Remove the Muzzle

As the newest trustee of the Sundance Institute, I recently had the great privilege of attending our theater labs in Park City with artists from all over the world.

I observed, spellbound, as writers and directors and actors and composers freely presented their theatrical works in progress.

It is an act of bravery to put your art on the line; to invite strangers in to share an intimate experience that is the reflection of the creator’s heart and mind.

To acknowledge that courage, Philip Himberg, Artistic Director of the Sundance Theater Program, shared the following story.

He told us about Gabrielle Roth, an iconic artist who wrote that in many Shamanic Societies if one came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited or depressed, they would ask four questions:

1.  When did you stop dancing?

2.  When did you stop singing?

3.  When did you stop being enchanted by stories?

4.  When did you stop finding the comfort in the sweet territory of silence?

These questions touched a nerve in me. So, with this essay, I throw my hat into the ring — to answer his call to acknowledge and celebrate the scary and exhilarating life force of the creative process.

How would you answer these questions? Here are my responses.

1.  At my ballet school in Toronto, there were two kinds of little girls: The ones who looked perfectly pink in their tutus and tiaras; who pursued the dream of becoming Clara in the Nutcracker Suite as if it were a real job. And then there was me: Awkward, gangly – the one who pirouetted kamikaze-style, knocking out Honey BooBoos on each side.  Among the adults, there was some discussion that I was too tall for ballet. But really, they were worried I was one fatal pas de deux away from inflicting a concussion on some Clara wannabe. And to be fair, they may have been right. In any case, I was six when I stopped dancing.

2. I stopped singing when, in third grade, my choirmaster requested I mouth the words, instead of actually singing them. It was, after all, a school fundraiser and my voice hadn’t “come out” yet, confused as to whether it was a soprano or an alto. I stopped singing when I was eight.

3. Thankfully, no one got to me early enough to knock out my enthusiasm for stories.  To this day, I read them. I write them. I live them. I breathe them. I am 63 years old.

4. My comfort in the sweet territory of silence was a gift of dumb luck, afforded me by my ‘only child’ status.  For those of you with siblings, permanent bite marks, and overdue therapy bills, we only children think that being sent to our rooms alone is a relief, not a punishment. Only children are hermetically clueless. We don’t feel the sting of familial rejection because we have no peers to be rejected by. Quiet is our pre-determined decibel level. Being comfortably alone is our birthright.

In the spirit of the profound Gabrielle Roth, and even though I am not a Shaman, I offer up my own question.

Are you allowing yourself to be unconditionally loved? 

When I met my husband, and confessed that I was afraid to sing out loud, he made a ton of CD’s filled with all kinds of music. Because we live in LA, and are always in a car, we now sing together (loudly with the windows open, to each other) — and apologies in advance to anyone else who happens to find themselves beside us on the 405 freeway.

Recently (and, yes, wine was involved), I started dancing for my husband in our living room. Forgive the visual, but I pirouetted — yes, still awkwardly. But instead of ‘judgey’ smirks, I received smiles and applause. At that moment, I removed the muzzle I had clamped on myself.

Dancing and singing and storytelling are all forms of language and communication. There is simply no incorrect imaginative way to express love. As for the sweet territory of silence, when I allowed someone to love me unconditionally, being alone became a state of grace, a place of comfort and of peace.

For so long, we have lived by the quote, “Dance as if no one is watching.” I beg to differ. I say,  “Dance as if someone who loves you is watching, and know that they love you all the same.”

Image credit: letterexpressit on Etsy

About the Author

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Nadine Schiff-Rosen is the co-author of three non-fiction books and the producer of several film and television productions. She was a Los Angeles based reporter for the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and the Vice President of Production for Michael Douglas' Stonebridge Entertainment. She is a writer living in Los Angeles and serves on the Board of United Friends of the Children and the Sundance Institute.

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