What do robots and bloody noses have in common?
Updated: Apr 19
It had been another 90 minutes of drills. We were at the end of my vocal lesson, discussing what I would work on next, when a seemingly brilliant idea hit me.
I said to my coach, “I have mirrors I can practice in front of!” I had just moved into a new apartment. It was a beautiful space with a chandelier hanging in the dining room, several feet in front of a floor-to-ceiling wall of mirrors. Those tree meters of wall between the kitchen and the hallway winked every time I walked by.
But my vocal coach shook his head.
It was a tremor from my already-feeble confidence. And with that, the first few dominos of sober epiphanies suddenly cascaded through my mind.
That mirror was no invitation. I would lose more than I gained practicing for my performance under the dangling chandelier. No. I was not a professional performer, and I conspicuously lacked grace on stage or even with a microphone. Singing to myself while evaluating my every move in front of those mirrors was not going to help me relax.
That’s what I really need to focus on, I thought as I walked home from class. I need to relax.
Nature or nurture?
There are stereotypes around the world about who is “naturally” a certain way. There’s the idea that people from certain places inherently can’t dance, or that athletes of certain races are to be taken more seriously in certain sports, or that a specific religions breed extremism.
There are those of us rendered uncomfortable with any stereotype, too. These “if, then” generalities are the pasturage of neo-Nazis and other sheep, we think. Maybe you can say that prolific dance or extreme beliefs can be delineated as trends in certain groups. But when did trends become causal correlations? And who the hell is defining these “groups?”
Colonial Europeans in Africa: OK—now this a country, and this is a country…
The IRS: OK, we’ll say you’re “low income” and give you a break if last year you made $12,139.98 or less.
White supremacists: OK, when I say “white,” what I mean is someone from this list of countries, not those other "whites…"
With this pithy discourse in the back of my mind as I walked home from my vocal lesson, I grappled with a thought that had occurred to me many times before.
I inherently and inescapably lack grace.
I didn't think it’s because I’m white, or even because I’m American. I thought that my incompetent dancing and ambisinister moves were the result of having danced very little coupled with a few odd challenges in my physique.
As for sensuality? No, no. I was an awkward early-bloomer who latched onto unbridled shame as the underlying feeling toward my body, so none of that sexy stuff for me.
With that kind of emotional set-up, I plodded through my formative years without ever learning to move my body. The robotic movement I was left with has served me well in things like distance running, but when the dance bug bit me in my mid-20s, it was truly remarkable that I spent so much time on the dance floor with zero shame for dancing so bady.
The bloody moral
The traffic on the street picked up as I got closer to my apartment. Each time I stopped at a busy intersection, while watching the street I enjoyed a moment's distraction from the sharp fear of my upcoming vocal recital.
How was I going to stand up in front of 50 people and sing? Why did I elect jazz standards? How was I going to break my robotic vocal meter and sing smoothly, sweetly, and sexily, and with the stage presence to match?
More dominos started to fall, tick-tick-tick.
I remembered the night I accidentally elbowed Javier while dancing and left him bleeding on the floor.
I pictured my boxy poses at the photo shoot where the photographer repeated at least 15 times, “Loosen up, drop your shoulders, don’t look so stiff.”
And at another intersection, as cars whizzed by, I examined my wrists jutting out from my pockets, my hands folded tightly inside for warmth. If anyone walked too close, I could have stabbed them. I was a woman of angles and bones.
I thought again about my brief phase of dancing. For about six months, I went out weekly with friends to restaurants that had nights devoted to Latin rhythms. I adored la salsa dura, and my passion for singing carried over to a sincere desire to move with the music. I just didn’t move with any recognizable style or finesse.
What do robots and bloody noses have in common? Me.
As I reached the door to my building and called the elevator, the dominos kept falling.
I really did enjoy dancing with my friends. If I had ever seen a video of myself, I would have cried. But in the moment, moving with the music, I had fun.
And that’s what it had to be about. My vocal coach didn't want me to practice in front of the mirror. He wanted me to sing and feel the music—to enjoy it. He wanted me to tap into the limber love of the moment, because, ultimately, that would be my only take-home from my recital.
Talk about a sober domino. And yet, at the same time, I finally felt at least a little more relaxed.