Creative Breakthrough: how I learned to dance

I was driving yesterday, stuck in traffic, and I don’t know why but I found myself remembering the process of how I learned to love dancing. And it occurred to me that it might be a good story to share, because it involves overcoming fear and awkwardness and that is so central to all our creative journeys, whether they involve dancing or not.

So here it is! The story of my creative breakthrough as a dancer:

… IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE WATCHING THE VIDEO, HERE IS THE TEXT …

I love to dance now, but I didn’t always feel that way. For many years I was super self conscious about my dancing. I felt like I didn’t move right, I didn’t get it, I thought I danced like a white girl and that was not a good thing, so whenever I was in a situation where dancing was called for I moved as little as possible and got out of there as soon as I could.

Of course when I was a kid I loved dancing. Every kid I’ve met has loved to dance, and it seems to be a natural reaction to hearing music they like, their bodies just move. So yeah, I loved dancing when I was five but by the time I was ten I was crippled with self-consciousness. And I think this is true for a lot of us, we hit adolescence and we get self conscious, we don’t trust our bodies, we feel like we don’t look right or talk right or move right, so we spend a lot of our energy hiding, and that’s what I did. I can remember standing at the edge of the gym during school dances, arms crossed, terrified and annoyed and waiting for the whole thing to be over.

For me, two things changed this, and I’m so glad they did. they were pretty random.

One of them was this one time at band camp – yes, this is a real story about band camp – when I was about 13. There was some sort of a dance we all had to go to, which normally I hated, but because I was at band camp, there was a freedom to be someone different, to explore different sides of myself. And I felt safe with my new friends and we were all outside our normal lives, so for some reason, the song Rockin Robin came on and I had a reaction of total love for that song and my inner five year old busted out and I started dancing like I was on fire.

And it was really clear to me in that moment that when I loved the music, I loved dancing. It didn’t carry over – I didn’t go home and love dancing from that moment on – but that awareness stuck with me, the joy I felt shedding my self consciousness in that moment.

Flash forward to my freshman year of college. I was hanging out in someone’s dorm room with some new friends. Somehow this girl I didn’t know very well and I got to talking about dancing, and I said, I don’t feel comfortable dancing, I don’t get it, I can’t do it. And she decided right then and there to give me a dance lesson. She put on some music and for about 30 minutes she watched me dance and pointed out to me what I was doing that made me look like stiff and uncomfortable and showed me some moves and helped me get comfortable enough to try them myself.

And I can remember the big aha moment: I thought the problem with my dancing was my flailing, awkward, hopelessly uncoordinated limbs, and my response was to bring them in and move them as little as possible. But she was like, you are barely moving! You gotta get in your body more, really move your body. Your arms and legs don’t matter, what matters is that your hips are moving. Let your arms and legs follow the core of your body.

OH! I’d been so fixated on what not to do, I hadn’t noticed what was missing, And she showed me what that meant, she drew my attention to my hips, and I had time and space to try it out and look stupid and hesitant and practice moving boldly and feeling foolish and laughing at myself and there was nothing humiliating about it. And by the end of those 30 minutes, I felt like I got it. Enough that the next time I was in a situation where dancing in public was called for, I felt confident moving to the music and realized: this is fun! This is a fun way to spend time with people! If I liked someone else’s moves, I could copy them. If the music didn’t speak to me, I could sit it out and jump up when a song I loved came on. I lost my self-consciousness, and now after 20 years of dancing I can say, I am a very confident dancer. This doesn’t mean I’m a good dancer necessarily – I think I am, but in the end it really doesn’t matter – because I like dancing.

When I look back on it, this is such a metaphor for any kind of creativity. You need time and space to move through that awkward phase, to do it badly, to do it wrong, to look stupid, to flail your arms, to hit the wrong note, to draw a shaky line, to write a meandering sentence. And the irony is, when you give yourself that room to do it fully and badly – that is how you move to rocking it.

I’d love to know if you had a formative experience, with dancing or any form of creative expression. What led to your breakthrough?

And if you’d like to join me for a six week process of breakthroughs and creating and failing and practicing being bold in a safe and loving space, the very first online version of my creative magic workout starts April 3! Wooooooo!

Here’s some Dr. John for you to dance along to:

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Express Yourself: come up with an imaginary project

Lately I am feeling even more fired up than usual about awakening our collective creativity.

Maybe it’s because every day I talk to someone who shudders at the thought of dancing or singing in public.

Maybe it’s because our president wants to cut the NEA. (Not to mention Meals on Wheels).

Maybe it’s because arts funding in our country is already so laughable.

Maybe it’s because our education system — which in most places has bare bones arts education, if they have any at all — is gearing up to be gutted even more.

Maybe it’s because our national narrative, going back to the Puritans, is that artistic expression is a waste of time and money, a whimsical luxury, something that has nothing to do with survival or real life. And that’s a narrative that is powerful, one that most of us have internalized. I know I have. I catch myself dismissing art all the time. I don’t have time for that. There are more important things to do. Even though I know art has been essential to my survival and my growth and my health.

I can’t help but think there is a link between the scorn so many people feel for art, and the fear so many people have of expressing themselves creatively.

So, I’m feeling the pull to step up my efforts. I truly feel that every single human being has the capability to dance and sing and draw and write and tell the story of their life — and if you shy away from any of these things, it’s because somewhere along the line, someone made you feel not good enough to do it. That you should be ashamed of your natural expression. That the way your body moved was wrong, somehow, or the way your hand drew a line was too shaky,or the sound of your voice too grating, or the way you formed words too slow.

