WLHQ: The Recovering Showgirl
“This is Jess, she’s a recovering showgirl.” Straight from the mouth of my delighted friend, I have now been introduced to a full table of new people. My jaw goes slack and my eyes grow frantically wide, as I quickly grapple with ways in which I can explain his statement to everyone present, including myself. I hadn’t even used the adjective dancer in an introductory sentence about myself in almost three years, and yet here’s my friend throwing around showgirl to complete strangers. However I managed to spin that ice-breaker of an introduction into an explanation of who I am and what I’m all about, escapes me now, but what remains is that feeling of unexpected panic and vulnerability. Nearly a year has past, and I still think about that moment, for what actually made me uncomfortable wasn’t the showgirl part at all, but rather the recovering part. I had never considered that my short career as a professional dancer was something that I was recovering from, and that blew my mind. Occasionally it seems, letting someone else introduce you, can be an insightful practice.
My problem with the word recovering, is the callous way it’s often used to describe a state of being that is subpar to normal, and therefore considered shameful. Yet to recover is to regain, or restore oneself, which requires incredible personal forgiveness and trust, two of the hardest things I’ve learned on my yoga mat. I am generally a very happy person, and will gladly find the good in people and in situations that are challenging. For instance, as my friends like to point out, I don’t do a very good job at holding grudges against my ex-boyfriends. Regardless of the length of their stay in my life, or how sad I was after a breakup, I am thankful for those relationships and what I’ve learned about myself from them. Don’t get me wrong, dating in NYC is killer. There are so many hot, interesting people here, that picking just one seems impossible, and completely brainless. It’s surprising actually, that for someone like me, with a long history of floopy romances that never took off, I still find myself diving head first into the mysterious unknown of the next wonderful guy, convinced there won’t be rocks underneath to crush me this time. I don’t know whether I should be awarded for my spectacular continued efforts, or punished for doing the same stupid thing over and over again. Yet Brené Brown’s 2010 TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability, addresses this practice of opening oneself up on a continual basis, despite the possibility of discomfort or failure. Brown explains how her research indicates that those who live with vulnerability, do not undermine its discomfort, but recognize that discomfort is necessary, in order to live a life with greater personal fulfillment. I haven’t done any research myself on the topic, yet I wholeheartedly agree with Brown, based solely on my knowledge that every time I step onto my yoga mat, I practice kindness, and forgive my daily mess-ups and allow myself the space to trust me again.
I began practicing yoga with a body riddled with dancing injuries and an ego full of false confidence. I was a cocky yoga student, who refused to hear my teacher’s advice about my body, above my own can & can’t-do list of yoga poses. Having spent years auditioning for Broadway shows, and hardly having a résumé to show for it, I was used to giving my all, and receiving nothing in return. The only response worse than hearing "thanks, but no thanks” after you’ve danced your heart out at an open call, is no response at all, and to constantly wonder what you could’ve done differently to get the part. My desire to have control in my life and control over my body, which never seemed to be good enough as a dancer, was how Ientered into the world of yoga. I’m constantly thankful that I walked into the studio I did, and learned how to be present on my mat, and in my life, and to experience vulnerability in a healthy way. At Saraswati’s Yoga Joint, under the soulful and intelligent tutelage of Donna Jackson, and Mitchel and Tracy Bleier, who now own yogapata, I slowly began to let my guard down, and embrace the fact that every day my yoga practice will be different, and that every day I wish to recognize and honor that.
Last night I had the pleasure of participating in a karma yoga class benefiting Africa Yoga Project at lululemon’s lab in Vancouver, BC. “Turn to face your partner. Raise your right arm, now walk toward each other…” Laughter circled the room, as we realized that Erin Anderson had guided us successfully into our yoga partner’s arms for a hug. I smiled, recognizing that familiar feeling of community, and silently thanked my own kula, who have helped and inspired me over the years. Recovering showgirl I may always be, but I will also be an open-hearted yogi who is not afraid to live with vulnerability.
~ Jess Roach is the Community Marketing Director and Head of Merchandise at Wanderlust Festival. As a dancer, she performed in national tours, industrials, music videos, rock concerts, crazy art exhibitions, hair shows, casino-themed events… basically all things showgirl-y/leggy.