The Validation Effect

Do you ever find yourself in front of your audience, and are completely confused by their lukewarm reaction?

Do you feel like you are doing everything you can, practically standing on your head, and yet the acclaim just isn’t happening?

What causes the cheers?
What causes the audience to get up on their feet and scream for more?

It can be very easy to start spiraling into,
I must be doing something wrong.

Or even more so,
I must not be very good.

And we watch these incredible Artists, who just seem to have it all:
Loving what they do, and thriving.

What is the deal??

 

On New Year’s Eve I went to see an incredible band I had never seen before at the Asbury Hotel in Asbury Park, NJ.  My man and I showed up, ready for festivities, and I had no expectations about the music.

As soon as they took the stage, I knew I was in for something special.

The musicians all came out, and started a rocking jam, and my whole body began moving in response.

Then, the three backup singers came out, and introduced the front man, who bounded onto the stage, picked up the mic, and launched into their first song, his voice exploding into the space.

And then I started screaming like a teenager, my eyes widening.

They were amazing!  The band was so tight, the lead singer capturing my total attention.  I could feel energy rising all over me, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

There were three backup singers, who came out and did solos.  The first was doing Beyoncé covers, and was off the charts.  She was fierceness personified…..

Again, totally captivated.

And then the second female singer sang her solo, and something changed.

I stopped dancing.  I wasn’t singing along.  I started to look around the room, and my mind began to wander. It was confusing at first, as the singer was gorgeous.  She was tall, blond, and stunning…..a beautiful package.  But something was missing…..

I went from feeling SO connected to the band and the singers, to feeling strange.  And as I took in the moment and how I was feeling, I remembered being on stage myself. I remembered belting my face off, and just not getting the reaction I wanted.  Even worse, I remembered losing my audience, and feeling so confused.

I used to be the pretty package too….

In the Fall of 2012, I was hired by a very up and coming choreographer to be a part of the new musical Zelda.  This was a HUGE moment for me, as I was going to be working with Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn.  There were plans to take it to Broadway eventually, and the cast was made up of some of the best in the business.

I thought, I’ve arrived!

We were doing an out of town production and I showed up for the first day of rehearsal so excited.  The choreographer came up to me and said,
We are so glad you are here!

They gave me this awesome solo vocal feature in one of the most exciting numbers in the show, where I got to strut down the center of the stage, and just let it rip.

I was beside myself. 

And yet…..it seemed to never work.  The choreographer kept giving me notes about this moment.  She must have changed it every time we rehearsed it, and I was so confused.

I felt like I was taking her notes every time, and yet I kept seeing her stoic face.  I kept feeling she wasn’t happy and this exciting moment just wasn’t happening.

And I knew it was me……

Yet, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing WRONG.

What had changed from the callback where the whole creative team was over the moon to have me, to rehearsal where I seemed to be falling flat?

All my insecurities about my singing came roaring to the surface, and I was doubting the moment and HOW I was performing.  I was doubting my voice, my ability, and my presence.

Worst of all, the choreographer became more and more distant from me.  Before the show began, we had spoken about collaborating on a choreographic project.

Once the show was over, she didn’t return my emails.

And I never worked with her again or Frank Wildhorn again.  In fact, the show fell away.  It never went on to Broadway.

And a month after the show closed, my whole life fell apart, beginning with my marriage.

 

The pretty package I had tried SO hard to keep together all fell away. And something really surprising happened…..

I found my true confidence as an Artist, and started to take real risks, no longer concerned with HOW I looked. I had a total resurgence in my career, and when my next vocal solo was given to me in a production of “The Little Mermaid”, I not only nailed it in my audition, but also in rehearsal AND in performance.

And the director?   We are still friends, and she was thrilled with my work.

I went from relying completely on external validation to trust and confidence in WHO I was at the mic.

 

What would it mean to you to have this with your Art?
How would this affect your life?

What would you finally be able to CREATE because you let go of the fear and just went for it?

New Year’s Eve was such a strong reminder of what sets apart Artists that make it, and the ones that are in a constant struggle.

The front man and the other female singer were so solid in WHO they were, that they were able to CONNECT with the audience from a place of partnership, not validation.

I wasn’t doubting them or their ability, because they were solid in their gifts.

They were pretty on the outside AND inside.  The package was WHOLE.

And this not only translated to them both singing their faces off, but me as an audience member LOVING every minute of it.

This is what I lived for on the stage.

And I remember the sting of isolation.  I remember feeling so unworthy, and the pain of self doubt.

