The more I find myself traveling to teach and reaching new levels of success in my dance career the more I get comments and tweets from people asking me how I got here. How did I become a professional dancer living in LA, traveling the world and doing what I love? I don’t answer those questions because even the short version of the answer would take a long time. The shortest answer is, I don’t know exactly. What I plan to do here is give you some insight to what I think worked…
You can take comfort in knowing that I did not begin this journey with any enormous advantage. I was not born into wealth, privilege or fame. I grew up in Brooklyn, in a small apartment, where occasionally the bugs were bigger than my head and somehow the bathroom light switch was connected to the oven. I didn’t always know exactly what I wanted to do or where I would end up. My childhood fantasies never included the life I live now. I briefly entertained the notion of being a forensic scientist, psychotherapist and at one point a veterinarian (while I never pursued any of those in an official capacity I still watch forensic files and always guess the ending, psychoanalyze like crazy and I carry some cat food in my glove compartment in case I come across a stray.) I always loved dance and was smart and level headed- always a risk taker- a thinker- but it didn’t even dawn on me to pursue dance professionally until 20 or to move to LA til 24.
Today, I am no where in particular; Simply at some undisclosed location on the winding map of my life, somewhere between birth and death (Hopefully not any where near the latter.) I don’t know where I will end up, nor am I one of those people with a list of things to do by the time I’m 40. I don’t believe in deadlines or goals more long term than one year. What I have learned in my life is that my heart is always changing and that there is no such thing as certainty. My goals and objectives change and I allow them to change. Which brings me to my first “Thing I’ve Done Right” or TIDR as I’ll abbreviate it here.
TIDR 1- I NEVER FEARED CHANGE: I am not a religious person per se, more a spiritual one, but I do believe in a higher power. Something that guides us towards our truest desire, the one that sometimes even your conscious mind is unaware of. I believe the universe knows whats in our heart of hearts and if you allow it to, it will guide you there. The universe will first offer gentle nudges toward the direction of your highest path, and when that doesn’t work- it will drag you by your hair, kicking and screaming. The sooner you realize that change is good, that it means movement rather than stagnation, the sooner you’re likely to learn to heed the universe’s nudges and stop having your hair pulled out. How often have you found yourself in a less than wonderful situation, be it a job or relationship or what have you, and you’ve had that little inkling that maybe this isn’t right and your time or talent might best be served elsewhere?… but out of fear of change and movement, you stayed put. How often has that worked out? My guess is zero. When you feel something pulling you, go with it. A whole boatload of people told me I was wrong to move to LA and it would have been much easier to stay in NY with the life I had already built… but I was being called here and I knew I had to come. I made no excuses and with basically no money and no plan whatsoever, I moved out here and made it work. which brings me to my next point:
TIDR 2- I TOOK LEAPS OF FAITH AND CALCULATED RISKS: Life doesn’t come with a safety net. There are absolutely no guarantees.. not one (death and taxes, yea yea I know). I’m sorry that makes you uncomfortable but that’s the reality of it. So many people said things like: ” Don’t you want a real job?” and I would just laugh. What the hell is a real job? People have been brainwashed into thinking there’s security in some things and not others. Well, that’s a load of crap in my opinion. You could get fired or have trouble getting hired or have problems in any profession. Fancy degrees do not guarantee money and definitely don’t ensure happiness (I have a fancy degree anyway -so don’t start). The only security is in trusting yourself and your own ability. I will not allow myself to be less than my best self and I feel confident that when I work hard, with focus and drive, that I will not fail. That being said I’m taking risks that I can handle- I’m not jumping off a bridge without a parachute because I think I can fly if I focus real hard. Be brave, but don’t be stupid.
