Saying yes

It’s finally over.  For the past two months I have been troubled by the fact that I was scheduled to perform a dance number in front of a live audience, during a live performance no less. That means what will be will be; if I make a mistake, I will not have the chance to redo it. There will be absolutely no cuts; the show must, and will, go on. Unlike a taped show, everyone involved in a live performance only has that one moment to do what must be done. Wait, “troubled” is not a very appropriate word. Anxious, scared, terrified is more like it — and if there was one word that meant all three, that would be the word that would best describe me.

Let’s backtrack a little here. I’m sure I have mentioned enough times in my past columns how shy I am, painfully so. I never liked performing even when I was in elementary or high school and I used to dread all those school programs that were de rigueur growing up. I enjoyed en masse performances, where everyone in class had to do the same thing but I hated spot/solo numbers. I would wriggle my way out of them every chance I got. College life was no different. But instead of spot numbers I had to deal with class presentations; it was bearable if I was part of a group but to do a presentation all by myself scared me enough to give me a real fever.

To this day Rizza, my funny friend from college, always guffaws at what she proclaims is “the irony of it all.” She remembers clearly how I would hide behind her during class presentations (what was I thinking? I was much taller and bigger than her). As a mater of fact, I did not know I was doing that until one teacher blurted out “Lucy, why are you hiding behind Rizza?” Rizza always says she cannot connect that girl from college to the girl who now appears on TV, and regularly at that.

I myself do not know how I landed here. There was no conscious effort; it was never even a dream or a wish to begin with. Sometimes you just go where the wind blows, you embrace what you are given, and you find yourself in places and spaces you never knew could exist for you.

The past three, maybe four, years for me have been growing-up years. By that I mean I have made a conscious attempt to stretch my personal limits and take concrete albeit baby steps outside my comfort zone. I don’t know when the awakening came but I just realized one day that I had this desire to conquer my fears, no matter how inconsequential, no matter how unfounded, they may be. Time has taught me not to question fear — if it’s there, it’s there. I will accept that. But I already know now that I can always choose to deal with it positively, and at the very least acknowledge it enough to propel me to work diligently at quelling it, in whatever way I can. I try to always remind myself gently that if I face my fear(s), in the process maybe I will find real freedom. I was tired of being always scared to even try. Why should I be so afraid? Really, what’s the worst that can happen anyway?

So I guess that was my mindset when I said yes to doing the ceremonial tee-off at a legit golf tournament three years ago (it was the Omega Cup in Davao). No biggie, you might think, except that I stupidly forgot I do not even play golf to begin with (where is the common sense there?). The day before the tee-off I was on the golf course, laughing my way through a crash course patiently given by Bong Lopez, a great and serious golfer himself. On the day of the tournament I was already shaking like a leaf. My sweet Jesus, what had I gotten myself into?

It was the same thing when I danced at the Meralco Theater two years ago. I said yes to do a rumba number, for a show that Edna Ledesma, my friend and ballroom teacher, was staging. On the day of the show when we were doing the final rehearsal, it dawned on me that I was the only non-ballroom dancer in a legit ballroom dancing show. I was in the company of amateurs and pros; me, a greenhorn just starting to learn the ropes of ballroom dancing for a couple of months. Again, what was I thinking? And yes, why do I do this to myself? That was the last thought on my mind before I stepped onstage to dance the rumba to the song Because Of You.

Grow. Explore and embrace the territory beyond my comfort zone, like any child would. I thought of that when I said yes to hosting. More so when I said yes to hosting a dance show on TV (that naturally would require me as the host to also dance from time to time). I think I say yes too much.

There have been many more opportunities in between but those I just mentioned are the majors. The one constant? I can get really makulit knocking on heaven’s doors. I pray, and I don’t mean that lightly. Maybe my prayers blossom primarily out of fear of what could happen to me while I expose myself to the great unknown but yes, I pray, simply but persistently and unceasingly, asking God and all His holy friends to just be with me and see me through all the things all my ignorant “yeses” have entailed. Damayan ba. I refuse to be in this alone; I will involve my friends Up There.

