A month or so ago, the head of my employer’s Learning & Development department posted this link to all the participants in the career development program. You could have knocked me over with a feather, because while coming from a work-related resource, it also hit home to my bellydancing.
You see, at the time he shared that link, I was preparing for an upcoming dance recital. A glorious group piece, with vintage costumes that came to the studio with a rich and applauded history dancing on celebrated stages. For the first time, we would not only be dancing, we would also accompany ourselves, on doumbeks, tambourines, and zills! So many wonderful hours spent rehearsing, navigating costumes, learning how to take ownership of our stage and how to walk and chew gum simultaneously! (It can be difficult to remember choreography AND play an instrument so it sounds good-ask anyone you know who’s been in marching band!)
I was also encouraged to do a solo. I jumped at the chance, since I take it as a compliment that someone assumes or trusts that I can pull something worth watching together. I even had music ready-a medley of video-game music that I’m still choreographing for a convention. But I wasn’t sure I was prepared for this! Could I have something performance-ready in so short a time frame? Would it live up to the standards I set for myself?
To her credit, my instructor embraces a warm, supportive, and encouraging recital atmosphere. No one is made to feel that they must be militantly perfect, and students of various skill levels are encouraged to try their wings under the watchful and friendly eyes of their classmates. After class one evening shortly before the recital, I asked my instructor to give me any constructive criticism she had after watching me run through it, stipulating that most of it would be improvised, as I was having trouble choreographing it. Several classmates stayed behind to watch and comment.
After I’d finished with a thumbs-up and a cheesy grin to the last fanfare, everyone applauded and Melina told me that I should definitely improv, and gave me one or two pieces of criticism which I was glad to hear. But soon after that night, nerves began to eat at me. I’d never improvised much of anything: until now, all my dancing had been choreographed. It was controlled, it was comfortable. It was safe.
The recital performance went so quickly! Before I knew it, I had bowed and left the stage, only to be given applause, hugs, smiles, and warm congratulations from fellow dancers. There were others, however, whose feedback meant a great deal to me. Melina herself commented on my stage presence & facial expression-a relief since at one point I thought I’d been scowling at the audience! Melina’s husband Sacha, a master of the tight wire and seasoned performer, took a moment to praise my creativity, my facial expressions and audience engagement. No small praise, from someone who has performed longer than I’ve been alive, and continues to defy gravity. Another well-known dancer in the area also sought me out to tell me how much she enjoyed my performance, which touched me. It’s one thing for my husband and family members to offer compliments: appreciated, always, but to an extent also anticipated. For these other veterans in their fields to encourage me to do more was uplifting, a confirmation that I continue to grow as a dancer, as a performer, and that some of the risks I take are paying off!
Much like the link I posted earlier, the exhortation to let go of the control and learn to live within the moment was timely and frightening. I may never be truly comfortable with improvisation, but I look forward to expanding my repertoire and broadening my experiences so I can embrace these moments of uncertainty with poise and aplomb. And with really good facial expressions!