Being Me or You

Do you ever wonder what it would feel like to be someone
else? Someone more successful than you. Someone smarter or prettier or more handsome and stronger. Someone more mysterious, accomplished and alluring than you who always seems to get it right when you get it wrong.

When I sixteen and I first joined the Harkness Ballet Company, there were women in the troop who were so talented and experienced, it
felt like it would be impossible for me to ever be as good as they were, no matter how hard I trained. During performances, I watched them from the wings in awe, admiring their technique, their sense of timing, the beatific looks on their faces, their lightness and their mastery. In my estimation, I came up short. I was sure that I wasn’t as good or as strong as they were and I never would be. When you join a ballet company, you get assigned roles to understudy and I compared myself to the women I was understudying. If something happened to them, how would I ever fill their shoes? As much as I wanted the opportunity to dance their roles, I hoped I would never have to. I was afraid to make mistakes, humiliate myself and blow it for the whole company.

After my first performance at the Hollywood Bow in Los Angeles, we
traveled to Honolulu for a week of performances. I wasn’t scheduled to perform one evening. I was in the audience watching a new ballet, when one of the women fell. She got up and limped off the stage and the performance went on without her. “Poor Lily,” I thought when I suddenly realized that I was her understudy and she was in the next ballet. That meant I was in the next ballet.

I became light headed as I rushed backstage and threw on makeup in fifteen minutes that usually took an hour to complete. I put on Lily’s costume, a gray unitard, and during the intermission, the entire cast of the next ballet quickly rehearsed what we were about to do so I could get my bearings. I’ll never forget the feeling in my stomach when I waited for the orchestra to begin playing the music. I stepped onto the stage, followed the dancers in front of me and I waited for the familiarity to kick in. It never really did, it didn’t feel a bit comfortable and I made what I thought was a glaring mistake as I turned my head sharply a second before the rest of the cast did.

I got through it and went to the dressing room, certain that I had failed. While I was taking off my makeup, feeling like a huge disappointment, the artistic director walked into our dressing room, a rare occurrence, and said to me, “Good job.” And he left. That was high praise from someone who never gave out compliments and I became more accepting of myself and trusting my ability to do things on the fly.

About a year later, I was cast in a role that was choreographed by a famous Dutch ballet master. The first ballet ever done to electronic
music, it required us to take our cues from sounds like shattering glass or peals of thunder. I loved this man’s work, I loved the innovation, I felt secure, and when I danced past the wings on stage left, I spotted a young ballerina, my understudy, who had just joined the company a week ago. She was watching me with the same look on her face that I had when I was new to the company – admiration and wonder, as if she could never fill my pointe shoes and perform like me.

When we took our curtain calls and left the stage, I passed her on my way back to the dressing room and I said, “You’re good enough. The way you dance is particular to you. Just give it some time and hope that I don’t fall down and sprain my ankle,” We both laughed.

Whatever you’re doing in life, you have your own individual expression. Comparing yourself to someone else is a waste of time and energy. Trying to imitate someone else who is successful and admired is an exercise in futility and it never turns out well because no two people ever do things the same way. That’s what makes life interesting and makes you unique. Remember that your interpretation is particular to you and it isn’t your job to judge it. When you just do it and accept yourself as you are, the more you will find satisfaction and feel a sense of accomplishment.