“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and righdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the
world is too full to talk about.”
Dress rehearsal was a disaster.
Stage lights blasted in my eyes. A large crowd had formed in the temple to watch us. There were people on the neighboring rooftops peering down.
My legs were shaking. I couldn’t find my center.
I felt like I was dancing on fluffy cotton clouds and there was nothing to anchor me.
I am supposed to be one of the advanced dancers here.
What is wrong with me?
Why am I even doing this difficult dance?
How did I even get myself to this point?
I don’t deserve to be here.
Am I really such an amateur?
Why can’t I stop shaking?
Thoughts like these (and much worse) flooded through my mind as I stumbled along the rehearsal.
The next night was our annual performance. I was to be in full Odissi costume and make-up. In less than two weeks leading up to the festival I learned a brand new choreography and was to perform it with one other student and our two teachers. Along with 3 other epic choreographies.
What if I completely choke and forget every other step?
What if I stumble and fall?
What if everybody sees that I’m a total fraud?
What if all that I am doing is wrong?
I tried not to let these thoughts completely engulf me.
I actually knew deep inside that I would be fine. I’ve heard these voices before. I visualized the joy I would feel during and after the performance.
THIS was my anchor.
And I knew that what was happening to me (inside and out) had to do with my inner demons.
The grand illusions.
The egoic voices that want to sabotage, stay safe, stay small, and make this ALL ABOUT ME.
They are prickly and have horns.
They breathe fire and stench.
Get over yourself!
Snap out of it!
The day of the show I held strong to that inner knowing that all would be well. I told myself that the months of hard work, dedication, devotion, love…my sadhana…would pay off on stage.
Then, just before going on stage, my brilliant dance sister Allison said some magic words that went something like this:
“Remember that we love to do this. Just share with the audience that love, that joy.”
If you haven’t heard me say this before…
I have not embarked upon anything this challenging (both physically and emotionally) in my life.
I have never worked my body this hard.
I have never attempted to do something so intricate, layered, seemingly impossible before.
Classical dance is no joke. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for folks who like to take short cuts through life. It’s not the easy way. It’s a little bit insane and you have to be a little bit insane to love it as much as I do.
Insanely in love. The rewards are infinite.
Odissi has changed my life forever.
So I took Allison’s words to heart and I proceeded to have the most joyful performance of my career. On any stage. In front of any audience over the past 15+ years. Drumming, dancing, singing…you name it. This was the most joyful.
I wasn’t doing it for vanity. I wasn’t doing it to impress. I wasn’t doing it because I wanted to gain recognition.
The smile on my face and the lightness in my heart was evidence of this LOVE.
I was doing it for love.
I was doing it to transcend the physical body. Transcend the small mind. Transcend the mundane.
I was doing it to bring myself, fellow dancers, teachers, and the audience into another dimension. To uplift.
I was doing it to look God/Goddess in the face and say “I love you. I have a gift for you. I’ve worked so hard to show how much. Not because I have to or that I should. Not because it is the best thing to do. It’s because I love it. And I’ve brought all of these friends with me so we can all share in this love.”
I didn’t enter into Odissi to perform. In the beginning, it was my sweet little secret. Something I could just practice and do for me. Something that gave me a feeling no other dance practice or style had given me. Something that I didn’t have words for. Something that could only be felt and experienced through the dance.
And as I got further into the dance, I realized the magnitude of the work that was ahead of me. I knew that hours upon hours upon years upon lifetimes needed to be dedicated to this dance.
And as my teacher says, “the harder we work the sweeter the nectar.”
The fruits of our labor are so so sweet when we put every ounce of ourselves into it. When we lose ourself in it.
Have you ever done anything or dedicated yourself to anything that at times knocks you down? Then you just have to get back up, show up, try again and again?
Have you found something that you love so much but which sometimes brings forth your own worst enemy (yourself, your demons)? Do you get nervous or scared about it?
Have you ever felt like the tiniest and most insignificant being on the planet…yet simultaneously felt connected to a stream of energy and light and love…that is so big and magnificent that you feel as if you could fly?
Odissi dance and studying with my particular teachers and in this particular school does all of this for me. The demons just remind me how important it is to me. To let go and just DANCE. Whether it is in the studio learning or rehearsing or on a stage.
And one more magical note about this performance. As I stood on stage ready to perform my first piece, I invoked the sweet souls of my recently deceased aunt Kathi and my beloved grandfather. I asked for their blessing. I dedicated my dance to them. I felt them with me every minute that evening. And…as Lord Jagannath and Lord Krishna watched and enjoyed our offering, I felt the support of the entire Universe that night.
This is the stuff of hard work, intention and devotion. This is the sweetest nectar. This is love.
I do it for love.