“Do one thing every day that scares you” are words on the cover of a gift I received, a little journal currently next to my couch.
At the time, my life was routine, my confidence low, and I had no idea what was next personally, or professionally in dance. I kept telling myself that my field of passion had an expiration date, and quietly wondered if I was approaching it - my body no longer doing what it once did with such ease.
Dance started taking Instagram by storm, and people’s expectations in class were changing (technique wasn’t a word people wanted to hear; they wanted CHOREOGRAPHY) and our ability to judge ourselves instantly against the curated finished products of others was having simultaneously inspirational and deleterious impacts.
Still creating, I felt stagnant, aware of having substantial room for growth. It was a paradox designed by fear. Though my life was very good, stable, and full of love, I wasn’t in the life I imagined for myself. Then one day my mom said to me “You wake up in the morning and get through your day. I want you to wake up in the morning to live your life.” Those words stuck with me, haunting me once I began to fully realize their value. “How do I change this?” Then I saw this little book again, from the giver who knew I’d use it when I needed it most: My mom.
My first entry in the journal had something to do with family; a difficult decision or conversation I must had made. I remember doing whatever it was despite the fear, then saying to myself “Oh, write it down in your book!” I had come to understand I could make positive change by practicing and celebrating the behavior I wanted more of. I felt proud to physically make that entry, so it became regular practice.
I didn’t set out to do things that scared me every day, but I’d reflect on my day and scan for anything I did that I felt afraid to do, then write it down. Soon I remembered “I am a brave person, willing to tackle scary things and make positive change despite the pit in my stomach”.
Suddenly, a wonderful thing started to happen. My actions and decisions in both life and dance became bigger and scarier. Then one day I decided to post an open invitation for people of all abilities and ages, who identify as a woman, to be in a dance video for a style of dance I had never done before: heels. Surprisingly, 120 women signed on to the project! That was enough to strike terror into the pit of any choreographer’s stomach, but I knew it was one of the many reasons I sought this challenge. I knew from documenting my “one thing a day that scared me”, that I would grow, or at the very least, learn from this.
I started by going to New York City for a 2-day intensive with the legendary Galen Hooks. We were in a small studio, watched like a hawk by Galen, being recorded doing improvisation in heels in front of the group, watching ourselves back, getting feedback from her in front of everyone, learning choreography in 30 minutes - for a video, and more! All because I made one scary decision.
I can tell you that this particular self-made challenge started my life on a course that is converging with the idea of what I thought (when I was a kid) my life would look like. A few months later, I made another hugely terrifying personal decision. Then a few months after that, I took on a responsibility that struck me with tremendous fear: running a dance company.
The scary decisions kept coming. Something within me was unlocking, driving me forward; plunging me into the unknown with curiosity and confidence. Some of them were so big that the smaller fears simply became opportunities to learn and grow. My mindset was changing and in the wake of it, so was my life both personally and in dance.
In a year’s time I started a dance company, started the Local Musician Choreograph Class (which is scary for so many other reasons), left my dance company, and started a new one alongside friends and collaborators - Chromoscope Pictures, Girl Blue, The Sea The Sea, Dark Honey, and seven incredible humans who also happen to be beautiful dancers. I’m scared DAILY, but I now know to embrace that fear. From it I’ve learned so much, gained great friends, been inspired by my community, made mistakes, grown tremendously, and am finally remembering what it feels like to have big dreams for myself and those around me.
So, have you scared yourself lately? If not, maybe it’s time.
Column first featured in Collaborative Magazine