The three of us lined up, stage right. Our music started. I counted the intro phrase then danced on stage, right left right pause, smiling at Hubby and friends somewhere out there in the black across the lights.
One two three pause— Right left right pause— Toward stage left I tripped lightly, the two other dancers behind me. And missed a beat— Damn!
If I’ve learned anything in five years of performing in student recitals, it is this: obsessing about one mistake draws a second, and a third, and so on. Like blood attracts sharks. Still, the craving to berate myself was strong. A siren song.
- Obsessing is no fun, and all about me me me.
- Dancing is fun, and performance a gift to the audience.
- The biology of the mind dictates it can only do one thing at a time.
I had to choose: obsess or dance— which?
Meanwhile, my face kept smiling, my body kept going, and the music kept flowing irresistibly forward.
Humming, I rejoined the beat and my dancing self: no wor-ries pause - no worr-ies lift - right foot first pause - this is fun pause - turn turn turn and – la la la and I was back dancing for the kind souls in the audience, instead of trapped in my head with that never-satisfied critic.
Despite daily drilling for weeks, I made more mistakes as we progressed through our lovely three and a half minute belly dance. Mostly transition misses. (At least I didn’t blank out about what came next. Progress!)
With each gaffe, I had to make the same choice anew: obsess or dance? I kept dancing, kept smiling, kept beaming out at the audience: I love you! You love me! This is so much fun!
Something trippy, light and fantastic happened.
The audience started clapping along and ululating in approval; in bursts, each louder and more enthusiastic than the last. Irresistibly, my face split in a grin and my body hammed it up—Sassy! Happiness expanded yeastily within me till—Ta da! We threw our arms up and posed pretty, to waves of zaghareets and applause.
The audience knows when you are dancing for them. And they love it. As a performer, you feel that enjoyment, and it inspires you to freely give more of yourself.
I had read about this phenomenon but never experienced it, till that night. I’ve always loved attending dance performances. Now, I love performing too.
As an audience member, I suspend critical judgment. I sink into the atmosphere created by the music and the spectacle of movement unfolding on stage. I rarely appreciate the technical details. What I appreciate is the beauty, the spirit, the artful interplay of body with music.
Here’s the secret: As an audience member, I can judge or I can enjoy. As a dancer and performer, it’s the same: I can judge or I can enjoy. One, or the other. Remember, the mind can only do one thing at a time. I choose to enjoy.
That’s how I dance, no dance background, prone to self-consciousness, afraid of making mistakes, and wearing a costume that exposes my middle-aged midriff. I let all that go.
As to why I dance? I love it. I could just take classes and dance for exercise. (Nothing wrong with that.) But when you love, you want to share. When you love and share, you feel happy. This past recital, for the first time, I truly danced for the audience, and felt happy. (Instead of dissatisfied.) That happiness is still with me.
Dancing competently is excellent. But that’s my personal project. That’s not the gift.
When you are sharing something you love, you are giving the gift of your self. You are giving your spirit, which infuses technique with soul and life. So what do mistakes matter?
Consider taking up what you love, even if you think you’re too old, too dumb, too fat, too out of shape, too unskilled, too negative-whatever. Don’t worry about it.
Do it just because… it makes you happy. Being happy is the ultimate gift to everyone around you.
Photo credit: Ricardo Rios