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Stage Fright: A Courageous Stand

Creatives are generally sensitive souls - they have this vulnerability to them that allows them to create. This also means that they need to cultivate strong self efficacy and self confidence in themselves before they allow any outside input from a world that sometimes undervalues their efforts and finds it easy to tear them down. Because of this vulnerability creatives, and I think artists as a particular subset of creatives, can often suffer from stage fright, even if it’s stage fright for one.

Stage fright isn’t about being on stage, it’s about opening yourself up to be vulnerable before others, sometimes just yourself. It’s a difficult process to dig deep to create and then feel judgement from your own ego and that of others. Like anything, practice makes progress. Sometimes facing that judgement and owning your vulnerability is the best way to circumvent the impact of stage fright on your ability to create. You are the one doing the courageous thing, you are the one being brave in the face of fear and insecurity. No one can pass judgement on you for doing the thing they are too afraid to commit to themselves. Judgement is part of the process, and we can either let ourselves be kept small by it, or stand up in the face of it, take what we can as constructive and protect our right to be vulnerable, to grow, to make.

I myself credit my resilience and journey with stage fright to dance. I danced for many years as a competitive dancer for a studio, literally stepping out on stage after hours upon hours of rehearsal to be judged by strangers weekend after weekend. The one thing I have always carried with me was the idea that it was one judge's opinion on one performance on a specific day at a specific time. This advice reminded me that their assessment of my artistry and skill and technique did not define who I was or how I danced or what I was capable of. It spoke to the moment I was in, the moment they were in and their perception of that single snapshot in time. The most valuable thing to come out of competitions for me were the judges comments, and the resilience I built up not caring about the scores or the placements. You can only do the best that you can do in the moment, and so long as you do that, so long as you allow yourself to be vulnerable, to do your best, to explore joy, you have won.

I wish we still had the videos, but there are two moments from my dance days that stay with me as a reminder of the importance of resilience, of not allowing fear of failure, of stage fright to keep you from creating and doing what you love. One day in rehearsal with my choreographer and my mom I did the whole piece full out, one of the first times after finishing it and during the last arabesque which was this beautiful moment of longing and acceptance before I ran off stage I fell completely flat on my face. No graceful fall, no slide to the floor, no catching myself, just up, boom, flat on my face. I could have cried, I could have been embarrassed, I could have allowed that moment to give me crippling stage fright. Instead I sat up and laughed as my choreography tried to make sure I was uninjured. Shit happens! I was injury free, thankfully, but that moment was actually a huge relief - the worst had happened - I fell, and I was okay. It didn’t mean I couldn’t and shouldn't dance. It meant I needed to pull up my supporting leg.

The next time I fell was onstage that same year. Different point in the dance I did a turn in arabesque and was not properly centered on my leg and again no grace, just a completely graceless face plant on stage in the middle of my dance. Instead of crying or running off stage, I turned the moment into a piece of the dance and allowed myself to use the moment to full dramatic advantage, getting up off the floor in a deep lunge, arms sweeping wide to hug around my shoulders before I moved on with the music and allowed the emotion and the artistry of the piece to carry me forward.

Wait, I have one more! That was quite the year - yet again, different competition, different place in the dance again; this time the stage is a wonky size, no excuse just setting up context. So this stage is more square/trapizoidy so I come up to the corner after a series of turns and turn to face the audience again when all of a sudden my brain turns on, I come out of the music and I have no idea where I am on stage, don’t recognize the music and my face - I have no poker face - completely controls into this confused mess of WTF and I’m moving in slow motion “improving” very poorly down the stage until I hear particular note and re-enter the spell of the music, finding my feet and finishing my dance. This is the last competition of the season, and I was a teenager, I had done solos and competitions for years at this point! It was my lowest score ever. My choreographer, when I got backstage was just hands held up in question going what happened. I kid you not, I looked at her shrugged and chuckled to myself over the farce.

Ironically, or rather poetically the whole Shake it out or plank it out mantra manifested from the nerves of performing on stage. Instead of getting wound up and having the nerves and excitement come out onstage uncontrolled I would quite literally plank it out before going on stage and then shake it out in the wings right before running on. That expulsion of excess energy kept me calm and focused on the task at hand and allowed me to settle into the artistry of performing instead of chasing it around and feeling unsettled. Control is paramount and in those situations the only thing you can control is you.

The moral of the story here, I promise there is one, is that whether you’re at the beginning of your journey and still figuring this out or established and the peak of your creative realization, mistakes and judgement and poor performance are all part of the process. It does not define who you are as a creative, but adds to your learned experience and builds up your resistance to the impacts of stage fright. If we allow the fear of judgement or mistakes to cripple us from ever creating in the first place or allow them to hold us back from sharing our wonderful creations with the world or those closest to us we give into the fear of being witnessed.

Remember, be gentle to yourselves - don’t give your own ego the power to stifle your creativity; be generous - show the world, or even just those closest to you that you value your creativity, that creating is a brave thing to do and to bring them into that experience with you. Lastly, judgement is subjective. You know what effort you put into your creations. Don’t allow another person to teach you what that effort is valued at. Show up for yourself, give to your creativity and show them what your worth is in being vulnerable, in being brave, in making the courageous stand to be seen.

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