classes but I can’t dance”. I’d like to clear up the misconception that dance class is only for those who have dance experience. There is something powerful and healing about moving in time to music, moving in unison with other people and learning how to control your body in ways you never thought you could. You don’t need experience in a class setting to enjoy that.
I get that social media has changed how we view dance classes. We only see the very end of class where people are killin’ it. The “For the Gram” version where the lighting is perfect, the angles are poppin’ and everyone has full command of the choreography. What we are really seeing on our news feeds and timelines is a performance in a class setting. We see nothing about the actual learning process. Now don’t get me wrong I can get into to that. At the end of my Twerk N Burn class I usually record a version “For the Gram” and want it to be as live and on point as possible. It feels good to slay the choreo and have those “Yassss Bitch!” moments. As an instructor it’s good promotion for what I’m offering. However, I’ve come to realize that as a teacher, while I love seeing students fully absorb the movement and show out, it gives me more joy to see something click for the person who just came to support their friend, the woman who walked in shy and unsure or the person who doesn’t give a damn about the steps and is just basking in the good energy!
I’ve been a student of dance for 33 years and I know what it’s like to not get it. To not be in the “good group”, to fumble across the floor and be completely lost. When you are training at a certain level those moments are bound to happen. But many people who come to adult dance classes aren’t necessarily training. They just want to have fun and improve. I’ve started to create more class spaces that are rooted in that vibe because I’ve realized how important it is to make dance more accessible to people regardless of their level of experience. I don’t think my gift is taking trained dancers and elevating them to an elite level, it’s bringing out the best in people who just want to move.
Dance has been such an outlet for me my whole life. It strengthens the body, sharpens the mind and helps keep me youthful. There is an abundance of quality adult classes in Austin to experience. Find the instructors you vibe with and take a few classes. Everyone ought to experience the stress release, mind-body connection and enormous confidence boost that comes with taking a dance class. You don’t have to be a dancer to live the dance life!