Sometimes when I’m learning new choreography, I put pressure on myself. It’s not because I think anyone is watching me, but because I want to “get it” so I can really DANCE and be happy with the way it looks and feels (to me), rather than just going through the motions. The happiest experience for me is allowing myself to “be” the music by expressing it with movement. But what can happen is that I am so focused on “getting” and on “doing” the choreography that I end up dancing ahead of the music and finishing the phrase before everyone else. (D’oh!) When I’m not following the music, it is very unsatisfying.
What has happened is that I focused on the wrong thing—I covered up my anxiety by dancing too fast. When I slow down, I can allow myself to feel and be led by the music. By dancing too fast, I am not allowing myself to have an authentic, genuine experience of the dance.
This dance example reminds me of why I use the term “birthday cake,” which is a reference to my childhood. My parents didn’t like each other very much and there was usually a very tense atmosphere in my home. But my siblings and I always made a great show of “We’re so happy! Everything’s just FINE!” And we were so good at it that we were totally believed.
I always say, “I can make dog poop look like a birthday cake.” So when I am polite to someone I dislike, for example, when I later relate the story to a friend, I say “I did such a ‘birthday cake’ thing.”
No matter what’s going on, I can usually hide it. Now, this is fine because no one needs (or wants) to know my business all the time. But the danger is: Am I faking myself out? Am I knowingly hiding pain from others and also from myself? By fooling myself, I am robbing myself of having a genuine, authentic experience in my life.
My siblings and I were trying to cover up the pain of our home life, but we were also trying to hide it from ourselves. We covered up the anxiety of everyday life by “doing”—talking, playing, going to friends’ houses—anything to distract ourselves. This strategy helped us to cope. However, when one grows up and has some autonomy, “covering up” leads to more anxiety and an experience that is not genuine.
So, if I can remember to let go of my anxiety and allow myself to slow down and really feel my true feelings (or the music), my experience of life (and dance) will be genuine and authentic.