To Be Determined, Chapter One: Trigger Happy
When I was younger I wanted to learn tap dancing because Paula Abdul tap danced on a music video and I loved it. I was taking karate at the time and so I had to find a place that offered classes at days and times when I was not taking karate. I ended up taking dance classes Mon/Wed/Fri and going to karate Tue/Thurs. When you’re ten years old, this is a lot for your plate. When you’re ten and in fourth grade and have all of these after school things, you have to keep up your grades in order to get to do these other activities. I excelled in only that which I desired to excel in. I got straight A’s only then I think it was plus’s or negative signs in certain parts of the report card. And to the surprise of the people I know now-a-days, I was very shy in elementary school. I could get up in front of a panel of blackbelts and announce my name and my kata form and ask for permission to begin, with hundreds of audience members watching, but I wouldn’t speak up in class. I could learn every dance Pat Jackson’s American Dance teachers would teach me. I would catch on quickly and execute wonderfully, and get on the stage and perform it, but not raise my hand and answer a question I knew the answer too. I wanted the rush of people watching me, it fulfilled something in me. It triggered something in me, like a switch, and if I didn’t feel every eye on me I would push myself more. Even if I was in a group dancing, and I wasn’t center I would dance harder, sharper and try to even dance better until I felt I was getting attention. But if Sharing Day came up at school I’d want to mumble and hide in the corner. I’d cry sometimes from embarrassment if my classmates were just staring at me to answer a question, ask a question or pick someone else to read out loud, which I also hated. It wasn’t until I switched elementary schools in 6th grade that I decided I would change how people looked at me. I made a deal with myself that at my new school I would force myself into a place of vulnerability and speak out. Speech assignments could come and go, class spelling bees could come and go, and I would force myself to volunteer and try. And the more I did it seemed the more respect I got. Even if I was wrong, at least I tried. And my teacher appreciated my effort and other students looked up to me as a role model for taking chances and being assertive. I also went balls-out-natalie and participated in recess busting out wondrous double-dutch skills and dodgeball skills, and racing. I didn’t think I was a fast runner, but depending on who it was, I guess I was fast.
Junior High came and I was quiet again. At least seventh grade I was. I sat quietly in whatever seat was assigned to me, took my notes and completed my homework. There were too many new people and I again felt like running and hiding from everyone. Even in drama class, I would never speak – which didn’t help. I wouldn’t volunteer for the improv games, if I was forced to do it, I sucked at it. No one laughed and I was always tagged out quickly. Auditioning for the plays sucked, the parts given to me sucked more but I knew I wanted to be an actress. Surely even if I was quiet, I could learn something. So I always sat in the front row and took notes and helped any way I could. I even received an award for Best 7th Grade Drama student for my loyalty and ability to sit and pay attention and give my energy to the people on stage while others sat around doing homework or trying to make out – if their parent only knew. …Speech class was the worst, I dreaded creating a speech and more than that I dreaded standing in front of the class and giving it. I dreaded it so much that I didn’t do it, and received an F in that class until I did one. I was the last to give a speech in the class. My mom helped with it, she was great at the public speaking thing, and after that my grade went to a C+, and slowly went up ending with a B+ by the end of the year. I cried over that F. I cried when I told my mom, I cried even when she said she would help me and stayed up late to do so. I cried after class when my teacher said I got an A, and I didn’t want to be in front of people anymore. This is when my people watching skills began to mold.
Eighth grade came and again I made a deal with myself to step out of my comfort zone and be bigger than myself. I made myself raise my hand and ask questions, I tried to answer other questions even if I was wrong. I still sat in the front row at drama class but raised my hand quickly whenever he asked for volunteers. I went with instincts when doing improv instead of trying to think of something funny to do, and it ended up working out because I seemed to stay in the game longer and got people laughing. I was also still involved in my dancing at Pat Jackson’s and karate, and was keeping my grades up. I wasn’t necessarily miss popularity, other skipper dolls had that panned out fine, but I participated and my name was in the daily bulletin a few times. I was known. Speech time came around again and I decided to attempt an H.I. which stood for Humorous Interpretation, which I did based on the book “Mom’s say the funniest things.” I did it in the correct alloted time, got people laughing, got an A+ and made it to finals in the speech tournament. It wasn’t a dream of mine to win a speech tournament but it felt great not flunking, and getting laughed at for all the right reasons. I received a lead role in both plays in 8th grade, both of which were singing parts as well. They didn’t know I could sing. I didn’t either. I remember auditioning. My voice was shaky and I took the stumbling and stuttering and channeled it the way I did in karate tournaments and focused on what the task was and made it through the song with strength. I even danced, a little. I received an award for drama in eighth grade as well, most improved or something like that. Guess it payed to make myself step out of my comfort zone.