Have you felt this?

 

Let the wall come down.  Know that you come to your audience as ALL of you.  Let them see you, and place your attention of building the relationship WITH them, not asking them to validate you.

Claim your power.  This is your birthright as an Artist.

Step to the mic and share your beautiful gifts this year.

I see you, and your light is brilliant.

A Dancer’s Faith

Do you ever feel like you are stuck in between where you are and where you want to be?

You are doing everything you can for your Art, and you know you just have to STICK it out, and yet, you want to yell out,

When will I GET THERE?

We can have such a clear vision of our success, but the journey can be downright exhausting.

Could we just skip to the raving fans and thriving career?

Wouldn’t that be AMAZING!

But since this is not our reality, the question arises, what helps?

When we are feeling stuck…..what is there?

 

Back in early July, I found myself in excruciating pain.  My right shoulder was killing me, and what I would normally think was a tight knot, wasn’t going away.

Something was wrong.

I soon found myself staring at a large x-ray in my chiropractor’s office, with the diagnosis of swelling in my disks, arthritis, and my skull at a 9 degree angle off from center.

I had injured my neck, and now had to go into treatment.

And stop dancing.

I’ve always been a good patient, and showed up for all my adjustments.  I started to see improvements quickly, and after two months, started taking yoga again.  It was feeling so good to move my body, and then I pulled a muscle in my back.

And was back at square one.

Still no dancing.

It took another month of recovery before I could take class.  When I walked back into the studio, I was both excited and scared.  This was the longest time I had taken off from dancing in my whole LIFE.

I was shaky…..I was off balance, but I was there.

In the coming weeks, it was frustrating.  I didn’t have full range of motion, and it felt so strange to be in dance class, my place of joy and expression, and NOT be able to fully let loose.

My back was still tight, my neck still tight, and I felt like I was managing it all.

And I didn’t WANT to manage it…I wanted to just DANCE.

Have you ever felt like this? Constricted in your Art?

Dance hasn’t been my place of safety and conservation…it’s been my place of FREEDOM!

One week, we did a fast combo, and I found myself hunched over, desperately trying to get in enough air.  My stamina was in the toilet…..class was feeling HARD.  I was really questioning if I would ever feel the same in my body again.

I wanted to feel strong again.

But, with each week, it got slowly better.  I was still going for my chiropractic treatment, and feeling my neck loosen, my back widen….

Incrementally, I could feel the change.

 

Last week, we learned this really fast combo.  As we learned the steps, I felt full range of motion.  I was feeling alive and strong, and having a blast. I had no idea what the song was, but the movement was so much fun!

And then my teacher turned on the song…and I grinned ear to ear as the familiar guitar strum reminded me of my early teenage days….George Michael singing on my Sony Walkman:

Faith.

Before this river
Becomes an ocean
Before you throw my heart back on the floor
Oh baby I reconsider
My foolish notion
Well I need someone to hold me
But I wait for something more
Yes I’ve gotta have faith
Unh I gotta faith
Because I gotta to have faith, faith, faith
I gotta to have faith, faith, faith

And then I danced…..

Five months after walking into the doctor’s office, I danced.

 

What does Faith mean to you?

Is it a part of your Art?

I see so many Artists struggle because they are stuck in their circumstances.  They can’t see PAST it.  They are disconnected from a larger picture.

The picture of their vision
The picture of their audience

The reason WHY they came to their Art in the first place.

What DO you have Faith in?

If we are going to take our work to a larger audience, we need to realize we are larger than our challenges. 

And I get it, it can be deeply isolating when you are in pain and struggling. I felt so self conscious being in dance class and falling out of turns, and doubled over from exhaustion.  But I kept showing up, each week.

If the only reason you are doing your Art is confined to your Ego, you will suffer again and again.

We ALL face challenges along our path,

Rejection
Disappointment
Loss

We don’t have control over people. There is a letting go here.

So, what can we CREATE and NOURISH to get back on the dance floor and be strong?

FAITH.

And this is personal TO you.

Two years ago, I interviewed four successful Artists that are dear friends.  They were at the top of their field, in choreography, performance, teaching and writing.  They were on Broadway, large films, and turning down work.

The common thread with them all?
Faith.

Faith in their Art
Faith in their audience
Faith in the larger picture of what ART actually is doing FOR themselves AND the world

You may be shaky and off balance in the process, but tap into something larger, and find the support that FEEDS you.

We are stronger together.

 

 

Photography: Caitlin Cannon Photography