I had a dream.
I was at a dance course at a prestigious university full of dancers who were tall, beautiful and muscular. They had the correct shoes, leotards, make-up, and perfectly tight ballerina buns. I looked down at my own outfit- it was track suit bottoms and trainers with my hair thrown in my usual ‘I’m late’ pony tail. Scanning the room, I told myself that I belonged there. I didn’t need to prove that to anyone else as long as I believed it. The ballerinas compared themselves to each other, side-eying my physique, attire, and commenting to each other. I didn’t let it phase me: the course was open to anyone, and therefore, I qualified.
The choreographer began teaching quick paced and complex steps. I tried to remember them- asking questions and staying engaged as best as I could. I fell behind, but didn’t let that stop my enthusiasm or my belief that I was eligible. I didn’t compare myself to the others- I just expected to do my own personal best. A few moments later, the choreograher announced that, row by row, we would demonstate the steps so she could evaluate how we were learning. Anxiety came over the room. I stayed calm, telling myself to give it my best. After all, it was an opportunity to see what I knew and find out where I needed more training.
It was my group’s turn.
I told myself to feel the music and express what came in my heart using the steps to guide the emotion. I took my spot and looked up. A massive crowd had gathered. This was a real performance that no one including the instructor had planned on. A few of the prima ballerina types began to step back- stating they weren’t ready to perform for others- this was only their rehearsal. The music started- except it wasn’t the soft, lyrical style we had been practicing. It was pop rock. From all over- the doors, down an elevator, through a corridor other dancers began to emerge, and it became very clear this audience was expecting something great.
After a deep breath, I used the steps that I had just learnt and improvised the rest, telling the narrative of my heart, throwing my pain, my elation, my sorrow into these dance steps, inviting other dancers around me to participate and tell the story of our lives. I recalled some other classes I had taken years before and incorporated those dance moves letting my feelings guide the rest. Some dancers joined in, some audience members began to participate- expressing themselves and embracing the mystery of the setting we found ourselves in.
Other dancers were rigid and froze, backing away into the shadows, with anger, disappointment, and confusion written squarely on their faces. Despair sank in for these dancers, but the audience didn’t notice the ones who went missing. They thrived on the performance of raw emotion on stage. They didn’t miss the unison or precision of a traditional performance; they just responded to the heart of the movement.
The scene cleared. The dance instructor acknowledged she had no idea there was an audience waiting. She praised the performance of those who danced when they didn’t know the music or the steps- to the disgust of some dancers who were still angry, frustrated and embarrassed by the lack of preparation and the choreographer’s inability to maintain control. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t expected, and it wasn’t taught.
The next scene, my hair and makeup looked better, I had the right costume on and dance shoes on my feet. I still believed I could be there, and I knew that I had better pay exceptional attention to what was being taught- I could be asked to use the skills at any moment. The training I would receive combined with an ability to play along to the situation I found myself in would define me as a dancer. It would make me an artist or someone who cowered behind the scenes in fear.
I wanted to be an artist.
The dream ended and I woke up contemplative.
Rehearsal is short in life. School, university, family, church, and community all teach us dance steps and it is imperative to stay engaged and show up prepared. These skills, nuggets of wisdom, and experiences of others will give us something to draw from when we encounter the unexpected. The most important challenge is a self-belief in your own capability.
The feeling I got in my dream on stage in front of the audience was the same one when I evaluated my first patient as an occupational therapist without supervision. Without much notice, practice time was over. I have had lots of surprise moments where I anticipated one thing, but got another. I have had lots of surprise moments where I have had to rely on past experiences, lessons, and skills from other seasons of my life that I didn’t expect to need.
I have come to realise that I don’t have to know the choreography, and I am not shocked when life brings about the unexpected. People are impressed by the ability to recall intricate steps at the prescribed time, but they are inspired by the character of someone who embraces what they haven’t actually prepared for or anticipated. They see beauty when a dancer invites them to move along side of them in the midst of an otherwise chaotic and confusing scenes, engaging with others and inviting them to make art where others see catastrophe.
I don’t want to be the rigid person in the shadows. I want to be centre stage with a team of people around me dancing when we don’t know the music or the steps, merely sensing that we belong and we have a story worth sharing- knowing that our previous experiences will guide us to create an unique masterpiece that captivates and inspires.
And so as I am moving again 5,000 miles away on short notice, pregnant with a baby after having a vasectomy and who knows what else, I’m just going to dance, centre stage- making up each step as it comes, and inviting others to dance with me.
Be loved. Be love.