And I say this not to shame anyone further — we all have our fears, and they are worthy of our respect — but to counter that shame with some encouragement. You are a human being with a body and a voice and an imagination and the ability to use tools. You don’t need to deprive yourself of the great pleasure of using them.

It’s not something you can overcome with a snap of the fingers, I know. Hey, stop being afraid to sing! It’s not that easy. But if you are feeling silly or sheepish or small today, know that you are not alone, and it is possible to overcome your fear, and you have the capability to shine and shimmy and kick ass. You have the right to express yourself.

(My inner trolls are telling me right now that I am laying this on a little thick. Who do you think you are? Nobody cares about your encouragement! Oh, trolls. Don’t you see that this pep talk is 97% to myself? And if I could use encouragement, isn’t it possible that someone else could too?)

Well, if that someone is you, here is a video I made, a mini-lesson on one of the themes I cover in my creative magic workout:


… IF YOU DON’T LIKE WATCHING VIDEOS, HERE IS THE TEXT …

I’m going to share an exercise with you. I call this, imaginary creative project. We’re going to come up with a creative project, just for fun – and we’re going to dream up how we MIGHT pursue it if we WERE going to make it happen – and we’re going to take out any pressure or stress or critical mind shut-downs by telling our subconscious mind that this is for pretend, it’s not for real.

(Don’t tell your subconscious this, but by doing it like this, we might trick ourselves into actually doing it in the real world).

So right now, I want you to get some paper and a pen, close your eyes and take a deep breath. I’m going to play some contemplative music, and I’d like you to think about what you want more of in your life.

What are you craving? What fascinates you? What are you wishing for?

Ask these questions, but don’t try to answer them. Sit with them, and let your hand start to draw on the paper in front of you. Don’t open your eyes, just draw whatever you feel like drawing as you ask yourself those questions.

What am I craving? What fascinates me? What am I wishing for? What do I want more of?

If any words come to you, jot those down too, along with whatever you’re doodling. They don’t have to make sense, you don’t have to understand them, just let your hand draw and write what it wants. I’m going to let you do that for the next 30 seconds, and if you want to spend more time doing this I totally encourage you to do that, and you can just pause the video and start it up when you’re done.

Now open your eyes and look at what you drew and wrote. If you’re like me, it’s probably a ridiculous inscrutable diagram – but just for fun, let’s look at it and see how we could make it into a project. It might take a while, and there’s no rush. See if any patterns emerge.

 

For me, I drew a lot of circles and wavy lines, and I can make out the words magic, carpet, water, connection, elephants, sleep, Beyonce, fruit. Hmm. I guess I can see a pattern, maybe a desire to feel more connected to my dreams at night, to remember them and spend time thinking about them? (I’m leaving out elephants and Beyonce at the moment).

So how might I make this into a project? Here are four things I consider when I’m making something into a project – four things that take it out of the ether of my imagination and root it in the real world:

  1. Give it a name

In my case, I could call it the Dream Recording project.

  1. Make space and time for practicing it

What does practicing look like for my project? How can I include elements I wrote and drew into that?

For my Dream Recording project, I could keep a notebook by my bed and every morning, jot down impressions of dreams. Then twice a week I could schedule in some time to look over what I’ve written and do some freewriting to see if I can recall more about what I dreamed, and what I think it means. I could eat fruit while I do this to make it more enticing, and drink sparkling water.

See how we start to get practical here? We take these amphibious desires and start finding ways to anchor them, to practice them in our daily lives. So for me, that means I am going to schedule time twice a week, for fifteen minutes after I drop my son off at school and before I start working. I will make sure I have fruit and sparkling water with me and sit down to do my magical dreamwriting time.

Now remember: this is still imaginary! I’m not saying I am actually going to start doing this. But if I were going to, that’s what I could do.

  1. Find a way to share it with people

This can be as simple as deciding to tell people. I could tell people, I’ve started writing down my dreams every morning. I could ask them what they’ve been dreaming about. Or I could get all social media and post every day on facebook, here’s what I dreamed today, #dreamfruitproject. Or I could say, at the end of the month I’m going to throw a dream party and invite people over to talk about their dreams.

  1. Set up deadlines

This can sound scary, and part of me always balks at doing this – but all it means is, I’m setting things up to make it easy for me to do this for real. it would be easy for me to say, this is a fun project – and then never do it. but what are the actions I could take that would make it easy and inevitable for me to do this for real?

In my case – it could be as simple as saying, every week when I go grocery shopping, I will make sure I’m buying enough fruit and sparkling water for the week. Special things for me to consume during dream recording time. That also builds in some incentive for me to use them up, so they don’t go to waste.

If it’s a deadline that fills you with dread or takes all the fun out of this project, drop it. but if it gives you a thrill of excitement that scares you a little bit, that’s fantastic.

So I’d like you to do this. Come up with a name for a project, think up some ways you could practice it in your daily life, find a way to start talking about it, and see if there are some simple deadlines you could set for yourself.

And remember: this is all imaginary. This is just for fun. You are under no obligation to go do any of this. But here is the sneaky part: now that you’ve got this project in mind and some ways to make it easy to do, why not give it a shot? For myself, I had no intention of starting a dream recording project before I started this video, but now that I’ve said it out loud to you, it sounds like a great idea, it sounds fun and I think I might try it for a week and see what happens. I encourage you to do this too. Why not try it for a week?

Good luck to you out there. (And if you want to go deeper into coming up with creative projects to bring more joy and connection and fun into your life, this is what we spend six weeks doing in the  Creative Magic Workout. Join us!)