As a child, I loved to be the center of attention. There is an old family video of me, age 3, dancing to the soundtrack of "The Jungle Book." Gathered around me are my grandparents, my parents, my brother, and even a few family friends. I am singing at the top of my lungs - "The bear necessities, the simple bear necessities.. " swaying on my fat little legs and spinning in circles. I am completely aware of all eyes on me, and the presence of the video camera, which I look into directly every few moments. From the beginning it was a done deal: I was born to be a performer.
But, there are many other video-like moments playing over and over in my head when I get ready to set foot onstage. Age 13, violin recital: the pianist cues me in 3 times, but I can't seem to move. Age 16, voice audition: I forget an entire section of a song, and sing the same verse over and over and over, until the judges somewhat nicely tell me I can stop. Age 19, private party of the family I am living with in Paris, France: I can't seem to get my fingers on the guitar strings - they feel strangely large and I just keep strumming, hoping no one notices the dissonant combination of notes. Age 22... anyways you get the point. So, what happened?
By the time I was 13, I had decided I had to be "the best" and music became about proving that I was, which resulted in only the moments when I wasn't "the best" standing out in my mind. I remember the exact moment I made this decision. It's seventh grade, I'm eating mylunch alone, and a group of girls comes over. They make a semi circle with their backs to me and begin talking and laughing loudly. Then the tallest, most popular girl, suddenly whipsaround and says "Emma, you can't be here right now, we're here." In that instant, music became my way to be loved and to prove I am wanted. And so, at that moment, I lost the love of doing it for the sake of music, doing it because I loved it, doing it no matter what happened. There was something huge at stake every time I stepped onto a stage: If it went well I would be loved, if not, I was doomed to being the "weird loner." There were many moments that strengthened this experience. It could have been many moments: the time a friend told me at a sleepover "why do you always have to be the center of attention?" Or the time a boy I liked taunted "Emma wears short shorts" and I became terrified of people knowing that I wanted to be noticed. The point is, something happened as I grew into adolescence and then into adulthood where it became only okay to have attention on me, if I was the best, if I had a damn good reason to have all those eyes on me. And it became more and more difficult to receive attention on stage, as I became conscious all the "mistakes," and the reasons why people shouldn't be watching.
In working with women, I have noticed that many of the blocks we have in our voices are directly linked to our struggle with receiving attention. It has often been unsafe, or inapropriate to have attention on us. Many women do not struggle with this, but I know for myself, I have experienced the push and pull of struggling to recieve attention when it is directed toward me. I want to prove that if attention is on me, it is accidental; I didn't do anything, I don't deserve it. We've learned to be "modest." But ladies! We have forgotten our innate wisdom: the power of our feminine ability to receive!
Receiving attention is a vulnerable experience, and one of the most beautiful and rewarding. When was the last time you really let yourself receive a compliment? Receive energy directed at you in a loving way? We've been taught to deflect attention. But when we receive, we can truly offer our gifts. It is a cycle of energy: receive, give, receive, give. As a performer and teacher, my life is about giving and offering. But in order to do so powerfully, I have to be able to receive.
I recently had an experience at a show where I struggled with having attention on me for the first time in a while. For whatever reason, this particular show brought up a lot of the old stuff around needing to prove myself. For a moment, I completely forgot all that I teach. I stood onstage, feeling shaky, sick and overwhelmed, and began to play, hoping to just get through it. Well, that did not go so well! Given that I am clear that for me, performing is about offering and connecting, it is pretty much impossible for me to play in front of people in my own little bubble! After a handful of what I felt were obvious mistakes, I had to open up. It was too painful to keep playing like that. So I looked up, and I acknowledged where I was struggling. I said "that's not what I meant to do, oops... let's start this one over." I let it all be okay. The fear didn't go away, and the performance was not "my best." Being the best doesn't matter when you are clear it's about connecting, and you then connect. I was able to give myself over to the music. Trust the songs, trust the audience. I let myself fully feel them watching, I let myself fully feel all my fear. The performance became beautiful for me because it was so raw for me. Performing is a learning process. It's those terrifying, vulnerable, raw moments that teach us the most about where we are still creating walls, where we can more fully open and receive the love, energy and attention of others so we can fully give. In that moment, I had to walk my talk. I had to be the work I teach. I had to experience for myself, the challenge of receiving attention, and the challenge of fully offering my voice, my gifts my songs.