Performing through Pain
At the risk of getting too personal, I've been going through a lot lately.
Well... I say "lately"... but I've really been an emotional wreck ever since battling postpartum depression after having my son. Life changed so quickly, my body changed even quicker, and my brain felt stuck on Zombie mode. Years later, there are ups and downs. I maintain a thin veneer of happiness, but internally I'm battling many different things. I think many performers can relate.
Between my full-time job, and getting my Master's, and full-time motherhood, and paying all the bills myself (daycare, speech therapy, rent, phone, Internet, food, transportation, blah, blah blah), I feel like a shell of a person by 7 p.m. everyday, regardless of whether I have a show that night. And no one thanks me, either. Everything I do is pretty thankless. In my non-showgirl life, I feel invisible, unappreciated, mousy, and overlooked. And because of my own self-esteem issues, I am generally okay with being invisible. It's a familiar feeling, one I've always felt, and the invisibility and lack of appreciation is almost a sad comfort sometimes. (Yes, I'm looking for a therapist. Suggestions welcome.)
I don't talk about the things I go through on social media because I feel like people will hate me for it. I feel like I will be immediately judged, and no one will ever look at me as a "fun" and "happy" performer again. I tell myself that I am too new of a performer to bare my soul to others. I tell myself that my problems don't compare to real problems that others may be experiencing, like extreme poverty or physical abuse or major health issues.
So I swallow the pain. I paint on a new face, careful to conceal, and I step onstage into the lights and I perform. I try to leave all my pain there on the stage, hiding in plain sight for the audience to consume. But, unlike in my first year of burlesque, the pain doesn't go away after my performance. It just kinda... leaves my mind/body for 5 minutes, and then follows me as I leave the stage. A semi-permanent shadow, so to speak.
Performing through pain has become a common occurrence for me this year. For a while I didn't know whether it was healthy or not. I don't talk to many people about it, as I try to generally keep a happy attitude backstage. But it's there, lurking beneath the surface.
I've actually come to terms with it now. Burlesque has moved from being a hobby, to being more of a part-time job that I love dearly. I think if my love of burlesque didn't come from a natural place, it'd be harder for me to perform while sad. But because burlesque is in my bones, I try to give whatever I'm feeling to the audience. There are certain shows where the audience wants an actress -- they want a character, a cutie or a vamp or a pinup or a seductress or whatever -- and because I call myself a professional, I give them what they are paying to see. But there are other shows where I have a bit more freedom, and these are the shows where I use my body to say all the things I can't say on social media. I'm not sure if it translates to the audience, and my "shadow" is always waiting for me when I get offstage, but in those moments I feel exquisitely free from all my pain.
A month before I discovered burlesque, I was riding the train home from work listening to music through my headphones when a certain song I loved came on. I was so fucking depressed... I listened to that song over and over. When I got home, I threw off my clothes, jumped on my bed, danced, and sang to that song until I was out of breath and crying. It felt so, so good -- my body felt like it was on fire, my arms were covered in goosebumps, and I felt wild and free, like I could break off running and never stop. I felt lifted.
Dancing still lifts me up like that.
In these times where I feel emotional and spiritual unease, I try to remember those "dancing goosebumps" and how they make me feel. When I go online and am threatened with toxic internal thoughts comparing myself to this or that performer with this or that booking or costume, I remember... hey, girl, dancing is supposed to be UPLIFTING. And I pull myself away, breathe, and go fucking dance.
I don't really know why I wrote this post... I guess because it felt almost dishonest not to. If any other performers are reeling from a painful period of your life, I challenge you to go fucking dance. Don't think about any particular "burlesque choreo"... don't plan out a special costume first ... don't compare yourself to the performers you look up to... just dance it out and see how you feel afterwards.
If you're anything like me, that pain might go away for a few moments, and those moments may be enough for you to gain the confidence you need to make your next move away from the pain.
Until next time,