Yogi Berra’s inimitable quote has been on my mind a lot recently. I’ve been in several performance situations in which I have had a clear choice to make between doing things the way I so often have and veering into the frontiers, outside my comfort zone.
The first in a triad of forks materialized a couple of weeks ago when my site specific dance performance didn’t turn out as anticipated. I realized I could stick to my plan, i.e. perform what I had prepared in the designated space, pack my bag and head home. Or I could go off-script, responding to the realities of the event by improvising, dancing in alternative spaces, and with other artists–which definitely felt riskier.
I chose the latter. And I am so glad I did, as the benefits were myriad.
What I didn’t focus on at the time is that taking risks and making ourselves vulnerable involve skill to some extent. As with any skill, when we practice, we get better at, and become more comfortable with, the task at hand.
Take the opportunity I had two days later. In a challenging college class I’ve been a guest in, all of the other students had collaborated to choreograph and rehearse dances for an assignment I wasn’t aware of. When I arrived at class, the professor asked if I would be showing something.
At first, I said no, that I hadn’t known about the assignment. But when she said I was welcome to show something, I opted to follow that fork in the road–to challenge myself and see what I could come up with on the spur of the moment; to say “yes” to an opportunity to create and perform; to participate in the community.
Even though I was shaking with jitters, I did get out there and improvise a dance, riffing off the material the other, very talented students knew far better than I. Once again, taking the fork was the way to go. I was part of the creative process; I showed myself that I could do it and modeled this choice for much younger dancers; I put more art out into the universe.
Then I was invited to talk briefly to a high school/middle school assembly at a school for which I have been a guest artist. I kept going around and around about what to say. What did I need them to know?
I realized that the key to convey was how meaningful and passionate my dancing is, and how essential I believe it is for each of us to find and cultivate meaning and passion in our lives. But every time I thought of the words to say, they felt flat.
I finally recognized that what felt right was actually moving and dancing. On my drive to the assembly, I decided to scrap my plan and improvise my verbal and kinesthetic remarks–bulleting key components about what my dancing is to me. And including the unforgettable words of Howard Thurman:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
The Yogi Berra moment that is emblazoned in my memory is the one after I had expressed my thanks to the school and my host. I slowly curved my torso front, sank into a deep plié…and paused for a moment, thinking “am I really going to do this?!” Yup.
I burst forward, arms spread wide, legs in a deep lunge and shouted at the top of my lungs “JOY!!” I then spoke and danced an improvisation about my dancing. E.g. “Healing,” “power,” several repetitions of “falling,” 🙂 “challenge,”… Thurman’s quote and an introduction of the short dance I had set on the students. I could feel the audience’s surprise… and engagement.
Was it scary? Heck, yeah.
Was I glad I took the fork in the road? Absolutely. It was not only the best way to evoke what I sought to do, it was also exhilarating and illuminating.
Note to self: When you come to a fork in the road, follow Yogi’s advice.
Photo credits: Rich Davis; 2nd and 3rd–with Elm City Dance Collective