It’s tempting as we get older to think that we need to be on just one path. Or that when we make a decision we have to stick with it. Or even that our head knows best what to do – we talk ourselves into making decisions we think are ‘smart’ or ‘best’ without ever really listening to our gut, our body or our heart as to what we really desire.
I grew up dancing. And yet I always had a very strange relationship with dance – basically I loved it and yet I convinced myself that I shouldn’t. As an adult when I saw the film Billy Elliot, I could completely relate to the scenario. I didn’t grow up in working class Sheffield, but I did grow up in working class Red Deer, Alberta where wanting to dance just wasn’t the done thing for young boys. Young boys in Alberta play hockey in winter and baseball in summer. Those were about the only options when I was growing up (I think it has changed now – blessedly – but we’re talking early early 80’s here).
I convinced my parents to let me take ballet lessons. I took to it like a duck to water. I had long arms/legs, I was musical and I started young (nine). It was a perfect combination for ballet. My feet took to being pointed quite easily, and as my body developed it got used to turning out in the hips and all the various other demands of ballet.
I was good. And yet I was both embarrassed and ashamed of dancing because I was constantly reminded in subtle and not so subtle ways that I wasn’t fitting into the norm of my environment. I was a black swan.
It got to be too much, so I thought it might be more ‘acceptable’ to do tap & jazz instead. I was a natural tapper – again a good sense of rhythm really helped. I never quite knew what to do with jazz – mostly because my teachers, who were used to teaching girls, never really knew what to do with me. I instinctively knew that swinging my hips from side to side, and anything which might register as remotely ‘sexy’ was going to get me into trouble with my peer group, so I was always at odds as to how to attack jazz dance. There were no male role models, so I didn’t quite know where to go with that one. No one could demonstrate to me how a man could dance without impersonating a woman (if only I had studied Gene Kelly – the most masculine of dancers ever).
By the time I got to my early teens I had discovered theatre, which was a more socially acceptable place to be a freak. So I quit dancing lessons and threw myself into theatre. I was still dancing, but within the context of musical theatre which someone seemed more acceptable.
Flash forward a few years when I went to college into a musical theatre training course. Here we had dance every day. Here I wasn’t the only boy. Again I loved dancing. Though I remember having an odd relationship again because it came easily to me and I was good at it and I didn’t necessarily like the attention. There was still a part of my brain that said that boys weren’t meant to be good at dance. Once again I felt shame about dance. I tried to hide my light under a bushel.
When I started working in theatre, I quickly decided (mental decision not heart or gut) that I was far more comfortable marketing myself as a singer/actor (even though I was probably a far better dancer). I mentally convinced myself that dancing was a short career and I was better off in the long run developing other abilities. Yes, this was perhaps ‘sensible’ but didn’t answer a longing in my heart to dance.
I went off down a different path – getting serious about studying singing and I translated all my passion into pursuing a career in opera.
Only trouble was that while I was a good singer, and was musical, I didn’t really naturally have an operatic voice. And despite years of hard work and studying, my voice never really fit conveniently in an operatic box.
I left Canada and moved to the UK and started over again. I landed work as an actor and began to resume on the path I had abandoned almost a decade before.
Sometimes my heart was in it and sometimes it wasn’t. I had a lot of grieving to do over my dying dreams of being an opera singer and many of the jobs I did do seemed like a major compromise. But I kept on going. I got jobs in musicals – largely because I could ace the dance audition – and because I could pick up steps quickly I was asked to be ‘dance captain’ several times (responsible for maintaining the choreography after the choreographer has left). Funny how this old thing just kept on creeping up in my life?
A few months ago, at the ripe age of 41, a new dance school opened one block from my home. On Facebook I read that they were offering drop in adult ballet and tap classes. I could count on two hands the number of dance classes I have done in the last 15 years but I decided that maybe this was something I needed to do.
The first time I attended I was filled with fear. Who was going to be there? Was I going to make a complete fool of myself? Could I even physically manage a 1.5 hour class?
I had a hell of a good time! And Wednesday night ballet and Friday night tap have become part of my weekly routine. I’m amazed at how much my body remembers of the steps. My muscle memory still remembers a plié or a double time step. I am amazed at what good exercise it is. I am amazed at how good it is for my brain to have to remember sequences of steps (and even better for my brain when the teacher says ‘now we’re going to do that pattern on the other side’ and I have to reverse it! Excellent practice for ageing brain cells).
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I have recently added following along to DVD’s of Hip Hop Abs (with Shaun T of Insanity fame!) who has this white boy busting some pretty funky hip hop moves. And loving every damn second of it!! Who knew hip hop could be such fun?
So here I am, almost 42, and finally embracing dance. It’s too late to make a career out of it but it can definitely be something that I do for fun, fitness and creative stimulation.
What’s your Dance?
What’s that thing that you’re really good at but maybe have never made peace with? What do you need to do in order to embrace it? To make it part of you?
From a creative entrepreneurship point of view, your greatest potential success as a creative business or artist is to land upon that thing which meets the following criteria:
- You love it
- You’re really good at it (even better if it comes quite naturally to you as you will be at an advantage)
- There is a demand for it from someone else
When all three of these things align, you have a sweet spot where you have the best potential to earn a living from your creative pursuit.
My problem with dance is that I was never comfortable admitting that I loved it. I constantly undermined myself – when opportunities arose to work as a dancer (and they did) I would often look the other way, pass them by or do them in a non-committed way.
When I wanted to be an opera singer, I loved it but it wasn’t where my voice naturally lay and no matter how much I worked at it there were always people who naturally had more talent in that direction and were better than me. I could never have a competitive advantage.
I have discovered that I love teaching, I’m good at it and there’s a demand for it. I’ve also stumbled across other areas – like motivating creative people – that also seem to tick the boxes. And I still get satisfaction from other things that I do for money like writing, acting, singing etc. So my life has turned out okay, but it’s worth reflecting on what didn’t work in order to move forward with more confidence.