What do robots and bloody noses have in common?
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 have mirrors I can practice in front of!”
But my vocal coach shook his head.
With that feeble tremor of my confidence, the first dominos of sober epiphanies quickly cascaded in my mind.
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. Three meters of wall between the kitchen and the hallway winked every time I walked by, and the room felt enormous for the visual echo of the space.
But that mirror was no invitation to practice for my performance under the dangling chandelier. No. I was not a professional performer. I conspicuously lacked grace on stage or even with a microphone, and singing to myself while evaluating my every move 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 are to be taken seriously when one race but not another, or that a specific religion breeds extremism.
But for those of us rendered immediately uncomfortable with any stereotype, we take pause. These “if, then” generalities are the pasturage of neo-Nazis and other sheep. Maybe you can say that prolific dance or extreme beliefs can be delineated as trends in some groups. But when did trends become causal relationships? 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 from this list of pre-approved countries and with faces and hair that more or less look like this…
With this pithy dialogue in the back of my mind as I walked home, I grappled with a thought that had occurred to me many times before.
I inherently and inescapably lack grace.
I don’t think it’s because I’m white or because I’m American. I think, for example, that my off-base dancing and ambisinister moves are the result of never having danced or been around dance as a child coupled with challenges in my physique.
And 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 environmental 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 in my mid-20s, it was truly remarkable that I spent so much time on the dance floor with zero shame for dancing so, so poorly.
The bloody moral
The traffic on the street picked up as I got closer to home. In contrast, each time I stopped at a busy intersection, I enjoyed a bustling 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 fell 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 as the cars whizzed by at another intersection, I examined the wrists jutting out from my pockets, my hands folded tightly inside for warmth. I was a woman of angles and bones.
I came back to my brief spell of dancing. For about six months, I went out weekly with friends to restaurants with nights devoted to Latin rhythms. I adored la salsa dura, and my passion for singing carried over to a sincere and compelling desire to move with 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, right? My vocal coach did not 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.