I prepared my solo for weeks. Months, even. I chose my music, my theme & style for the dance, my costume, and tried to make my dance & appearance stand apart – even just a little bit – from the other bellydancer I knew would be performing solo that night.
I was nervous… very nervous. The other bellydancer was an experienced soloist, who dances at weddings/parties/community events, so she knew exactly what she was doing, at least in my mind. I’d never seen her dance before, I’d simply heard some wonderful things about her. “I want to be like that,” I thought, “I want to inspire comments from the people who see me dance.”
So I practiced. I rehearsed. I drove an hour away from home, on numerous occasions, to use studio space that was far bigger than the space at home… it was a better resource, so I could create a better dance.
Performance day came closer. My dance was completely choreographed, I’d rehearsed it enough times that I could dance it in my sleep, my costume was ready, and I had a bag full of ‘back-up’ items just in case anything went wrong on the day of the show.
Then, on the day of the show, for the first time in my life… I realized I had stage fright. Where did this come from? I was fine putting the dance together, refining it, changing what didn’t work, creating a sparkly costume to complement the steps… but when it hit me that I’d be all alone up there, showcasing my hard work to a crowd of people there to watch ‘serious dance’ – who’d probably never seen a bellydancer before – and who could reject my work in a setting where I could see it on their faces… I panicked. I broke down. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to keep my dance and my sparkly costume to myself, hidden away at home, where no one could see it… and no one could reject it.
Of course, the only way I could actually get out of it would be to break an ankle or fall violently ill, neither of which seemed to be the best course of action. I arrived at the venue, put on the costume – enjoyed plenty of compliments on my shimmery outer self – and headed to the stage. There was no turning back, and when my music started, all those nerves and butterflies disappeared, because… what was the point of being nervous anymore? It was too late to do anything about it – I’d done the best I could – so I danced, and left my heart on the stage.
There were plenty of scowlers in the crowd (I imagine their brains going “this doesn’t look anything like contemporary or lyrical, what does this woman think she’s doing?”). There were also some smiles, so I danced to the smiles. I danced to make the people happy who appreciated the style of my performance.
Yes, I forgot choreography. I messed up, but I kept going. When you’re showcasing yourself to the world, the worst thing you can do is freeze up, and mercifully I had the strength to take the stumbles in stride and finish strong. They applauded, I left the stage.
Three days later, I watched the video. I saw all the mistakes I made, I cringed when my elbows were turned in or my arms made a sloppy transition, or I forgot to look up… but now I knew where to work on next time. I knew what to focus on, and what I should fix. In the meantime, I received a number of compliments from people who actually enjoyed my performance (much to my surprise). It felt good. I’d done what I’d set out to do, and the people who didn’t like it? Well, they didn’t bother to tell me, so who cares? All I can do is create a better performance the second time around, and hope it reaches even more people.
…by now, I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. Performing your first solo is very much, in so many ways, like writing. You create the best product you can, package it with a sparkly cover letter (or if you’re published, a shiny cover), and reach deep within yourself for the strength to place it out there on the literary stage: the desks of the people who become your first audience. Some will reject it, some will smile and ask for more, and some will love it enough to compliment you and anticipate your next book.
We may also try to tailor our writing to suit the established norm of the genre. Like a more experienced dancer and a new soloist, we see the trends and try to follow them, but also tweak and change so that our work stands out and is seen as just a little bit different.
We writers pour our hearts and souls out onto the paper stage, take our fumbles as they come, and – hopefully – finish with a smile on our faces, no matter what. Rejection hurts, but we need to take chances – to send our work out into the spotlight – in order to receive acceptance.
And now that I’ve performed my first solo, I feel far more ready to try it again.
Banish the fear. Step into the spotlight and give it all you’ve got. Leave your heart on the metaphorical literary stage, and don’t worry about the people who glare and wonder why your work doesn’t look like ‘this’ or ‘that’. Because someone, somebody, out there is going to smile – and that’s when you’ll know it’s all been worth it.