“What if I fall?
but oh, my darling…what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson
When did you stop dancing?
I once asked Baryshnikov how he leaped, so high and so free. How he broke the chains of gravity.
He said (and it’s the only thing he’s ever said to me, so listen up:) “When I leap, I do not think about the ground.”
So today in crossfit I had a crazy experience.
This was coming on the heels of an emotional drive there, in which I gave myself a pep talk. “It’s time for you to stop hiding,” I decided. “You thought it served you. It doesn’t. You put on weight, you slouched, you did everything you could in order to hide. You thought it would make you safe; that people wouldn’t look at you, then.
But safety isn’t going to help you rise. You’ve got to leave it behind now. Time to hold your head up. Expand. You’re afraid the scary men will come for you if you shine too brightly, aren’t you. Let them- you are strong now. You can defend yourself.”
There’s this thing called box jump. It seems a bit silly and not very difficult – you just jump onto a box. that’s it. with both feet at the same time. I couldn’t do it – I could do one foot at a time. I’d go as fast as possible; I’d alternate legs – I made it challenging for myself to make up for the fact that I was too afraid to take both feet off the ground at once.
Now – I can jump rope, and I can do it fast. Both feet at once. But I can’t go very high, or so I told myself, which kept me from progressing to more advanced moves…
today, my trainer Aaron Anderson said : try with both feet.
I said no, Aaron, this is a mental thing. I truly can’t .
He said, okay, so just stack two weights on the ground. Start low. do it with both feet.
So I did …
and I encountered a young me who used to fly. She was a dancer. She broke the chains of gravity and she really flew. She was proud of her leaps… I had forgotten all about her, and how those moments off the ground felt like the reason I was living. How flying became an obsession. How, in my pre-Juilliard days, my joy, my reason for living, was dance. I felt my spirit unleashed when I danced – I felt set free.
and then, I fell.
It’s not the falling that is the hard part. injuries heal, though my knee will never be the same …
it’s the fear that stays with you.
I was in a show – I had to dance, something I had choreographed myself, on a little walkway that was built around a live orchestra. The audience and orchestra were below me – and they seemed so FAR below me… and I fell one night.
It wasn’t a big deal. After that, I was more careful. But something happened …
I apparently wrote stories in order to protect myself.
“you are too heavy.”
“you are a more earthy dancer. Do modern, Stick to the ground.”
“you have big, strong legs. You weren’t made lightly – you weren’t made to fly.”
Now I know what it was that came up and choked me, when I spoke to Baryshnikov.
That longing came up again today. So silly – so small…. jumping on to a stack of weights, and jumping off again.
Every single jump (there were about 150 total, then I added another weight and did more)
I was terrified. Paralyzed. Legs shaking.
I was sobbing in crossfit; I could hear myself over the music, my breathing fast, panting like a terrified little girl.
I kept going.
This is a small thing….but each jump, I was taking that little girl by the hand and asking her to choose.
Leave the ground.
Leave the ground.
Don’t think about falling.
IT’s not the falling itself or the injuries – it’s the feeling of terror that shocks through your entire body when you feel the unknown, the loss of control. Unsure where you’ll land or what will happen next.
That blind panic has kept me grounded for so many years. In trying to protect myself from ever feeling that fear again, I was actually living inside it. I was knee-locked, grounded, weighted down, my wings clipped, never to feel the joy of reaching as high as I could again…
I had thrown stones at my own mockingbird, and I had killed her with the relentless weight of my fear.
So, here’s the thing: a big step can look ridiculous to anyone on the outside. Those weights looked like nothing. People thought I was injured; they were kind –
They didn’t know I was forcing myself through the scariest thing I have experienced in years.
But I did it.
It doesn’t matter how low that leap was. I did it, over and over until the little girl inside me released her stranglehold on the ground.
Leap. Leap. Do not think about the ground.
We are not here in this life to be as safe and comfortable as possible until the day we die.
Leap. For your dreams, for your crazy desire to feel free of this earth for one moment, for the thing your heart yearns for that comes up in your throat and chokes you with tears when you try to speak it aloud —
And do not think about the ground.