On Saturday I achieved one of those life goals I never thought I would: I performed a burlesque routine for the first time ever, live on stage to an audience over 100. I’ve been learning burlesque routines for a couple of years now and I absolutely adore it. It took me well out of my comfort zone just signing up to the course because I didn’t know what to expect; I’m badly coordinated (my dyslexia effects my coordination, the Wii is my worst enemy!), I’m terribly British in that messing up / embarrassing myself / even taking my shoes off in public makes me anxious, and I get ridiculously nervous under pressure. Case in point; I was a gymnast for many years in my youth but dropped out and started coaching because I just couldn’t take the stress of competitions. Over the last couple of years I’ve been working hard to push my own boundaries and get out of my comfort zone, and although it’s been tricky at times I can honestly tell you my life has only become better for it. Doing this performance is the end of the journey I never thought I’d come to . . . but don’t get me wrong, this is just the beginning!
Being a showgirl in training was the first hurdle to overcome. I know many of you feel like you don’t have the courage to join a class like this with reasonings similar to mine. But I’m going to let you all into a secret here: we all feel the same way when we sign up to these things. I’m not even talking burlesque specifically, I’m talking about signing up to a new class as an adult in general. Learning comes a lot easier in your younger years, as does making mistakes and even making friends. It’s got nothing to do with the content of the classes (FYI: we don’t get naked in class, we take layers off but remain clothed underneath), it’s to do with being ok with being the new girl and worse still, getting things wrong… endlessly in my case. But what I quickly learned is that no one is even paying attention to you – everyone in class is so focussed on getting their steps right they’re not looking or judging the other girls around them. More importantly, we all get things wrong – even the girls that have been in the class for years. Learning is a never ending process. The key to getting through it is learning how to laugh at your mistakes and learning from them. What we often forget is that we can lean on others for support, even if we don’t know them very well. In a class like this you’re all in it together, especially if you’re going to take a routine to stage!
When the opportunity to get on stage and perform arose last year, I politely declined. To put it quite frankly, I chickened out. I built the situation up in my head so much that it seemed like a mountain to climb with many hurdles to tumble over. It made me rather disappointed in myself, but my nerves just got the better of me. In all honesty I couldn’t ever picture myself doing it, but I made a promise to myself that if I ever got the opportunity to live out my dream of performing with feathers like a true vintage Las Vegas Showgirl I would do it, no questions asked. It was an unlikely scenario to actually happen: feather fans cost a crazy amount of money and I never thought I would be given an opportunity to work with them on stage . . . with a whole crew of beautiful ladies none the less. At the beginning of our last term our class had been learning two routines for the end of year show, unusually one with fans and one without. That’s when I decided I would reinforce the deal with myself: if it was going to be with the fans, there would be no way of backing out…
And that’s how I ended up here – at Queens Hall in Edinburgh, sweating bricks and messing up tech rehearsals. The girls in the other class with the chair routine looked so goddamn great – I can’t be compared to that! But rather than obsess over my nerves and compare myself to someone else, I started talking to my fellow performers. Being honest about how anxious and out of my comfort zone I was made a huge difference, because I got to learn how they ended up doing their first performance, how they coped with their nerves and how they dealt with wrong steps and wardrobe malfunctions… these experiences are all valuable, and there is one underpinning lesson that carries everyone through. The key is to fake it till you make it, and I gotta admit, that’s a true statement to live by. If anything goes wrong, own it. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with it. As much as we build stuff up in our heads, nothing you’re going to do will be the end of the world! Many people deal with stage fright, anxiety and nerves; part of the process is awareness, knowing your limitations and learning the right way to push yourself. For me, this process started out with the baby steps of signing up to a new class and challenging myself in learning to make errors and how to ask for help. What may seem like quite a trivial and small objective has actually taught me valuable lessons that can be applied to many areas in my life going forward. Who knew dancing could be so life changing!!
So there we have it: me, live on stage, wearing nothing but my underwear. What would have been a complete and utter nightmare scenario has actually been one of the most liberating experiences of my life. Yes it was challenging, but what is life if you’re not pushing yourself? I’ve become more comfortable with being nervous because I learned how to manage my feelings. I learned that it’s ok to make mistakes because that’s how you learn to do something well, And I’m pleased to share I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin because I’ve been practising in my costume with other women who I know feel the same way about their bodies (FACT: WE ALL HAVE WOBBLY BITS WE’RE PARANOID ABOUT BUT NOBODY ELSE SEES WHAT YOU THINK YOU SEE). But most importantly, I learned that I can still surprise myself.
I hope this post helps encourage you in signing up to a new challenge, because it will be one of the most valuable experiences in your life. It doesn’t matter what it is, or what the outcome is either; what matters is that you’re giving yourself the opportunity to grow as a person which can lead to all sorts of things in life. To all those girls debating becoming a showgirl, grab the bull by both horns! You’ll make great friends if nothing else. For all those who are about to embark on their first performance, you are going to be so proud of yourself as soon as you hear that audience applause. And for those of you who turn it into a more permanent occurrence in your life, you will never fail in inspiring other woman to following your footsteps by signing up and giving it a go. There’s magic in all of us, we just need to take the first step in learning how to un-tap it. Let me remind you that you can do it, because you are an incredible being.
A big thank you to my incredible teacher Gypsy Charms, DanceBase for putting up with our lateness in leaving the building and endless amount of feather debris, and most importantly, to the wonderful team of beautiful women who I look forward to shaking my butt with every week. Your support will never cease to amaze me!