Flat on your face

The most fun stories to tell are the bloopers, blunders and mishaps. It’s fun to talk about the sheep that dragged me off stage during the Living Nativity scene or the time my pants split on opening night in front of a sold out audience.

Or how about the time I was hired for a job in Dubai with one-year contract, only to be fired after the second day of training and be told I’m completely untrainable. Could they have decided that at some point during the 5-step comprehensive interview process?

If you are successful all the time, how fun is that? My stories will be way better than yours.


Paradigm shift

There needs to be an overarching connection between what we teach aspiring dancers and what would theoretically be expected of them in the industry. The same goes for any pursuit. A tennis enthusiast is likely not going to parallel Roger Federer, but he or she would like to learn how to properly serve a tennis ball.

Kids, and anyone who seeks to learn, need to learn classic forms first. Are we cultivating the next generation of dancers when 7-year-olds are put on stage dancing to “My Humps”, or a 6-year-old girl is dancing to these lyrics:

“Because I’m blonde I don’t have to think
I talk like a baby and I never pay for drinks
Don’t have to worry about getting a man
If I keep this blonde, and I keep these tan”

Let’s empower those we educate and give them the right tools to succeed with integrity.


It’s all good

Are you good? Do you spend time worrying if you’re good? I grew up never really thinking about it. It never mattered. I was having fun.

I trained passionately without stopping to assess how good I was or caring if others thought I wasn’t. I never felt I had to prove anything. Go go go, and before I knew it I was on stage in front of 5000 people.

After that, things start mattering. Newspapers interviewed me, tv stations interviewed me. Come meet these people. Re-audition to get your job back. Nope, that’s not good enough. I try something new and get ridiculed. Tons of rejection, a couple bright moments in the middle.

Remember those days when it didn’t matter?

It’s been a messy journey full of mishaps, terrible performances and realizations. Which brings me back to where I was 25 years ago.

Am I good? It doesn’t matter. I’m having fun.


You’re on the right track

“Whatever you’re doing, that’s better.”

“I can work with that.”

“Not bad.”

These are examples of authentic feedback, actually spoken to me. We all need to, on occasion, be told how amazing we are. But it’s the authentic feedback that feeds growth. The above feedback was all earned. What I was doing was originally not good, so when it was “better”, this was a great day. Seek out mentors and coaches that will tell you the truth, a truth that is free of ego and condescension.


Mentors and baskets

Mentors can be a tricky thing. It can make us feel so reassured that somebody wants to take us under their wing.

Who, me? You want to mentor me?

Then we get to boast that so-and-so is our mentor. He/she chose ME. The tricky part is that it can be easy to become emotionally dependent on what they think of you and your work. Mentors, after all, are human. Just as we get validation from training under them, they can get validation in knowing that we feed on their approval and encouragement.

In the end, mentors are people with expertise that teach us a craft/skill/art that we want to learn and someday master. And we should have a multitude of them. It’s best not to put all our eggs in one mentor basket. Those we learn from and those we lean on are not the same people.


Dig deeper

Some of my friends are the most virtuosic musicians you’ve never heard of. My friend Bobby was playing the most technically demanding guitar solos in his basement when he was 15.

There are countless great artists doing profound work that aren’t garnering 1000 likes on social media every time they post something. Some of the most artfully composed music can’t be heard on mainstream radio or streaming apps.

If we spend our time and energy only fawning over what and who is popular, we are hugely missing out.


The real thing

If you play guitar hero, you’re not really playing guitar. Barre fitness classes are not ballet. TapFit isn’t tap dancing. We know these activities are barely related to practicing the actual art forms.

There is no doubt fun to be had. It can be social. You might break a sweat.

In your pursuit of education in your chosen art form, make sure you know what you are getting, as clearly as you know that you can’t pick up a guitar and play Jimmy Page solos because you rocked out a Zeppelin tune while playing Guitar Hero.


It starts at the top

A studio’s vibe, culture and environment is crucial to its success. There are endless articles and studies on this, but we don’t need to go down the rabbit hole that is Google to discover what we already know.

It starts at the top. The responsibility sits on the shoulders of the studio director to continuously ensure that he/she is setting the tone. Expectations of how students show up to class and act in class is set by the top. It doesn’t matter how adept the faculty is.

Interpersonal skills are key. The message we think we send may not be the message that’s being received. Keeping our finger on the pulse helps to know and understand if something isn’t right and needs to be addressed.

It’s a two way street. Dancers and families need to respect the precedent that is set. Show up on time, read the notices and ask questions. Avoid placing blame and understand what’s expected.

Mantras like “We are a family” and team-building retreats with trust falls feel good in the moment, but in the end don’t work. It’s up to the leaders to lead by example.


The big picture

Being a small yet integral part of a very large production, national or international scale, is a highly valuable experience. It teaches you that it’s not about you (p.s. it’s never about you). It’s about showing up early, prepared and with all you have to give. It’s about responding to any direction or criticism by saying “Thank you” or “Okay”. If you get blamed for running into someone on stage who was in the wrong spot, you say “Thank you” or “Okay”.

The people you answer to have people that they answer to. The people that they answer to decide whether we all have jobs. The people that everyone answers to might be a corporate entity who doesn’t know anything about the art form. We may never understand what goes on behind the scenes.

If there’s ever a chance to experience what this is firsthand, take it. The perspective it leaves you with will inform your career decisions and shape you professionally.


Go out and make a mess

We live in a world where we see final products, especially in the era of social media. We see winning routines, performances given at the end of the process. We hardly see the failed attempts, frustration, anxiety and tears that went into it.

The actor you see on a Broadway stage practices walking through that door on the set 50 times every day before you take your seat to watch the show. Every detail is crucial.

Artists we see as leaders of the field or celebrities have failed big along the way. Geniuses like Twyla Tharp create a Tony winning hit (“Movin’ Out”) followed by a flop (“Times They Are A Changin'”), then guess what? They dust themselves off and move on to the next thing.

Failure is a mandatory part of the journey to what we consider to be success. So fail big and fail often. Go out there and make a mess.