TIDR 3- I BELIEVED IN MYSELF AND DID NOT FEAR FAILURE: Failure is a word for people who fall and don’t get up. Failure IS NOT hitting road blocks and making mistakes. I am happy to make a million mistakes if need be- a million well intentioned, good hearted mistakes. I believe in what I bring to the table and who I am on the inside. I cultivated loyalty, honesty, straightforwardness, humility, dedication, punctuality, kindness, thoughtfulness, intelligence, presence of mind- I worked hard to embody these characteristics… Characteristics I learned to love and respect in the people around me that I loved and respected as a child. Because I work hard day by day to build the best version of myself, I believe in my ability to do whatever I set my mind on. The people who don’t think you can do it won’t matter when you know you can. It begins with self love. Every day, brick by brick, I build my temple with the pieces of the person I want to become. Slowly removing old stones, like negativity and impatience, and replacing them with new ones, better ones- ones I like and would be OK to live with every day. I keep moving forward, bringing food to the homeless, letting someone ahead in traffic, apologizing when I am wrong, thinking of a thoughtful gift for a friend, letting a spider go outside instead of hurting it…brick by brick.
TIDR: I NEVER EVER MESSED WITH DRUGS: Life is hard- get a helmet, not a dealer. Here’s the deal- life is hard for EVERYONE… not just you. Life doesn’t come with instructions- NONE of us know what the hell we are doing here… we are taking educated guesses- AT BEST. (I suspect life will turn out to be like one of those huge 3D posters that were all the rage back in the day…Everyone staring at it trying to guess what it is- but we are only looking at a dot on a painting bigger than a football field, looking at it wrong, and missing the point.. its a space ship, no wait it’s a….) Life doesn’t come with warnings- EVERY one of us will likely be hit unexpectedly with tragedy and sorrow. The worst way to deal with the uncertainty or confusion of this life is to make everything worse by destroying the vessel you were given to sail these choppy waters with. I don’t have many hard and fast rules for life- I’m mostly a liberal, go with the flow, do what feels good to you, rarely judgmental, love all races/religions and colors type chick.. except when it comes to drugs. If you F+ck with drugs I don’t F-ck with you, period- point blank-keep it moving. I have never touched a drug in my life, not one and I’ve never known anyone that used drugs to be anything less than an anchor to everyone around them. If you’re on drugs, find help. If you need drugs to have fun, your problems run deep- sort them out before its too late- for yourself and for those around you. You can miss me with all that ” but if you’ve never been high how do you know?” bs – I’ve never been hit by a car but I know better than to stand in the middle of the street. We need to move towards becoming better, brighter, more self aware people and you cannot do that in the midst of a chemical haze when your laughing at a toothpick. Life is short- too short for that mess. All I know is I highly doubt anyone goes to their grave wishing they’d done more drugs. In fact I had many friends OD before their teenage years were over and I’m sure if they saw you using they’d punch you in the face themselves if they could. I don’t know much, but I’m 99 percent sure I’m right about this one.
TIDR 4: I TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: I firmly believe in the fact that everything in my life is my own doing. I believe that one way or another, with my thoughts and actions, I’ve created every single situation- All the magical ones and all the shitty ones. This has helped me to feel less like the victim of my story and more like the heroine of it. When things go poorly I believe I can address them. No, I can’t solve everything, I’m not a damn wizard- but I can move almost every single negative situation forward somehow with calmness, kindness and patience. People love to say “I have no choice.” Oh, but you ALWAYS have a choice- in fact, you usually have infinite choices. You can choose the way you react to everything, tomorrow you could pick up your bags and move to timbuktu or buy a dog or go white water rafting. You can LIVE your life- ACTIVELY and steer it in the direction you want it to go or you can blame your life on someone else. Even that, my darling, is a choice.
TIDR 5: I TRY TO LIVE MY LIFE IN A WAY THAT WOULD MAKE MY MOM PROUD. I make every choice and try to live every day imagining that the day would have been taped and aired on network tv for the whole world to see. If my life were the truman show, would I be OK with that? I try to be the person behind closed doors, in all situations, that I would be proud of- the person my mom would be proud of. Am I always successful-uh, no.I’ve had some days that if they were aired on network TV I’D have to pick up my bags and move to timbuktu.. but I learn, I move forward, I keep moving forward.
What has worked for you in your life? What has brought you success and happiness?