“That was the best audition piece we’ve seen so far,” the woman from the dance conservatory program told me from behind the table. Her colleagues flanked her, scrutinizing me as I stood there in my leotard and tights. “…but if you want to come here, you need to lose some weight.” And she went on to talk about dieticians and scheduling a check-in with my school in the coming months, but I barely heard her. There was a roaring in my ears and my entire body was numb.
I cried on my mother’s shoulder all the way home, drowning in feelings of shame and failure. When the acceptance letter arrived (with the offer of a partial scholarship) I didn’t see it for what it was—an offer from my dream school with its prestigious modern dance program. In my mind’s eye, even 14 years later, I still see it as “Fat fat fat. Too fat too fat.”
100% Me-sized–age 17 (photo by Alison Rinderspacher)
It probably goes without saying that I didn’t go to that school. And for years the experience rankled in my heart and my mind—an open wound. I would tell the story occasionally, focusing on the injustice of a system that values size over talent (I had a point—it’s pretty messed up)…but I never examined my own experience too closely. It hurt too much.
When I look back at the years after that moment, I see how it coloured my life. It seeped its way into the fundamental stories I told myself. I kept dancing for a few years after that, but eventually, painfully, with many reversals and returns (like any on-again-off-again relationship), I stopped dancing altogether. I didn’t dance for years. It’s been a long journey, but I’m finally finding my way back to dance on my own terms.
I don’t think my story is unique. How many of us have experienced a hurt or rejection that made us stop doing something we love? Whether it’s a negative comment, a bad review, or a project that just wouldn’t come together, we experience the hurt and it worms its way into our personal story. “I love to dance/draw/write/act/etc” becomes, “I used to love to do that, but I wasn’t good enough/thin enough/strong enough/creative enough, so I stopped.”
It was only as I started writing this post, as I turned to look this old wound squarely in the face, that I saw another side of things:
The panel of judges never once told me I wasn’t worthy of being at that school. In hindsight, they really wanted me. They flat-out told me that. They were willing to take a gamble on me, to take the time to check up on me. My acceptance letter came with a partial scholarship in spite of their issue with my weight. I didn’t see any of that. All I saw was hurt. My mother tried to tell me at the time, but I wouldn’t listen. I was too busy telling myself what a failure I was.
I was an active participant in my own wounding.
I get the feeling that I’m not alone in this.
My example is particularly striking, I know. The rejection I felt, the failure I perceived…it really wasn’t there. Sometimes the situation isn’t so clear cut—the criticism is real, the rejection is real. But even then, we’re the ones who pick it up and run with it. We’re the ones who focus on that one moment out of thousands and let it colour our experience, tainting something we love.
My husband is an artist. Sometimes he gets harsh critiques, but his confidence in his work is never truly shaken. He’ll be upset for a while, but he picks himself up and keeps going because he knows deep in his bones that his passion and his talent are real and worthwhile. I can’t count the number of times a criticism, perceived or otherwise, has shaken me to my core and led me to abandon my project or my creative pursuit. I’m starting to think that it’s not that my path has been any harder, it’s that Matthew has always been on his own side, and I haven’t been on mine.
We need to be on our own side.
It’s not about “getting tough” and “sucking it up,” it’s about trusting that spark that glows inside you when you do what you love. It’s about acting from a place of passion, doing or creating something simply because your mind’s eye envisioned it, and knowing that it’s worthwhile simply because it’s yours and it brings you joy, no matter how “good” it is (what is “good” anyway?). It’s about thanking someone for their opinion and then turning around and doing exactly what you were doing before they commented. It’s about being OK with the fact that your passion may not please everyone, but that it sure as hell pleases you, and that’s enough.
That lesson waited 14 years for me, until I was ready to learn it. And now I’m finding my way back to the dance, to the joy that lights me up when I express myself through movement. I’m finding my way and helping others find theirs.
And here and now, in this moment, I make myself a promise: from now on, I will be on my side. I will value the light that burns inside of me. I will let it shine out, regardless of negative comments, regardless of “conventional wisdom,” regardless of anything other than my own joy.
I made this dance for you…and for me. It’s a promise: from this moment on, I will be on my own side and trust the love I feel.
Meg Goodmanson is a healing dance teacher and embodied movement coach, a dancer, a writer, and a lucky mama to one incredible superhero-in-training.