Some of you may know I’m a dance mom. And no, not that kind of dance mom. You’ll never find me on one of those hellacious reality shows where they’re snarky and screamy, and always denigrating their darling dancers. Ack.
Nope. I’m just a regular ol’ dance mom who taxis her twinkle-toed, tutu’ed daughter to and from the studio and/or theater six days a week, like all the other moms (and dads); and who supports her dancer’s every move in her passionate pursuit of all things related to pointe, pirouettes, and pas de bourrées.
A few weeks ago I chaperoned a group of dancers from the studio my daughter has attended for nearly ten years to Regional Dance America (RDA) in Spokane, Washington. This four-day conference, which brought hundreds of dancers from twenty studios all over the region, was not an inexpensive venture, both in time and energy, not to mention finances. As we lifted off from the Santa Barbara airport, I sat buckled in, questioning my sanity in volunteering for this gig, hoping it would all be be worth it.
I won’t bombard you with too many details, as I’m sure you already know what I’m about to say….It was worth every penny and every ounce of energy.
Let me repeat. Every. Single. Bit. Of. It.
The girls took master classes in ballet, pointe, modern, contemporary, improv, and choreography from some of the top instructors in the U.S. and Canada, dancing between 3-5 hours each day. They also took strength/fitness classes, enjoyed lectures, and observed dozens of dances performed by different companies over four evenings. And finally, they reveled in a gala at the end of the conference in which they celebrated all their hard work, and cheered for their fellow dancers as over four hundred thousand dollars in scholarships was handed out. I’m not kidding.
This week of total immersion swirled together into the same kind of inspiration you find by attending a writer’s conference. You can’t help but grow and feel like you’re ready to elevate your game when you’re surrounded by others who are as passionate about your artform as you. This kind of synergy sets your creativity on fire and launches your motivation into the stratosphere.
The reason I’m sharing this with all of you is because it reminded me of how important it is to invest in ourselves as artists—whether it be dance, music, sculpture or writing.
We are only here on this planet for a limited amount of time, so if we want to be the best artists we can possibly be, we need to find inspiration and knowledge wherever we can, then set aside time to master our craft, tell our truths, and throw ourselves out into the universe to share our passions.
On the last day of RDA, the girls and my fellow co-chaperone and I attended a lecture I thought you would appreciate as much as we did. It was a TedTalk given by a dancer and educator named Charlie Hodges. His lecture was about learning from failure and finding your truth, which is not something most of these 14 to18-year-olds had heard much about, and something this adult appreciated hearing—especially on such a visceral level.
First of all, about Charlie Neshyba-Hodges. He’s a thirty-eight year old contemporary American dancer who danced for nearly two decades, predominantly with Sacramento Ballet, Twyla Tharp and LA Dance Project. He’s known for “his unique ability to blend powerful and fluid dancing with tragicomic projection.”
But that’s not the reason he was there to tell his story. His deeper story is that throughout his entire career he was told he was too short, fat and bald to be considered for lead roles, or even be accepted into the most prestigious companies, even though he was one of the most talented dancers. He received rejection after rejection—41 companies turned him down, in fact—(what writer can’t relate to that?), but he found a way to keep on going through dark, dark days, and eventually came to find his truth, and regain his joy in his artform.
Here is Charlie’s TedTalk, which I highly recommend checking out:
Charlie Hodges Learning From Failure and Finding Your Truth
This is what else Charlie had to say at RDA…
• Every day starts with space to get better.
• Some of the best moments in life happen when you say yes. I wholeheartedly agree with this, as so many positive things have happened over my five-plus decades when I’ve taken a leap of faith and said yes. I was thrilled he shared this notion with all our dancers.
• Don’t rely on luck, waiting for good things to happen. If you do, you could be waiting a very long time. Relying on skill is a much better approach.
• Turn chance into choice, luck into skill (in other words, work your ass off).
• Mastering something R.O.O.T.B. (right out of the box) is not how life works.
• Effort—when it stops, growth stops.
• Honest passion is always rewarded. I loved this too, because it reinforced the idea that you don’t have to be technically perfect all the time to connect with your audience. It’s about being authentic and passionate, and being the best version of yourself. It’s about sharing your love of your artform. That in itself should make you want to spread your wings and soar instead of shrink away to the claustrophobic “land of perfect,” where few people breathe deeply or exist joyfully.
• Don’t become too afraid to fail. Failure is a rainstorm. If you just let yourself get wet, you’ll realize how much fun it is to splash through puddles, dance in the street, and feel the cool rain on your face. I loved that Charlie hammered home this notion with our dancers because I feel like there’s a ridiculous amount of pressure placed on young people these days to be perfect, always succeed, and never falter (Harvard and American Ballet Theater are waiting, after all!). Being afraid to fail provides the perfect recipe for always opting for the safety and comfort of what we’re good at over pushing outside our comfort zones where all the magic happens.
• Don’t let someone dictate the outcome of your experience. You have control over how things are recorded. You can re-write your failure. Find the success in your failure, like, “I found the courage to try something new, which was really scary. Yay for me! I can try scary things again and know I’ll be okay.” These types of learning experiences are what help propel you forward.
• It’s all in your hands—what you get to do, and how you get to do it. I loved this as well. I’m often telling all the kids I coach in my youth running clubs (my other passion) that when you use the word “get” instead of “have to” or “must,” it gives you an “attitude of gratitude” instead of dread, even when you’re doing difficult things. The same goes for writing. Aren’t we lucky that we get to be writers, even when it makes us feel insane at times? Nobody is making us do this besides the inner voice inside us telling us that this is what we are meant to do.
• Start with what you have and figure out the best way to use it. He was mostly referring to body types, which is often depressingly important in ballet, but the way he framed it reinforced the notion that every person has strengths that can outshine almost any weakness—especially once we learn how to highlight those strengths.
• Kindness matters. When he said this, I wanted to jump up and shout, “Amen!” In our current culture, it seems more important that ever to remind people that you don’t have to be an asshole to get ahead. That goes for every artform and every aspect of our lives. There is no limit to success. Support one another and celebrate others’ successes. Just because someone is soaring right now, that doesn’t mean what you’re doing is any less important or beautiful. There is room for all of us to succeed. Success is limitless.
• Dance from a place of joy instead of a place of fear. That is so important in writing too. We all have stories to tell. Be bold and uninhibited in sharing the stories you have inside. Throw it out onto the page, take the shackles of perfection off and ENJOY THE PROCESS. There’s nothing more freeing that writing purely for yourself, and it’s often when you create your best work.
• Protect your relationship with dance (writing) like your most prized possession. Yes, yes, yes! It’s easy to take these things for granted, and let life get in the way, but if this is your passion, you’ve got to give it the time, energy, and care it deserves. Don’t hit the snooze button. Don’t do it later. There is no later. You are only guaranteed now.
I want to give a huge shout out to Charlie Hodges for taking the time to share his story with all of us at RDA and to the larger world on the TedStage. This dance mom/writer/running coach and her sweet ballerina were inspired to no end, as were all the others at RDA.
Cheers to saying YES, finding joy in our passions, and celebrating all our successes and failures along the way!