When I heard Ursula say my name for the curtain call on the last night of the show, I froze despite the huge smile on my face. I’d realized there was literally no way to turn back. The tiny backstage area was filled with other performers and zero room to walk by. I’d have to fight my way past them, and there was no way they were losing. 'Why didn't I just wear my dress like at the end of the other shows?' Too late to think about it now. My only option was the stage. I gripped the handle and stem of the open umbrella I was holding across the front of my body and stepped up and out into the spotlight…
Five months earlier, I had just quit the world of full-time employment and was looking for something fun to do to with all the extra time I had.
So having never danced or performed on stage in any real capacity in my entire 37 years, I signed up to be in a burlesque show. Brrrlesque as they call it here in Canada’s coldest city.
Because that’s exactly what every woman does when she has extra time on her hands, right? ‘What the hell,’ I thought. ‘Sounds fun!’
I’ll admit that at first I didn’t take it very seriously. Auditions were happening while I was on vacation in Hawaii and I didn’t have to know that much of the routine our group had worked out. All I had to do was Skype my face into the audition for about 20 minutes and assure everyone I was committed. ‘This is going to be a piece of cake.’ I thought afterward, as I grabbed my towel to go back to the beach, get a tan and eat potato chips for the rest of the day.
For the first few practices with our group of 6, I definitely didn’t give it much thought. It was a fun way to pass my time and meet some new people. Though as our act started to take shape and we’d get to the part where another performer and I had to be the sexy centers of attention, I giggled constantly as I cuddled with her, trying not to think about how uncomfortable I was starting to feel about all of it.
Because it was finally starting to sink in for me that the audience was expecting to see a woman who was talented, beautiful, sexy and self-confident. I was none of those things. The one thing I did consistently at practice was miss my cue on the umbrella twirl bit. Shit. Fuck. How do I get out of this?
I was in too far to bail. I decided to ‘fake it ‘til I made it’ and that’s exactly what it felt like. I felt phony and out of place at the weekly show rehearsals. I sat on the floor of the dance studio with the other women waiting to practice their acts and hardly made conversation. I had no idea how to talk to anyone. I was so uncomfortable and definitely didn’t belong. Between our group practices and the full weekly rehearsals, my ‘piece of cake’ was turning out to be an ordeal of 9 hours a week for 4 months straight with 40 other women who were obviously much more talented, sexy, beautiful and self-confident than I was.
But a wonderful thing happens when you start spending your time with talented, sexy, beautiful and self-confident women. It happens without anyone knowing it or naming it. You start to feel lifted, held and protected. And then you begin lifting, holding and protecting others. You are holding space for them. You are holding space for each other.
Holding space for others gives them the freedom to be themselves without judgement, control, trying to fix things or making them feel like they’re not enough. When you hold space for others, they are enough, just as they are. Unconditionally.
Every week in that space I was free to be myself. In that space, I messed up my cues, moved too fast, dropped my props, cuddled my stage partner, laughed, and encouraged others. I took it seriously, I tried my hardest and it was all me, and all enough.
More than enough.
In that space, I claimed the sexy, beauty, and confidence that I had been searching for, yet were always with me. I didn’t know it, but I needed those women to help me discover them. And I didn’t even know I had found them until…
…I stood in the spotlight in front of 150 people for the closing show curtain call in heels, fishnet stockings, tiny underwear and nothing covering my top but an open umbrella and two trimmed peacock feathers adhered strategically over my pointy bits.
With more than 40 women holding me in their space, I snapped the umbrella closed to a deafening roar from the crowd and I was enough.
I am still enough.
Thank you Brrrlesque. Love, Phoenix.