How do you hold your head high when you are among the last to finish a race, when you are outperformed by other candidates by leaps and bounds? How do you recover your sense of worth and dignity when so many elite pole dancers’ first impression of you is unfortunate? I’m hoping to be able to actually answer this question in the process of writing about it.
We’ve all felt this way at least once in our lives; that we are so inferior to those around us that we shouldn’t even be in the same room, breathing the same air. When I was in 4th grade, auditions were held for piano players to accompany the chorus. At the time, I was listlessly enduring forced piano lessons. I felt nothing but confusion and dread for the piano and a primal desperation to please my controlling, expectant mother that to this day brings me to my knees. I thought it would please her if I auditioned even though I had no business doing so. I wrote my name on the sign up sheet, and asked my instructor if she might help me learn the scores. Mrs. Swanson told me straight that the pieces were far too difficult for my level, but proceeded to help me eek out the first few measures. That was how far I got. I never even learned the entirety of one piece. The notes swam in front of me like swarms of insects, a language as overwhelmingly complex as Chinese and foreign as Swahili.
Any well-adjusted child would have just gone to school in the days before the audition, told Mrs. Cope to take their name off the list and gotten on with their life, but I was a train wreck of a child, so afraid of angering or disappointing others that for some reason that to this day I cannot find logic in, to withdraw seemed worse. I actually went to the audition, sat in a metal folding chair awaiting my turn as candidate after candidate played full and beautiful renditions of the music, a knot in my stomach so big it that for the first time in my young life I thought I might actually throw up from it. My name was called and I sat down at the piano and played the first few measures, barely, poorly. I was not hoping for some miracle to happen, that an angel would magically appear and channel me the skills to play it through. I was simply waiting for the torturous moment to be over, my head bowed in shame.
The way she looked at me. She looked at me like one looks at the reeking chewed up food remains that flood the sink when the garbage disposal breaks. She asked me, her disgust uncontained, what business I had wasting her time. I apologized, grabbed my stuff, and ran from the room. From that day forward, in class once a week for two more years, I shrank in Mrs. Cope’s presence, the heat rushing to my ears and the giant rock returning to the pit of my stomach as if the nightmare was yesterday.
It just can’t get worse than that. It never did get worse, but the experience with Mrs. Cope will always make me wonder how bombing an audition is a lot more than just having a bad day that will soon be forgotten. Today, I got a sense that allowing myself to be my most vulnerable at an elite pole dancing audition would alter the terrain of my outer social landscape. To be fair, I’m not even referring to an actual event of colossally awkward proportions; I did not fall off the pole or break wind audibly at the apex of my solo. I simply didn’t nail all my tricks or surge forward with grace and finesse, grounded in my body, in perfect union with the music. I got so lost in nerves that I couldn’t even hear the music. Yet, I may not have even done as poorly as I think I did. I may not even be officially out of my league, but just toward the bottom of it, which I think is okay, even if it’s not the most comfortable place to be, even if some individuals at the top of the league try to defend their positions by saying, in no words at all, that those at the bottom do not belong.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel the difference between the open warmth with which the audition director greeted me and the lukewarm indifference with which she returned my farewell–or, perhaps this is all in my head. Perhaps I was so absorbed in my own expectations of myself that I didn’t realize I was catching her at a bad moment. While it does not serve me to worry (that’s not to say that I won’t), it will serve me to be aware of the possibility that next time I run into the director, her assessment of my competence today will color the direction of the interaction, the level of expectation. And that will have to be not only okay with me, but embraced as an opportunity to prove otherwise. It takes courage to be a winner, but it also takes fortitude to be a loser, to tell the world, not just in words but in actions, that you believe in yourself and the possibility of your dreams before you have arrived at them.
In hopes of not sounding arrogant but completely and utterly, humbly grateful, I’ll talk in contrast about being at the top of my home league. While I am not yet an elite pole dancer, I am a gifted dancer, a pole artist of particular potential. With minimal formal training, I have been mistaken for a professional dancer. A physical assessment of my core and upper body strength without preparation read off the charts. Strangers have asked to take pictures with me after my performances. I have been showered with respect and admiration, support and love, told by many that I am an inspiration to them, that they see something special in the way I move, a phenomenal and rare potential, that they are brought to tears by my work. Women who are now dear friends of mine have told me they saw me on the pole and were at first intimidated to approach me.
