A student told me today that she had first thought of taking voice lessons 8 years ago. Thought about signing up for a class downtown, but feared she’d be laughed at. Decided to ask me about lessons, but waited for a month to get up the nerve.
“All these years, I’ve been closed off from music,” she said. “Because I thought I couldn’t do it. But it’s not like school, is it? Music is just there. All I had to do was open myself to it.”
I’ve heard a variation of this comment over and over for more than 30 years. And yet, I’ve recently had a similar experience.
I’ve always thought of myself as a klutz, unable to dance. The only reason I got a passing grade in Phys Ed was because I came to class. I’ve tried dance classes over the years, leaving after 1 or 2 sessions. Even bought a leotard and tights and, for some odd reason, have moved them with me from one house or apartment to another.
When Christina Soriano asked me to be in The Goldberg Project with an inter-generational group from the community, I thought she was mad. “You know my limitations,” I said. “I have no stamina.” “Let’s don’t call them limitations,” she said. “Let’s call them opportunities.”
I know performance; I teach performance. How could I, the klutz, possibly get on stage and give a bad performance? I finally figured out that my fear of failure was what had been holding me back all these years. Told myself, “Look, nobody’s expecting you to be any good. You’ll only be there because you’re old, not because you’re a dancer.”
It’s taken me a month to absorb overheard descriptions of my dancing as “phenomenal,” “beautiful, graceful,” “musical,” “beautiful body.” (That last one is still so far from my self-image, at 85, that I don’t know what to do with it.)
But I know, from research for my book, Clues to American Dance, that humans were dancing before recorded history. So, taking a lesson from my student, dancing is just there. All I had to do was open myself to it.