It started with a phone call.

Goodness, that sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? But it’s true. One phone call ignited a flame within me and inspired me to take bigger leaps, to dream outside the box, to purposefully make myself consistently uncomfortable.

In March, I asked my favorite choreographer if we could chat. “I’d love to pick your brain for advice,” I said in my enthusiastic email. A few days later, when I happened to be at my parents’ house, he said he’d call me while he was driving to the airport. Clearly nervous to the bone as I waited for the phone to ring, I talked my parents’ ears off as they put up new curtains on their living room window. “What do I say? Oh gosh. I hope I don’t say something ridiculous. Do you think I’ll say something ridiculous? Of course not; I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine, right? Yes, duh. This is good. Scary things are good. I mean, he’s not scary; it’s just scary to put yourself out there like that, ya know? By the way, I like that color. It looks nice with the couch.”

My parents exchanged smiles as they nodded and gave me boosts of confidence. And when the phone rang and my eyes became triple their normal size, my parents shooed me along to the privacy of my childhood room. As I made my way into that bedroom, I stared at the walls covered in dance posters I put up when I was the little girl, when I dreamt of the day I’d be dancing in a big city. Funny how life works.

Anyway, I answered the phone and brushed away the nerves. I asked a few questions and feverishly wrote down every word he said. He provided so much inspiration, so much joy, so much encouragement. Because of this, I finally worked up the courage to ask my most important question:

I’d love to dance for you. How do I make that happen?

Answer: You’re a beautiful dancer. But I’d love to see you push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Take classes from different studios and teachers than you’re used to. What can you learn from them to apply to yourself? Give yourself new opportunities. Try this out, then let’s talk again.

Cue lightbulb overhead. Of course this made sense. I had been working towards dancing for this company and was putting all of my time and energy into taking only the classes that were identical to it. In my mind, I was doing the right thing: trying to match this mold. But I had gotten stuck on a hamster wheel. Of course I should continue to take classes similar to this company, but one of the things I value most about it is that they don’t want “cookie cutter” dancers. So why should I be putting all of my energy into matching some mold? I should be pushing my boundaries and going outside of my comfort zone. It could only add more dimension and texture to my artistry. It could only teach me new things. It could only better me as a dancer.

So, I set out on my self-declared Year Of The Uncomfortable. I decided that this entire year would be about pushing my own limits, trying new things, and hopefully becoming a better artist because of it. Here are some examples of what I’ve been working on:

  • Putting myself in classes where I literally have no idea what I’m doing, being told “You’re doing that completely wrong,” and being ok with it. Scratch that – being excited about it.
  • Improvising every Thursday (aka #ITChallenge). Whether I set up my camera in an elevator while I ride three floors, ask a stranger to film me dancing in front of a fountain, or fight my cat for the open floor in my apartment, I’m pushing myself to improvise each week and share it. No excuses allowed. This is scary for me because I don’t always like what I create, and I hardly ever shared these kinds of videos with social media before now. Hakuna Matata.
  • Presenting my own work. Just last week, I had my NYC choreographic debut. It came in the form of setting up an informal showing and having a group of amazing dancers/friends learn Memories Live Within The Heart (a piece I created in 2012 that represents my grandmother, my mother, and me as we watch my grandmother progress with Alzheimer’s disease). This showing also served as a surprise for my mom, who hadn’t seen the work in four years. To say my heart was filled by that experience would be a gross understatement.

I’m only four months in to my Year Of The Uncomfortable, but I’m already seeing changes in myself. I use my #ITChallenge videos as if they were “game films,” looking back on them to study my movement and to see where I can improve. Taking different classes has given me a new awareness of how to move my body and plenty of ideas of where to go next. And presenting my own work has given me the confidence to continue on that path, to create new work, and share it.

Where can you push yourself outside of your comfort zone? It’s not easy. In fact, it’s pretty scary at times. But doing something uncomfortable can bring about new confidence; it can take you places you couldn’t imagine. And I don’t just mean that it can take you to new locations or build your success, though it may. What I mean is that you can start down one path and surprise yourself with the realization that you were craving this journey the entire time.

That’s what happened to me. Once I got off the hamster wheel, I realized just how much I needed my Year Of The Uncomfortable.

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1 Comment

  1. Mike

    July 21, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    Amen to discomfort! I’ve found that the best way to improve is to get comfortable with being bad at something. No pressure to impress, only a drive to learn and improve!

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