When I was growing up, I wanted to become a comic book artist. The Western way of drawing was my first major influence, and I was blown away when I discovered the Japanese style. It was electric. The way they laid out the figures and the detail in their sci-fi Japanese landscapes was enough to make my geeky young-self grin with glee. Aside from the comics, I was a huge gamer and the best ones always came from Japan. Suffice to say, I would have loved to visit the land of the rising sun.
Fast forward, my birthday is coming up, and my good friend Sekou just happens to have a gig booked for, you guessed it, JAPAN! Not just anywhere mind you, but Tokyo, Japan! Thankfully, Sekou graciously offered to have me tag along. Being that it was a dance trip, there was already an agenda set but ample time was set aside to have the dancers experience some of the novelties of the city. Upon arrival, I felt the experience was going to be amazing, but the universe had other plans for me that week.
After one and a half days of sighseeing and shopping, we got down to business. I knew I was going to do the trip about three weeks before the event was being held. Sekou was already going to be doing a solo footwork piece, so we decided to make it a two-man shine routine. We set out to begin the new choreography about two weeks prior, and things were looking a little shaky to say the least. Well, by this time, Sekou was already well versed in gigs with a quick turnaround. Sekou was and is, always ready to go and pick things up quickly. The choreography was difficult, and I was having a hard time picking things up. Going from learning new steps to full speed performance in such a fast timeframe was proving to be a challenge.
Once the dance festival started, I knew that things were going to take a serious turn for me and my focus needed to be on the task at hand. While I understood the steps, my body was slow to acclimate to all of the information. I had been trained to go over new choreographies over months, and my head was about to explode. To add even more pressure to my situation, some dance friends who I met when I lived in New York happened to be there. They were participating in the event, and they expressed eagerness to watch me perform. Since they only knew me as a student; they wanted to see me shine on stage.
As normal, the tech rehearsal was set the afternoon before the evening performance for the dancers to feel the floor and make any final adjustments. As I walked onto the vast, auditorium-like stage, I looked down and saw my NYC friends looking up and smiling. They were waiting to see me dance. Sekou and I set up and waited for the DJ to start the music.
I should point out that I’ve always been more nervous to do the tech rehearsals than the actual performances. The Latin dance scene is full of a lot of big egos and more often than not, you’re getting serious looks vs. supportive encouragement. Don’t even get me started on the hometown rivalries that exist. Once they see you get up, you can FEEL their eyes on you.
I digress. Sekou and I are waiting for the music to start, and my heart is pounding. I’m sweating and nervous as hell. It helped to not know anyone from Japan, but the New York people were throwing me for a loop. I respected them and wanted to do well. Once the music started, we began to dance and within about fifteen seconds my mind went blank. I froze, and Sekou kept marking the piece. I stood there with a look or terror and didn’t move for the remaining 90 seconds. Afterwards, the looks of concern from my NYC buddies was touching, but it didn’t help the insane HULK-SMASH blow to my ego.
After we had left the venue, Sekou offered his moral support, and I went back to the room. Sekou took off and had some dance commitments to attend to, and I was hell bent on making sure I learned the choreography in time. I parked myself in the room and proceeded to go over the choreography over and over until I felt better about it. About 3 hours passed, and Sekou walked in. I was excited to show him the progress I had made when his face got a curious mix of sad and severe.
“Bro, the promoter doesn’t want you to dance on stage.”
Silence. My heart sank. I couldn’t believe this was happening. At that point, I had been dancing for about five years and outside of some mess ups, I never had f@cked up this bad. As requested, I didn’t dance.
Sekou had left the room again after he told me the news, and I have to admit, I cried.
Some of you women reading this might not think it’s a big deal. Perhaps it’s just me or the men I happen to know but I don’t cry very often. For context, I’ve cried three times in the past 12 years. Looking at that moment later on, I realised that I did care about dancing. That outward expression was really reflecting my inner turmoil. I just wanted to do my best and on that day, it wasn’t enough.
When we got back, I vowed never to let that happen again and explored some options on how to ease my mind and be ready for performance. I went as far as seeing a hypnotist to help me relieve some stress from the experience. If you know anything about anchoring, it’s the process of leveraging the feeling of one thing to another. In my case, I anchored the sense of calm to performance, and my physical trigger was rubbing my index finger and my thumb.
The funny thing is; I still find myself doing my anchoring to this very day.
I would be lying if I said I don’t get nervous before I perform or compete, but the sense of fright is minimal compared to what I used to feel. I’ve become reliable and took an awful circumstance and found a way to make it a positive change. Dance has helped me grow so much and in so many ways that I’ve transformed the person I was to the person I currently am.
Can I get better? If course! That’s why I still take coachings and will continue to improve. If you’re reading this and still nervous about performing, I’ve been there, and I feel you. I promise it gets easier with time, and the sure remedy for fear you’ll find is the confidence that you’ll succeed.
I respect anyone who has the guts to take fear head on and push that false belief aside and perform. Like all things, performance is a skill and a process that requires commitment. If you just show up, you’re half way towards success. I encourage you to push past the stage jitters and discover the rewards that dance can provide.
Have any performance horror stories? Have you learned anything from the experience? I’d love to hear about it!
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To your dancing…