When I was young, the one thing my mom said to me that bugged me the most was, “We all do things we don't want to do.” As a seven year old, this was more about me sharing a lemonade with my brother rather than going to an early morning audition. As I’ve gotten older and as I’ve matured, I’ve gotten okay with doing things I don’t want to do. I still don’t want to do them, but it’s easier for me to come to terms with the benefits of said thing. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with being uncomfortable.
For all you college musical theatre hopefuls out there, or those just about to enter a BFA program, the one feeling you’re going to feel a lot your first year is discomfort. From the moment you set foot in your closet-sized dorm room, to the first time you shower in a communal shower (Shower shoes, people! It’s common curtesy!), you’re going to be feeling a lot of discomfort.
Moving out of my dorm last month was really bittersweet. I had developed a great relationship with my roommate (Hi, Chris!) and somehow we made that little dungeon a home. As much as I hated living there, it was an experience, and one I think all students should have. It gives you a real respect for other people and their space and it makes the thought of having your own apartment so, so delicious.
One thing that our college professors are really good at is making us uncomfortable, but not in the same way that you got uncomfortable when a sex scene comes on in a movie that you’re watching with your parents. That’s pretty uncomfortable. This sense of discomfort seems to have higher stakes, it feels more important. It’s almost as if there’s a lot more on the line.
This past year, I’ve been asked to do things that I simply didn’t know how to do. This past February, we started rehearsals on our spring musical production, in which I understudied two of the lead roles. I had never had any understudy experience in my life, and I had a very vague idea of what I was supposed to do. From the very first rehearsal, my fellow understudies and I were thrown into the process with little to no instruction from our creative team. We just went with it. It was terrifying, unsettling, and very, very uncomfortable. This lack of instruction from which most of our feelings came from wasn’t out of spite or neglect. We knew that it was for our own good, because from flubbing up a few lines in a rehearsal, to missing our marks in understudies runs, we could weed out our imperfections and teach ourselves what works based on what didn’t work earlier on in the process.
Soon enough, those feelings of discomfort and uncertainty grew into feelings of confidence and pride, as we soon realized that we knew three really difficult tracks in a really difficult show, and finally after two months of non-stop, kickass work, we could take a breather and revel in our success.
Now, I’ve never been light on my feet. My stride is more of an elephant stomp compared to a pony trot. I have awful balance and very little flexibility, but despite all this, I take dance class almost everyday.
I have a pretty rough history with dance. I took class as a child but quit because I was made fun of by my kindergarten peers. Apparently, boys don’t dance. Who knew! I often think about what my life would be like if I hadn’t quit dance. Would I be more confident in dance class? Would I have a better figure? These thoughts have haunted me for years, and continue to affect the way I think and work in dance class, making for a very uncomfortable experience.
What I love about my BFA program is that everyone is incredibly gifted in what they do. My friends are fantastic artists, most of them very beautiful dancers. The problem with this is that they (literally) dance circles around me, making it very difficult for me to grow not only physically in dance class, but mentally. Concentration on your technique becomes difficult when all you can focus on is the voices in your head asking, “Do you really think you belong here?”
“Everyone in this room is better than you.”
“They feel so sorry for you. At least you’re trying!” It’s so hard to cheer on your friends when all you can think about is how you’ll never be able to do what they do. This sounds almost selfish, but I’m taking strides to build a better mental space for myself in dance class.
My teachers have been incredibly helpful with this situation, offering guidance and letting me know that this sort of thing takes real work. My dance instructor really put this into perspective for me when she told me that I couldn’t simply move my dance training up several notches to where my acting and singing training currently is. It’s not going to be that simple. Instead, it’s going to take a lot of extra time and concentration and the acceptance from myself that it’s okay to not be that great right now. It’s fine if I only land a single pirouette. It’s totally cool to not be the best in the room. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to be very uncomfortable, but that discomfort will blossom into acceptance, acceptance that will put me into a better headspace where my technique takes priority, and not the gremlins in my head.
I’m really looking forward to testing out this new mentality, not only in dance class, but in every endeavor I set forth on in the upcoming year. First up: the Williamstown Theatre Festival. My flight is at 9 AM tomorrow morning and I couldn’t be more thrilled, nervous, and terrified. Eek. Until next time.