Held Back to Leap Free

To be honest, Nikól…..you dance in an affected way.

As my heart started to wrench, I took in Linda Haberman’s words.  I had just been cut from Rockette auditions, after nailing the combination.

I wanted feedback, so I had gone up to her and asked.  Linda was the director of the Christmas Spectacular and head of all the companies.

What stung most was, I was not a newbie.  I had two years of working for Radio City under my belt, hired first as a singer in the ensemble, and then as a Rockette.

I thought I was part of the “club” and had proven myself in performance, by not missing any shows, and by giving 100%.

And I was being cut because I danced in an “affected” manner? This felt unfair in so many ways.

I felt surprised, startled, and unsettled.

Have you ever felt like this?  Worked so hard for someone only to find out they don’t actually like your style or effort?

Have you felt like your best Creative work is being judged?

As I walked out of Radio City music hall, past the women who were kept to dance, feeling embarrassed….I felt like I was 12 again.

The year I was told I wasn’t good enough.

 

When I was ages 10-12, my father was stationed at RAF Lakenheath in England.  Once a week, my mother drove me to Bury St. Edmunds to take ballet.  The school was using the Royal Ballet curriculum, and there were levels.  I was at Level III, and had to wear a maroon leotard.

Level four meant I would get a new color leotard.

But it was about more than the leotard, it was about feeling like I was growing.

I loved to dance!

My mother always said I wouldn’t come out of the delivery room until the lighting was right.

And yet, taking lessons at this school was not joyful.

I was the only American there and felt like an outsider.
I felt like no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it right.
I felt like the teacher didn’t like me.

And then we received the news.

We are holding your daughter back another year.  We don’t think she is good enough to go on to the next level.

And they didn’t do this to me once…they did it two years in a row.

I was heartbroken, and my mother was outraged.  She deeply believed this school and teacher were not helping me, didn’t agree with the evaluation, and even more so, felt this teacher was harming me and my potential for growth by holding me back.

So, I stopped going.

And I didn’t take ballet for a whole year. While I did have a blast in 7th grade, crushing over Scott Ray and enjoying my handbells and violin, something was forming inside around my ability as a dancer.

A belief I wasn’t good enough.

Have you felt this in your Art?

 

The following year we were stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, and I was taking ballet from a studio on base once a week and got my first pair of pointe shoes.

I was over the moon!

I felt so special being on pointe.  I really liked the teacher and laced up my shoes with glee.

We were only going to be living in Heidelberg for one year, and then moving to Montgomery, Alabama, where I was hoping to attend an Arts and Academic Magnet School. The school was grades 7 – 9, taking in 12 to 14 year olds. I would be entering as a 9th grader.

In order to attend, I had to send in an audition tape, so I could be placed in either Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced Dance.  As an Arts student, I would be taking dance for two hours ever day, five days a week. Yahoo!

So, the tape was made, sent off, and I made the assumption I would be placed in the advanced class.  I was on pointe!  Plus, I was 14, so it all made sense to me.

When I received news I had been placed in the advanced level, I felt validated, and so excited.  I had never had intensive training before, and was ready to really dive into dance.

So, I show up for the first day of school, leotard on, pointe shoes in hand, hair pulled back, and was hit slap across the face one stone cold truth….

I was one of the weakest dancers in the class.

The 12 year olds were dancing rings around me, doing fouetttes on pointe, way more advanced.

And all I could think was,
How did I get here??

And yet, it lit a fire under me. I worked the hardest I had ever worked.  I threw myself fully into my studies, and something magical happened.

I grew.

The reason?

The teacher.

At the end of the year, I was awarded Most Improved Dancer and was given a solo on pointe for the end of year recital.  My solo was short and simple, but it meant the world to me.

I went up to my teacher , Mrs. Caruso, and asked her,
Why did you put me in the advanced level? I was one of the worst in this class!

She looked down at me, and smiled wide saying,
I saw potential in you.

 

Our teachers, coaches, and mentors are invaluable to forming our Creative gifts.  The beliefs we form as Artists can be tied back to those formative years when we were excited about leotard colors.

My dance and any growth could have been cut short when I was 12, but thankfully, I was blessed with amazing teachers that saw the burning desire and love inside.

I knew I loved to dance, but I had no idea how quickly I could improve. I had no idea of my own potential.  I needed her for that.

Mrs. Caruso saw this, and because of her, I kept dancing through high school, and then decided to get a BFA in Musical Theatre, and follow my heart to having a 20 year professional career in the theatre.

Thanks to Mrs. Caruso, I still dance every week, and leap and turn across the floor with abandon.

I know I always will.

And I know that with the right teachers in my life, I can achieve anything.

So, who believes in you?
Who is holding your potential high and reminding you of your brilliance?

Creativity was never meant to occur in isolation.  Who we are as Artists is constantly shifting and growing.  Many times, we can become so short sighted in our limiting beliefs and past failures, but it’s our teachers and mentors who remind us of what is possible.

Our teachers and coaches aren’t viewing our work through our personal blocks.  They view us through our potential and brilliance.

It’s in there.  It may just need illuminating.

So, who is guiding you?
And who HAS guided you?
Are they holding you back or causing wings to sprout from your shoulders?

What is truly serving your growth as an Artist?

I remember that 12 year old who was told she wasn’t good enough, and am taking a moment to hug her and love her. She really was doing the best she could, but she needed stronger guidance and better technique.  She wanted to grow as a dancer, and needed a teacher who could SEE that pure desire.

Linda’s words at the Rockette audition did sting me, but they also brought to the surface the vital importance of who I choose as a teacher.

