One week ago, I went to the reunion of my senior-year high school musical. It was a fascinating and very positive event, where I got to connect to some people I hadn't seen for 10 years. After a few hours of chatting and ordering dinner, we all settled in to watch the fuzzy old video of our production of Hair so many years ago. And on the way home I found myself thinking about what I had looked like, what I had felt was lacking in my performance, and in what ways I had changed since that musical.
One of the topics I was mulling over as I drove back to my parents' house was the difference between my movement and the quality of movement of the leads. (I had a bit part, and was mostly in the chorus.) I knew they had something that I was lacking, but I couldn't figure out what it was.
I considered the aspect of risk-taking. It couldn't be fear of looking like an idiot, I thought. I've never been afraid of looking like an idiot, in large part because for much of my life I simply took it for granted that I would, so I might as well not worry about it. Then and now, I consider myself pretty good at simply barging ahead and not concerning myself with other people's opinions.
So if I wasn't afraid of looking like an idiot, how could I still be inhibited in some way?
Then it hit me. I wasn't afraid of looking like a fool. I was afraid of not looking like a fool. I was afraid to try and look good, in case I succeeded in a merely mediocre fashion. In a way, I still was afraid of looking like a fool...but I was afraid of looking like a fool who was trying to look good and failing.
All of my movements on stage had just as much purpose and emotion and intent to communicate as anyone else's. But there was no extraneous joy in movement itself. I didn't think I would be purely aesthetically pleasing to watch while I was on stage.
There are times when I have felt good on stage - in control, the star of the show, graceful, and fun to watch, most notably when I was taking all the baritone leads in Gilbert and Sullivan performances. But that was an exception. Much of the time, on stage and off, I assume people won't really enjoy looking at me. Because I assumed I wouldn't look good, I looked down on the idea at all. Looking good was not the point, I defensively thought. Accomplishing something was the point.
It was at this point that I missed my exit in the bright light of revelation, and had to go into the next town over before I could turn around.
The pieces all fell into place. Since high school, I had certainly learned to be more comfortable in my body and on stage. But I always took pride in the effectiveness of my body, in what I accomplished, and not how I looked doing it. And I chose activities that emphasized accomplishment of a goal, and not how you look getting there - taekwondo, crew, and especially biking. I also tend to dress efficiently, rather than enjoying how I look in clothes. And, crucially, my approach to conducting is communication-oriented, and has nothing to do with aesthetics. I assume that I won't look great while I conducted, and so I concentrate on getting the job done.
And, of course, this cripples my conducting. Since part of me is always thinking "Sorry you have to stare at me while we do this, but it's the best way to get the job done" I am not fully stepping into my role as the visual focus of the musical experience, and I am sabotaging both myself and the ensemble. I can't communicate with people emotionally about what's going on in the music if I think I'm a visual imposition.
So, how to fix this? Start to study Alexander technique, as I had planned. Keep working with my friends who try to get me to enjoy wearing clothes and understand how they work. Start to assume that other people will enjoy looking at me. And work on feeling that I am beautiful when I move, especially when I conduct.
At the reunion, I was discussing taekwondo with the husband of one of the cast members, and mentioned my strong desire to return after the hiatus I took last year during school. But now I feel that perhaps it is not the proper time for me to return to taekwondo. I think it's time I started to study...dance.
Once again, I am brought back to that pivotal Marianne Williamson quote. Perhaps I should just get it tattooed on my arm.