As a musical theatre major in a performing arts conservatory, we HAD to dance. Four years of jazz, four years of tap, four years of ballet. I was a singer, not a dancer. I struggled with movement. I struggled with my body image. I struggled with being pitted against my peers. I knew I was never going to be a Rockette or dance in a Broadway chorus - I'd be playing the quirky female sidekick who sings the best song in the show, while most likely NOT dancing - but there was still a great deal of pressure to move well in these classes.
I hated dance class back then. I hated that no matter how hard I tried, my body would ultimately betray me and I wouldn't be able to hold a balance, do pirouettes, or look graceful.
Once I moved to New York, I found myself in a movement class at my gym. Easy. Freeing. Empowering even. To say that I was dancing with senior citizens and empty nesting moms is not an understatement. At 23 years old, I found that I loved this non-competitive environment. We weren't being graded or auditioned or typed. We were at a gym, moving our bodies because we wanted to, not because we had to.
I was being creative, getting strong, learning to love my body, and I began to love movement. This little class helped me audition better as a musical theatre performer. I would go to the 'singers who move' dance calls and I would even get call backs! (There are four types of performers: Singer. Singers who move. Dancers. And dancers who sing. As a Singer who was a NON-mover - a callback to stay and dance was a miracle!)
These days I earn my living by cooking and talking in a voice-over booth, and those musical theatre auditions are far behind me. But the funny thing is, I would say my number one creative outlet is dance class. I dance four to five days a week. I just love it. What that struggling kid in conservatory really needed was a crystal ball to see into her future.
Last week, one of my dance teachers, Paul, demonstrated the stellar combination we would be learning that day. It had a series of what appeared to be incredibly difficult steps. Their title didn't make me feel any better. Bachacatas. Ugh. If you've watched Dancing With The Stars or So You Think You Can Dance you've seen these. And if not, here's a little video...
You can see the bachacatas starting at the 1:00 minute mark in the video and then the couple sprinkles them throughout the rest of the combination. It's a samba step with a 'simple' rocking back and forth from front to back and switching feet. Your feet are very close together and it moves pretty fast! The bachacata step is thought to go all the way back to the days of slavery in Africa where ankles were chained together and the slaves were made to dance.
That $h*t looks hard, right? We were tripping over our feet and unraveling pretty quickly. And then Paul brought us all out into the middle of the floor and gave us one of his greatest lessons yet. A lesson having nothing to do with the steps or the counts, not our right foot or left foot. He had us look at ourselves in the mirror, finding our own eyes and he asked us to tell ourselves, "This is so simple." Then we said it again. And again. We put our hands on our hips and said it, we gestured like little old Jewish grandmothers and said it. We said it like bored teenagers. And on and on. And then we went back to the combination and nailed our bachacatas!!!!
Mantras and mirror work - some of the oldest self-help tricks in the book. And definitely two of my long time favorites. Mantras are known as protectors of the mind. They keep our thoughts and intentions on track.
Our mind says "I can't" but the mantra of "I can" keeps us trying. We're learning something new and our mind finds an obstacle that says, "This is so hard." The mantra "This is so simple," melts the obstacle away.
"Mirror, mirror, on the wall...who's the fairest of them all?" Disney was on to something with that saying. The take away is not necessarily the comparing ourselves to others, but looking into a mirror and asking to be recognized as capable, loved, and talented. Saying mantras into a mirror literally amplifies their effect. We're not just saying words into thin air. We're making eye contact and talking to ourselves, showing up for ourselves in a world where we might not feel seen. These words are landing and making an impression on our hearts and souls.
All week long I have chirped the words "This is so simple." I would say it any time I was challenged - if I was meeting someone new, having a difficult conversation, lugging groceries up my four flights of stairs, negotiating with a client, or even learning steps in other dance classes. This mantra has given me encouragement. I've felt capable. The words have given me calm and ease. Try it. Say the words aloud. "This is so simple." Think of something you're dreading - a meeting with a coworker, a conversation with your ex-wife, a doctor visit, a presentation for your boss, an audition, whatever! Arm yourselves with those words. And if you can run to the bathroom mirror and put your hands on your hips and say it while you look yourself in the eyes - even better. This is so simple.
My recipe this week isn't really a recipe, it's a simple way I get more vegetables into the menus of my clients as well as into my own diet. I spread whatever veggie I'm using onto a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. I give them a toss to make sure everything is well coated. Then roast at 400 degrees until they are a little charred, 10-20 minutes depending on the vegetable, turning halfway through. There is a celebrity chef that I don't often care for, but she says something I think is true. "Brown food tastes good." The crusty sear on a steak, bread popping out of the toaster all tan and ready to be spread with butter, the browned bits on the bottom of a pan before we deglaze with wine to make a sauce, a crispy chocolate chip cookie. Brown food does taste good.
When we cook vegetables at high heat, the natural sugars in the vegetables caramelize. Little charred brown spots appear and the vegetables take on a quality that tastes like FRENCH FRIES! (If you can cut your vegetables into long planks that resemble french fries, even better!) I do this with sweet potatoes, carrots, celery root, parsnips, beets, cabbage, kale, Brussells sprouts, green beans, broccoli rabe, fennel... the possibilities are endless! We don't always need complicated recipes to get tasty and healthy food on our plates. This is one of my favorite kitchen tricks and it truly is so simple.