I’ve written and re-written this blog several times so far. Not knowing quite what to write or how to write it. I just came back a few days ago from ODI Second Love and I’m still not 100% put back together. This is a really special intensive. I learn as much about myself as I do about dance. Last year I came home with a profound motivation I hadn’t felt in ages. This year I come home and I don’t know if I can even describe how I feel. It was never going to be the same as last year, but this year was significantly more emotional for me than the previous. Maybe because it’s a place I feel safe to be honest with myself? Because everyone else is being honest too?
|Beautiful Lisbon <3|
I did a lot of things I promised myself I would do when I returned from ODI last year. I continued going to Street classes, after I’d been telling myself I was gonna quit because I wasn’t feeling I was getting anywhere. I kept this thing that was only for me and made very few compromises on that time. I joined a performance group with a bunch of dancers that are much stronger and more versatile than I am. I trained so fucking hard, almost every single day in the past 12 months – people started to ask what the hell had happened to me when they saw me because they’d never seen me look so good. I also had to completely re-evaluate my diet in order to keep up with how many calories I was expending in a day. I felt stronger than I ever have been – I did four weeklong intensives in three months and walked out of three of them feeling amazing because I wasn’t even tired or sore at the end. I made work I thought I was really proud of, and I watched my students blossom into these incredible dancers they’re becoming.
I started to feel less like a bellydancer and more like a dancer. I’d feel like I could actually keep up in my street classes. I could finally remember choreography more quickly because I recognised the movements now. Beginner classes started to be less challenging and I could actually dance in them, not desperately try to keep up all the time. I went to a contemporary workshop with one of my favourite choreographers knowing I would be the least experienced dancer in the room but felt like I could just about keep up with the choreography even if the movement wasn’t perfect – I tried my best and that was really the point. I went alone to a workshop with Buddha Stretch, in a community I’m not really a part of, where I didn’t know anybody – and people who know me know that’s a big deal for me because I’m so painfully shy and introvert. And I spoke to people there – that’s nothing short of a miracle! I would not have done that 12 months ago. I used to do it when I first got into Tribal Fusion and I hated being there alone.
I did almost all the things I said I would when I wrote my blog after ODI last year. Only now that I’m writing it down do I realise that how I’ve made myself feel the entire time I was there last week was absolutely ludicrous. I realised in the last ODI that I suffer with imposter syndrome (not just in dance but in everything), that I don’t believe in myself enough, that I don’t cut myself enough slack or celebrate my achievements enough. That I am relentlessly hard on myself for no reason other than I don’t know how else to be.
I spent half of my time at ODI Second Love in tears because of my feelings of inadequacy, because I felt like I’d put so much work in during the past year but none of it showed. When you see yourself dancing every day you don’t see the improvements others do. I felt like I was way behind where I thought I was in my head. I spent too much time this week living in my head and listening to my thoughts instead of embracing the moment and being there 100% committed to movement.
I want to preface the rest of this blog by saying that ODI was amazing. I am so glad that I did it again. Orchidaceae are the most inspiring, supportive, loving community of people I’ve ever been fortunate enough to be involved with. It is an honour to know them and work with them. I wish every dancer in the world could get a chance to experience their magic because they are life changing. I want you to know this, because I want you to know that they did everything for me this past week, and how I feel about myself is nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. I allowed all these feelings to come to the surface because they make me feel safe enough to confront them and that’s a good thing.