Then it was time for highschool. I knew some people, and those I didn’t In introduced myself too and I was already cool with upperclassmen because my sister was a senior. Points. I participated on the tennis team one year, the volleyball team my second year, and threw the shot and discus for three years. By my fourth year I gave up on sports, didn’t like the tan lines or the constant practicing, and my throwing coach didn’t make it fun for me. He didn’t understand that this wasn’t a career move to me, this was high school and I was playing because I could. At this point I was done at Pat Jackson’s and danced at the highschool, and I was also finished with karate. I took some drama classes but wasn’t in to Shakespeare, which is ALL the director at the school wanted to do. His favorites were always cast, and I would go and support the arts but over all had no idea what they were saying (I don’t think most of them knew either), but was thankful to get credit for going and writing a brief paper on them. I focused on dance in Highschool. Freshman year I took Dance I, then auditioned or Dance Company and got in. They only accepted 19 girls that year (I believe) and four of them were Sophmores, and one of those Sophmore’s was me. And yet again, that feeling of hiding crept up on me. Some of the girls in Dance Company also took dance with me at Pat Jackson’s but they were better than me, always had been. They had skills, and I was a cheater dancer. I didn’t have great technique but I could fake it. I befriended one girl in Dance Company that year, Mishauna. She and I saved each other that year. All the other girls did cheerleading camp dances, talked about the latest lipliners and used mouse in their hair. I was allowed to wear mascara only, said my mom. But I enjoyed dancing so I gave every dance I was in my all. I gave ever sharp move my sharpest energy, every turn my cleanest frame and every audience member my smile. And when my junior year came along, I stepped it up – as I always had. I came back as a junior without braces, my hair dyed Black Cherry by Feria, and layered it like all the girls in the magazines. I wore mascara AND lipgloss, and everyone still got my smile. I choreographed my junior and senior year and used moves that were a different style than the other girls. I didn’t know standard jazz moves, so I made up stuff, whatever my body did to the music became the move and Michael Jackson’s Scream, Smooth Criminal, and a Remix of his made it to the performances. I even choreographed for Dance Kaleidescope. The end of the year program where anyone who wanted to choreograph could, would, and did. Typically the beginner dances went first in the show and as it went on more advanced dances were shown, ending with the cleanest dances. My senior year I choreographed Vogue, song and version chosen by my bestest frienchy Antoan. My senior year I took the place of the last dance before the bows, an honor normally given to the likes of the most popular dancer, or most advanced dancer. But my moves and dancers were different and it had a great edge without being extremely difficult. It felt like a successful goodbye to my highschool dance time.
Then life began.
I got a job at the Pismo Outlets and started auditioning for local theatre. Singing in front of people, although difficult on the inside seemed to come out well enough to get me cast, and the dancing experience helped place me in chorus alot. A few years of that and I was feeling more confident in myself. I stayed a year at the outlets then moved to the front desk of a hotel, with a manager willing to work around my rehearsal and show schedule. Then the year 2000 came. A friend and old teacher had asked me to be his dance captain for a musical he was putting on. West Side Story. It was a huge stage, we would be mic’d and the role given to me was Rosalie, a shark. But more importantly my part had a solo, singing opposite the girl who played Anita, in the song “America.” This was my first solo in a musical. Anxiety set in, again, as it always had. My stomach tightened with my shoulders and my throat and rehearsals were heavy on my attempted assertive behavior because I couldn’t read music. It had to be plunked out for me and I had to learn by listening to the CD of other people singing. A girl in the cast, when she realized I couldn’t read music stood up from her seat in our half circle and walked towards me shooing away whomever was sitting next to me and she sat by me and immediately began explaining to me the way music notes worked. How to read along, even if I didn’t know what it sounded like she helped teach me how to count them and follow along, which inevitably made it easier for me to catch on. Another girl in the cast came up to me and said, “you know what you need to do, is come to karaoke night.” I laughed but agreed to go out with her and a group of others and was forced to sign up for a song. She was convinced singing at karaoke would help me become comfortable singing in front of other people for the show. I chose Beautiful Stranger by Madonna and I will remember you by Sarah McLachlan and sang both songs in the corner, hidden from people. A few more outtings and she was right, I was becoming more comfortable with singing in front of people. The show opened, and I sang and danced with confidence.
Life continued. More community theatre. More hotel work and paychecks. More challenges.
I began auditioning for larger stage roles. I began auditioning for TV/Film in Los Angeles after auditioning in front of hundreds of people for an agent at an acting/modeling convention. I landed a talent manager who placed me in another convention where I landed an agent. I sang. I danced, I did a monologue, I did improv, I did everything with confidence. I didn’t really get nervous, but the feelings of embarrassment would always creep up on me and I just kept trying to focus it and use it to get through. This helped in auditions and call backs and even while working in front of cameras. Both still cameras and video. Finding comfort within the anxiety seemed to be the way out, and the way in at the same time. At least that’s how it seemed, then.
Life continues, still.
I’m not too sure if I believe that things happen for a reason, or if I believe there is a lesson in everything, but I know that I believe in Energy. I believe if you focus your energy there can be explosions and a light can glow from within you that others see. All you need is something to trigger it. The problem I see with the trigger is it happens so quickly, and then it’s over. What happens when you miss the target you’re aiming for? What happens if you focus your energy on one thing so hard that you miss other opportunities to harness and focus your energy else where – somewhere where it could be more useful. It would seem that the only thing I could come up with growing up was looking at myself in the mirror and making myself up the ante, take a risk and not care what people thought. It seems that in reflection and in retrospect every time something new happened I would fall into old patterns of fear and uncertainty. I always wanted to, first, run and hide. Then I would always find something with in me to make the change. I would find something to trigger the change. And the more I think about it, the more I think that feeling of needing change, is addicting. Which is why “old patterns” exist so that you can find a new way to exist but always know that you can go back to what you know. For me that was running and hiding. Run to where? Hide where and from what? And only because the rush of the trigger that makes the change kick in, is also addicting. Does it mean I can change my old patterns? I guess that part, remains to be determined.