I just restated all the ways, big and small, directly and indirectly, that I have received recognition for my talent because today, every little thing that was ever said and done by others willing to truly see me for all I have and wish to offer the pole community mattered deeply to me when I was at the bottom of a bigger totem pole. For everyone who has ever took the time out of your day to acknowledge my efforts, I am so grateful to you. Know that I remembered what you said today, when I most needed it.
I have thought a lot about what it means to be humble. If I was truly humble, would I dare admit all these things in writing? If I was truly humble, wouldn’t I tuck such flattery away in the privacy of my head, to be revisited by me and me alone, never to be brought out into the daylight because they look like walls, weapons? Women bond over contests to see who can demonstrate the most humility, the most deference to her peers. Women feel socially pressured by other women to apologize for being excellent, as if their success impedes rather than inspires others to have the same. Don’t I fear being marked as a braggart by my comrades or having someone who is more excellent and competent than I am tell me that I am mistaken?
Today, I’m taking a risk. I’m not going to delete the list of ways that my work and potential have been seen and appreciated by others because today at the audition where the tables were turned, my recollection comes from a place of gratitude to others and respect for myself. It is my hope that by showing respect for both others and myself, I can inspire the same in others. The part that still bothers me a little is the part where I mention how others have told me they were intimidated by me. Why would I derive an ego boost from something like being scary to others? Do I get off on the ammunition that this admittance gives me? At the audition, I spent lots of time being intimidated by others, feeling the magnitude of their power and prowess wash over me as I struggled to stay present and confident.
In recognizing another’s power, does that have to mean feeling smaller in comparison when I am simply on a different part of my journey to greatness? Despite the myriad of shrinking feelings I left the pole audition with, I am so glad I went. I did belong there. I didn’t deserve the part, but I certainly deserved the opportunity to try for it. Auditions are not just about the one person who wins it because if only that one person destined to win showed up, nobody would be pushed a little closer to their greatest potential. While it was very clear I should have backed out of that piano audition two decades ago, I was not wasting anybody’s time by challenging myself to hold my own on the pole, to taste the focus and clarity of mind required to compete, to go forth with boldness when not everyone’s smiling up at you.
Looking back, even though I missed some tricks I thought I had in the bag and revealed the hesitancy of recovery, my ability to trick-out was absolutely not the most minimal nor the least promising among the group. Despite the fact that I was not the strongest or most flexible, despite the fact that learning choreography under pressure sucks my confidence, and despite my feelings of inadequacy around my non-ballet background that may always be my Achilles’ heel, if there is anything I know about myself, it is that I can dance the way *I* dance, with vigor, flow, intensity, presence, sensuality, confidence, emotion and utmost beauty, and that the way I dance alone, stands out. At my next audition, I hope to be mentally prepared enough to show this. The scariest part of today’s experience was when I couldn’t hear the music, even though there was nothing wrong with the volume or my hearing. When I lost my body-connection to the music, I lost connection to myself, floated above myself watching everything unravel.
I was reminded today that to perform at an elite level, all of it must be like breathing. To do a butterfly to an ayesha from an iguana mount to a chopper to a cupid to an to an iron X to a dead lift phoenix–that’s all well and good, but I want, I need more than that. I need to do all those things and more with the same ease that I tread water, with the same ease that I breath, to relish losing my breath to the demands of these sequences equally to how I relish finally getting it back.
Finally, I was reminded that when you do decide to go for it, it doesn’t matter if you think the pole is slippery or that you’re feeling under the weather or that you’re unable to focus under pressure, that your precarious self confidence in the next league up from yours is easily toppled by complex energies in the room or the fact that you missed some counts that have already passed. All of these things are important parts of the test, obstacles that are mental and surmountable by those who should be at the top. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you and it would be a disservice to you if they did.
Are you a pole dancing soul in a spiritual body, committed to a deeper intuitive connection with self, with the Divine and with our animals guides?