That said I think you will agree with me that it is no coincidence, really, that on that sunny day in Davao, heart thumping and knees shaking, I was able to do the ceremonial tee-off successfully at my first try. They say my ball actually flew over 150 yards, direct flight. At the Meralco Theater, I was able to finish the dance with no major mishaps — I did not forget my steps, I did not trip over my partner, my costume did not fall off, I did not make a fool of myself. Sure, I could have done better with the dance steps but given the time frame, I did what I could with what I had and what little I knew then.

But come to think of it now, even if the ball did not fly, and even if I did make a fool of myself there, so what? I can live with that. I know how to laugh at myself. All will be okay — besides, I do not have to take things, myself included, so seriously.

I ran all those thoughts through my mind again after I had said yes to do the live dance number. (What do you know? Of course I said yes again without thinking!) It was for the launch of the new TV5 and had all the makings of a very tricky and very technical performance — I had to do two quick changes within the three-minute dance, no stopping; the costumes had to come off as I was twirling and moving, in split seconds.

Twenty minutes before I had to go onstage I was waiting at the wings, armed with bananas (two of which I already gulped down) and a bottle of energy drink. I kept myself warmed up, stretching and moving around just so my mind and muscles could be busy with anything but fear and nerves. Several times I got tired so I stopped. But then my stomach would turn and I would seriously feel like throwing up. The logical thing to do was to just keep moving until I was actually breaking a sweat. I don’t know how but that helped. My hands did not feel as cold somehow, and my knees did not quiver as much.

Right before I went onstage I placed both feet in a very shallow puddle of soda (the real dancers taught me that; it makes dancing on even the most slippery floor manageable) and then I said a little “big prayer.” I had rehearsed religiously given the available time; it was now all up to Him. I had done my part, Your will be done, Lord.

The crowd was noisy but it really is true when they say you don’t hear a thing. It’s just the music and a loud hum, just like in the movies. The costumes came off in perfect timing; the dance was over in no time at all. The crowd was amazed at what they thought was “magic,” the way the costumes came off one after the other, from black to a fuchsia pink and finally to gold. It was glittery and fast. Literally, the most glittery and fastest three minutes of my life onstage.

I had to do the same dance, but with one less costume change, exactly five nights after, in a different venue, for a different audience. Except for the floor being extra slippery at the tail end of the dance because of all the confetti, I survived. Again. God is good.

Why do I do this to myself? Because it is more than an act of courage, it is a leap of faith. And I know now there is no such thing as small faith or big faith. Faith is either there or not there; as the Bible says, all you need of it is the size of a mustard seed.

We all have to do things we would rather not do but need to do. I have a wonderful job, I am part of a show I truly love and yes, there are portions of it I am not entirely comfortable with. But that’s okay.  I would like to think that facing my fear and stepping up to the challenge build character. And discipline. More importantly it stretches you in ways that both empower and enrich. It is empowering, not because you think you did a mighty fine job but because you had the courage to at least give it your best shot. That makes the experience enriching. That is the part of it that makes the heart soar.

Maybe I keep on doing this to myself because I know I can always pray boldly, anchoring my confidence not in myself but in God’s ability to watch over and take care of everything that concerns me; yes, even if it is a matter as petite as a live performance. For things both big and small there is always Him. If God brought me here then He will give me the grace to be here. That makes for a thought that never fails to bring peace to my heart.

I still am not half the dancer I would hope to one day be. Maybe time will find me in front of a live audience again, dancing with abandon the way I do at home, in the shower, in my bedroom, as if no one was watching me. But until that happens, at least I know that surviving and conquering my fear can really just be as easy as saying a little prayer. That is enough for now.

Yes, it’s finally over, this one. But I know that given my job there will be more to come. By then, I trust that it should not be so dreadful.

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