|Vogue with Maria|
So for those who know nothing about ODI Second Love – there were three components. 1) Morning classes chosen by each individual dancer to a schedule that suited their training goals. I had an entire week with Maria and Leo, learning Vogue, Contemporary, Hip Hop, Popping and lots of House! I found myself feeling so frustrated in the classes. I’ve been trying really hard with Popping and House especially, and in these classes I just felt like all the progress I thought I’d made in the last year was gone. It’s good to feel like a beginner – which I am, and that’s not gonna change any time soon. But I thought I was getting better and after this week I feel like I’m just back to square one. Maybe it’s cos I spent the summer travelling and not practicing, or maybe it’s just that I’m not doing as well as I thought I was. I thought I was starting to understand the jack in House – now it just feels so alien. EVERYTHING felt so alien. I started to feel like I was the same dancer I was when I stepped into ODI 12 months ago. I felt like I let myself down, and them down. I forget that it’s taken 10 years of hard work for me to get to this point of refined movement quality in Tribal Fusion, and it’ll probably take another 10 to get anywhere near where I want to be. I can’t expect to be an amazing House dancer or Popper after 18 months of classes. I’m 30, not 13. But still I couldn’t help listen to that negative voice in my head telling me ‘you’re not good enough’. When I’ve figured out how to turn that voice off I’ll let you know!
|The genius at work <3|
2) A group choreography directed by one or two of the Orchidaceae company. For me, the piece was directed by Leo, and it was an amazing experience. Finger cymbals and House – this was something very special. I think I could work with Leo just all the time, she is amazing and I think everyone knows how much I adore her work. The piece was so much fun, and so challenging. I loved every second I was in there with my group working on this piece – the girls I got to dance with were just magic. It was the happiness I needed to get out of my head for a few hours and to think of something other than myself!
|Sharing my solo in rehearsals|
3) Solo development with an Orchidaceae mentor. I have been working on a solo with Maria Antunes since our first communication back in March. She has mentored me through the entire process and she has been amazing. She set me challenges to complete, video and return for feedback. She told me she spent hours watching them with Google Translate open so she could write back to me. She was so patient with me while I developed the things I was working on (combining tribal fusion with jazz, waacking and vogue techniques). I raved about her to all my dance friends, about the things she was having me do and what it was like to have someone other than myself actually care about what I’m doing and investing time in me.
I feel bad for the way I was with Maria all week. I spent way too much time crying at her about what a failure I felt. I didn’t like most of my solo but I didn’t know what to do to change that. I was having a huge crisis of confidence which made it hard for me to listen to her trying to reassure me. I felt weak and vulnerable and like I shouldn’t be wasting everyone’s time by being there. I showed other dancers my solo, scared they would hate it, scared I had failed Maria and all the time and effort she had put into working with me. I don’t know where all this insecurity came from all of a sudden. I saw other people doing incredible things with their bodies and these dramatic changes in their dancing from the previous year and on myself I saw the same Alexis I always saw. I couldn’t sit there and listen to people tell me what a beautiful dancer I was, or how lovely my choreography was. I felt like they were humouring me, just telling me what I want to hear. I don’t know why I do that. I don’t know if it’s a very culturally British thing to not be able to take a compliment. I don’t know if it’s because I had teachers that are so insecure that it indirectly seeped into me and my attitude to dance. I feel guilty for invalidating people’s opinions of me with my own inner critic. I realised this week that I truly do not see myself how other people see me. Not even remotely. I don’t know if it’s how I’ve been taught to learn – tell me everything that’s wrong with me so I can fix it, rather than give me positive reinforcement on the things I’m doing well. Maria well and truly 150% believed in me and my ability – so many people told me they didn’t understand why I feel so insecure. I don’t think I understand either. I think part of it is perfectionism and always striving for better – but never feeling like I’m getting any closer to it. Well that’s normal right? Perfection doesn’t exist. I don’t want perfection in the rest of my life, why is it such an important thing for me in dance? I felt guilty that she had so much belief in me and I had so little. I had so much positive feedback during the week, and I think I wasn’t expecting such positive reactions so I just filled that void with self-doubt instead.
