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.

Rockette Confessions

jazzed-up

I have lived a thousands lifetimes this month.

The holiday season & bustle
The bright lights of the season
The triggers of my past
Feeling time slipping through my fingers
The insanity of December and a schedule that says

Go
Go
Go

All wrapped up in a giant bow of intention. The intention to just be “ok” with where I am.

And isn’t that the biggest challenge we all face?

And in the bright lights of the city, I found myself asking the question,
What does Christmas mean to me today?

Christmas was defined by so many things in my past, including performing.

Beautiful costumes, full houses, and music filling the stage as I danced.  And for a few years, specifically, as I kicked.

This past week, I went to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with three friends, two of whom had never seen the show before.  My one friend, visiting from Paris, wanted the thrill of seeing the show with a Rockette, and I was happy to oblige.

As the lights exploded all around us in the Music Hall, I felt the child-like glee of the season fill me, and came to the front of my seat, already dancing to the Orchestra swell.

The line looked strong, and as I watched them kick in unison, I found myself remembering all of it.

I remembered the thrill of performing the show.  I remembered the glamour, and I remembered all the hard work.

The lightening fast costume changes, the carb-loading in the morning, the ice baths at night, and the endless red lipstick and bobby pins.

And then I remembered all the disappointment, and heartbreak.

 

I am not your typical Rockette story.

I actually never saw myself as a Rockette. I saw myself as a dancer in the ensemble.  I was technically, a half inch too short.  But more than that, I just didn’t believe I was the kind of dancer to be one.

The production stage manager for the Myrtle Beach company of the Christmas Spectacular, was one of my professors at Penn State.  There used to be productions of the Spectacular in special cities, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was one of them.

He had pulled me aside in college and talked to me about the show, and my plan was to audition to be a dancer once I graduated college.

But, things moved much faster than I planned.

A couple months after I graduated college, in November of 1998, I got a phone call from my professor, asking how soon I could fax a picture and resume. They had just fired one of the ensemble singers in the Christmas show and needed a replacement.

Opening Night was in a few days.

Being the late 90’s, I had to come into Manhattan from Queens to find a fax machine, and I remember doing this at midnight.

My picture and resume was sent to Linda Haberman, the head of the Rockettes, with my professor’s seal of approval.

And within 24 hours, I was on a plane.

I learned the entire show in two days, and went on.  It was a whirlwind, and also a real eye-opener for what I was capable of. The show was highly intricate, with colored lines and specific numbers on the stage I had to hit.

And I did, and in two days.

At the end of the season, I returned to the city, and when I told people I had just done the show, I always got the same response

Oh! Were you a Rockette?

And it happened so many times, I began to ask,

What was everyone else seeing I wasn’t?

So, the following year, I decided to actually audition for the Rockettes. Linda was there at the auditions and she was very pleased to see me, as I was the woman who had saved them in a crunch.

And I got it.

At 24, I traveled back down to Myrtle Beach and stepped on the stage as something I never imagined I could, a New York City Rockette.

It was incredible….and I was making the most money I had ever made, was challenged and fulfilled. I couldn’t wait to do it again!

But that wasn’t my journey.

I then went through several years of auditioning for the show, and being put on a waiting list.

I went from being the savior of the show in Linda’s eyes, to her saying to my face at an audition that my dancing was “affected”.

I was beginning to question my dancing, and my ability, all because I wasn’t being re-hired.

They even went so far as to ask if I could get on a plane within 24 hours to replace someone….and then never called me back.

A tide turned in 2005 when they hired me, and for the first time I turned them down. I had booked the 25th Anniversary tour of Evita.

Damn, did that feel good.

And then in 2006, they hired me again. So I went at the ripe age of 31 to join the line for the first time in six years.

The show had changed drastically since I did it in 1999. The schedule was far more intense with four show days, the choreography more challenging. I was being tested at my limits with stamina, and felt I was getting notes every single performance.

It was intense, but I got a positive review from my choreographer and thought…

One more year. I’ve made it now.

Radio City had other plans.

And I found myself on the waiting list again, and that was it. I did some PR for them, but my days of kicking on stage were over.

I had never worked so hard in my life to be turned down. I felt I had proven myself again and again, and it didn’t matter to them.

 

For many years, I distanced myself from Radio City. There was a bad taste in my mouth and a deep frustration. I didn’t feel valued.

I felt like just a number.

I worked in other theatres and when I would see women lined up to audition every year, I would turn the other way.

I felt rejected. I was back to the college student who just didn’t see herself as a Rockette.

 

Two weeks ago, I was invited to come speak at the Jazzed Up dance studio in Canarsie, Brooklyn.

Organized by Girls Powered Up founder, Nadine Juste, I came out to talk to the young women and girls about being a Rockette and also to share my story of becoming a dancer.

When I arrived, I watched the tail end of their hip hop class and was so taken by their spirit and raw energy, their attack on the rhythm, and ability to dance as a group.

That felt familiar.

But the real gift came in speaking with them, in answering their questions and meeting their wide eyes.

The real gift came in having an impact on what they thought was possible for themselves.

And finally, teaching them how to kick in a line just like a Rockette.

Their faces were lit up, and there it was….that reflection back at me, saying

You’re a Rockette

Their enthusiasm was a pure joy, especially seeing them so excited. And I saw THEM.

I saw their love of dance
Their attack and fire
Their legs kicking high

And most of all, the sheer joy of just expressing themselves through art.

The sheer joy we all feel when we create.

 

As I sat watching the Christmas Spectacular this past week, I took in the dancers, the sets and costumes…the backstage and all the memories of the show. And I felt a peace.

A peace for what was and for where I am now, reclaiming the woman who loved kicking in the lights and knowing I have an impact today.

Oh right…this is what Christmas means to me now.

This is the gift that is available to us all as we grow in our craft and careers, and as we bring all of who we are to our art.

Our history
Our trials
Our triumphs

And it’s being reflected back to us, so many times when we can’t see it ourselves, reminding us to kick high.

Reminding us of the Creative we truly are.