Being On Stage | Self-Transformation + Belonging
‘“If theater is ritual, then dance is too... It's as if the threads connecting us to the rest of the world were washed clean of preconceptions and fears.”
5 minutes to curtain.
I can’t sit still. My partner is seated and taking deep, meditative breaths to focus himself and meanwhile, I am anxiously hopping around from one foot to another, mindlessly stretching out my arms and shoulders and exhaling with constant breathy sighs.
We peek around the corner of the stage door, seeing through the crack of light that people are already standing in the aisles- an over-full house. My stomach flips.
The lights dim, we hear the standard pre-show announcement and muffled shuffling of the audience getting comfortable, turning off their phones, gently shhhhing each other.
We take our places in the wings. Audience goes dark, spotlights glow and in that instant, all of the shakes, tremors and discomforts in my body- they all disappear. I have no fear or worry because all of a sudden, my body, mind and spirit have been grasped together in electric unison. I am on stage, and I am complete.
Oh how I have missed this feeling.
Ever since I first stepped foot on a real stage in front of an audience when I was about 10 years old (as opposed to pretending with our front porch from an even earlier age), I knew that this was something I could never give up. I knew that this was the place where I feel so alive, I can barely put it into words. It is as if something inside of me is unlocked. Whether I am performing in a play, as I did in my school days, or a dance performance, whatever I practiced during rehearsals shifts and transforms into a different kind of beast. A crazy beautiful contradiction of being completely not myself and the most true version of myself that exists.
After this most recent premiere of Marked Territory, a full-length contemporary dance duet created by Marouan and me, people who saw the show not only commented on the dance itself, but on the transformative power of our facial expressions. Both of us have backgrounds in theater and love the feeling of total absorption that happens during a performance. A few of my dance students said, “tu n’étais vraiment pas Ruby- you were really not Ruby.” And I suppose I was not, exactly. Up there, I may not be the day-to-day Ruby who they usually see as a teacher, but ever since that first moment that I stepped foot on a stage I have also felt as if this image of myself in the spotlight is the truest version I know.
On stage, nothing needs to be overly thought-through, everything is spontaneous. I am fully in the present moment with my body, mind and soul, functioning and acting as one. Undivided, non-dual. If that is not a person’s truest self, I don’t know what is. On top of which, to be able to share that feeling not only with a dance partner, but in front of over a hundred other people, is a gift. You feel as if you are a part of something communal and attached, like you could simply reach out and touch the spirit of each person who is seated and actively watching. I don’t know exactly what every audience member took away from our performance last weekend, but whatever I hear or feel after the show is never as important as the energy and feeling in the space while we are performing. Everything exists in that single moment.
Fleeting, with a concrete beginning and end.
A bittersweet reminder that nothing is perfect and nothing goes on forever.
Of course, there is a video of the whole show that allows the movement to live on, but I can’t help but feel a slight pang of disappointment whenever I watch videos of my own creations. A film just cannot quite capture that same tactile electricity that exists in a full, energized theater. The fact that this experience is shared is what makes it all the more important.
In a world where there appears to be more and more disconnect than ever between both individuals and communities, I believe strongly in the power of live performance in bringing people together. When I am on stage, I see myself reflected in the audience. Performing is often like holding a mirror up to different pieces and slivers of ourselves, whether reflecting the body, the intellect, or both. We all glint off of each other, exchanging and refracting energy within a relatively small box of a space.
Communal experiences like this often not only make us think outside of our own points of view, but they also have the power to tell us that we belong. We are a part of something bigger than the individual. Brene Brown wrote about these kinds of shared creative experiences in her book Braving the Wilderness, saying that “It’s the sharing of art that whispers ‘you’re not alone.’” I think this is a large part of why I feel so complete in front of an audience. In that moment, whether I am dancing with a group, a partner, or moving solo, I know with full assurance that I am not alone. Everything is in glowing harmony and, if all goes well, we bring the audience along with us for that fleeting, beautiful moment.
When I am on stage, I belong.