|Practicing Leo's group piece|
I am trying to remind myself that, even if the end result of the solo wasn’t exactly what I felt I should have made, the work that I put in during the past 5 months for it was worth it. I received so much being mentored by Maria – so generous and kind and enthusiastic. I hope that she doesn’t feel bad about how I acted all week. She reminded me that, whatever I believe about myself, I work hard and that’s the ‘secret’ to being a good dancer. She reminded me I need to be less hard on myself. I know that is something I have to spend a lot of time working on – it’s conditioned in me somehow. I think the whole situation wasn’t helped by the fact that I injured my knee during one of the classes. I really pushed through even though I was in pain and the sensible thing to do would have been to rest. I considered telling Leo to cut me from the group piece, but I already felt like I was letting her down by being injured so I pushed through instead. I danced with all my heart in the performance and let the agony wash over me later – on Saturday night with bloodshot eyes from all the tears, I took a bunch of painkillers and drank a shit ton of booze and passed out in bed without taking off my make up… not sure that really helped very much, especially when I woke up the next day!!
|MacGyver taping my knee :P|
We talk a lot about dancers having egos. When they’re so overconfident that their egos get in the way of them getting better. When dancers won’t try things because their egos get in the way. When they won’t be seen to fail because they don’t want to hurt their egos or damage their reputation. I feel like I’ve been challenging that in myself for a long time – I do go to classes and make mistakes, I do put myself in positions where I am the worst dancer in the room. I think I have tried to supress the notion of having an ego so much that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to actually allow myself to be proud of what I have done and to acknowledge that yes, the hard work has and is paying off. And that people see it and I am allowed to see it too – and I’m allowed to celebrate the good things that happen. That’s not having an over-inflated ego. That’s just allowing yourself to take some pride in the things that you do.
This morning I woke up with my dance journal and indulged myself by writing down all the positive things that have happened to me in dance. All the things I am proud of, and allowed to be proud of. All the exciting things that I’ve done and am going to do. Things people have said that I haven’t forgotten. It felt weird to do it but I think I needed it. I wrote four pages of things I needed to remind myself I had achieved in the past 10 years. I realised that I shouldn’t feel as insecure as I do. That I have done amazing things. I have made a positive difference to the Tribal Fusion community in the UK whether I allow myself to believe that or not. Dancers want to keep working with me year after year – whether that’s through Juniper Project or my weekly classes or workshops or private lessons or hosting me. They keep coming back, so I must be doing something right. I got Rachel Brice to come back to the UK after 7 years away – people tried, but no one else managed to do it – that was no mean feat. I have taught in more than 20 different countries. I put Tribal Fusion on the stage at International Dance Festival Birmingham. I produce one of the biggest Tribal Fusion festivals in the UK. Because of dance I have family all over the world. I’ve gone from an Adult Education bellydance class to an internationally recognised performer and teacher in 10 years – that wasn’t just by chance, that was all through hard work and dedication and I can - and should - allow myself to be proud of that. And most of all, people that I love, admire and respect believe in me and my work (even when I don’t) – what more could I want? I did this nice thing for myself today because I needed to remind myself of these things. Not to boost my ego…. Or maybe yes, to boost my ego, because right now it’s in shreds. I needed to know that I remember all of this positivity when I’m in my darkest moments.
|I'm not ashamed to admit I cried!|
My friend Katie summed up dance like this, and I think it is perfect: It is both magical and brutal at the same time. Being an artist is really hard sometimes. I want to move forwards by forgiving myself for the way I felt last week, and to acknowledge that the inner critic is always gonna be there – but that she can be a real asshole sometimes and I don’t always need to listen to everything she says.
I want to say thank you, especially to Maria for her patience while I bared my soul with plenty of tears and for her kind, reassuring words all week. And for helping me to grow during the past 5 months. You have no idea how much I appreciate you and everything you did for me during all that time. I'm sorry I didn't show it as much as I should have.
|Cymbals - the gift that keeps on giving!|
And thank you also to Leo for your belief and for looking after my knee. Thank you for choosing me for the group piece that I loved doing so much! I hope it won’t be the last time we get to do something together. And you’re still my favourite teacher! ;)
Thank you Piny and all the Orchidaceae girls for creating this space for us to learn and grow as artists and as people. You are all super special. Thank you also to my fellow dancers that were so open and gracious in sharing their work and their souls. I will be back next year - I hope that ODI will be around again then! And next time I promise to come with a better attitude towards myself :)
|Teaching the teacher a thing or two! ;)|
|Love these crazy people!|