Of course we are going to face challenges as we learn and grow, but it’s vital to have a teacher who MEETS you there and encourages you through the process.  One that has not only the knowledge, but the compassionate skill to truly help you OWN your greatness.

The proof is always going to be in your results and progress. 

So ask yourself,
Are you where you want to be?

 

The days of teaching through humiliation and shaming are behind us.  Thriving in our Creative Joy today comes from compassion, commitment, and collaboration.

If you want to see lasting results and the type of change that brings your Creative Dreams alive, give yourself the gift of teachers who will actually help you get there, and release the rest with grace.

Separation Anxiety

CONGRATULATIONS NIKOL!  You’ve just been hired for the Broadway production of Hairspray!

OH MY GOSH!!  This is my dream!  This is what I always wanted!

Hugging myself in elation, I look at the casting director and say,
Thank YOU! 

 

Sounds amazing, right?

 

It’s 2003.  Hairspray is blowing up the box office after winning the Tony Award for Best New Musical.

I go to see the show, with stars in my eyes, seeing myself up on the stage.  The show is dynamic, alive, and perfect for me. I can’t wait to audition!

So, the day comes, and I show up, along with about 200 other women to sing a whopping 8 bars of music, the equivalent of about 30 seconds.  I belt my face off, and I get a callback!

I’m over the moon, because it’s the first time I’ve been called back by this casting office, which is the top casting office in the city.  Even better, they aren’t just looking at me for the ensemble, but the understudy for one of the lead roles.

They give me this thick packet of songs and scenes and I have a week to work on them.

And I do.

I pour all my energy and heart into the callback material, and a, really excited because not only am I strong dancer, I’m a strong singer too!

And I feel it…this is my BIG chance!

I walk into the callback, and all I see are all these women,
…and all these women,
…and all these women.

I thought because it was an invited call, there would be 20-25 women there.  I thought I had made it to the next level, I thought I had arrived.  Looking around, this was just another cattle call.

And all I could think was,
I’m not competing against a FEW, I’m competing against a HUNDRED! How do I stand out?

I go into the room to learn the combination, and I’m completely in my head.  I can’t seem to pick up anything.  It’s as if I have two left feet. I’m so worried how I’m looking and how I’m going to get kept, that I can’t get back in my body.

My turn comes up, and I completely bomb.
And I’m cut.

Inside my head voices were screaming, “NO!  This show is perfect for me!”

I go up to the associate choreographer, who I know, and beg her to let me stay.  Because she knows me, she gives me another chance.

I learn the second combination, but I can’t see straight. Nothing is making sense, and I get cut AGAIN.

As I walked out of the room, I looked at the women that were being kept to sing, and all I saw was competition.  All I did was compare myself.

I went out onto the NYC street, in the pouring rain and sunk down onto the concrete sidewalk and called my mother, absolutely inconsolable.

What had happened in that audition room?
Why couldn’t I dance?

 

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s your BIG moment, your time to shine and you’ve completely bombed.  You’ve worked so hard and then couldn’t deliver in your performance.

So, what actually happens in this moment?

Well, we go into comparison, and then a process begins;
1) We disconnected from our bodies, shutting down.
2) We then isolate, and put up a wall.
3) Behind that wall, we go into self judgement and shame.

So, how do we meet this and get past it?

The answer is actually something you may not think of at first.
The answer is Your Audience.

Here’s my big idea for you:

You are not separate from your Audience.

 

So what does that mean and how does that help you as you are stuck in competition and shut down in your performance?

Well, let’s play a game! Why don’t we put ourselves in the place of our audience?

So, there they are. They are sitting looking up at you, and they are enraptured. Why? Well, they are enraptured because they are seeing a piece of themselves in you. But what’s important is WHAT that piece IS. It’s something very personal for them and it’s something that they want desperately to live. The only way it’s living in this moment is through you, through whatever that expression is you are putting out.

You’re allowing your audience to access that piece of themselves, giving them the permission slip for life so this part of them doesn’t whither and die.

That’s the effect you HAVE on your audience.

Now…let’s jump back into your body, UP on the stage. What is your role in this? Well, this is the first part of the process, and it means you don’t separate from yourself.

It means you aren’t jumping up into your head, and cutting yourself off, and isolating behind a wall. It means you are grounded in three the solid keys to performance:
1) WHO you are
2) WHAT you are talking about
3) A clear INTENTION behind what you are trying to say.

And it’s because you come to the stage with honesty, that allows your audience member to see you. There is no wall, because you are showing up fully present and clear.

So, you arrive, not separated from yourself, which allows your audience to see and keep that precious part of themselves alive.  Now you have created a beautiful loop that allows you to tell your creative story again and again, and your audience a very real reason to return again and again.

You feel connected and fulfilled, and your audience is raving, because they feel alive from your work.

 

The key to putting your work out to the world is your Audience.

Back in that audition room in 2003, I completely separated from myself, and forgot WHY I was there, and WHO my audience was!  I wasn’t connecting with the artistic team of Hairspray, I was too busy comparing myself.

I found myself in this place time and again in my performance career because I didn’t have the tools to come out of isolation and truly shine.

Everything turned around when I as able to do two things:
1) Take Risks
2) Embrace Imperfection.

This led me to realize, I actually had way more in common with those around me.  I realized I’m not separate from my audience.

We’ve all been there and had our moment in the rain when we have been so hungry to be SEEN and HEARD in our Art.

There’s a way to drop that wall you’ve put up between you and your audience, so you can truly receive the acclaim you desire.

And it begins with seeing what you have in common.

So, come out of comparison, and place your energy on your intention. Place your energy on what is unique and honest to YOU in your Art.

Your audience wants what you have.

So, bust down your walls and connect with them.