If there's one thing that gets me fired up, it's helping people to embrace their full authentic selves and find ways to express their unique gifts in the world. As I walk this journey myself, always rich and juicy but not always easy, something that has continually inspired me is reading stories of others who are committed to a similar path. People who, against all odds, found ways to open to the fullness of their being, the beauty, imperfections, struggle, and all of it, and transform their unique essence into music, art, dance, and other forms, landing squarely and unapologetically in the truth of exactly who they were born to be.
Are you with me? Over these next few months, I thought it would be fun to offer vignettes of some of these people who have been so meaningful and inspirational in my life, in the hopes that it can offer you some inspiration, too, on your own journey. And if you have ideas of other brave and wonderful people I should include in this series, please get in touch!
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to one of my very favorite choreographers of all time, Bob Fosse.
Jazz hands. Slumped shoulders. Top hats, white gloves, fishnets, turned in toes. The sideways shuffle. Hip pops and twitches. This is the iconic, utterly unique combination of quirky elements that comprised the choreography of Bob Fosse. (If you’re not familiar with his work, be sure to check out the links at the end of this blogpost; you're in for a treat!)
When I first witnessed the choreography of Bob Fosse as a teen, I was utterly captivated by this strangely beautiful and deliciously bizarre way of moving the body. When I was cast as a dancer in a production of Pippin years later, I absolutely loved how these movements felt inside my own body. I adored receiving permission to slouch, slink, and abandon the perpetual instruction to “turn out from the hip!” that had been ingrained in me from all my years of ballet training. Nope, we’re turning in now, baby. Dark. Subversive. Awkwardly divine.
At some point, I got curious about what Bob Fosse’s journey was in creating this incredibly unique and evocative style. What I found out inspired me so deeply and made me so happy that I wanted to shout it from the rooftops: “You just have to be who you are! You have permission to be you! Whatever you are, no matter how strange, is beautiful, and it is enough!”
Because you see, Bob Fosse wasn’t the “perfect” dancer. Instead of being able to flawlessly “turn out from the hip,” he was knock-kneed and pigeon-toed. Instead of holding his torso high and open, his shoulders slumped forward and he collapsed through the chest. He started losing his hair at an early age, and took to wearing hats all the time. For reasons Google wasn’t fully able to explain to me, apparently he hated his hands, and often covered them by wearing gloves.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Bob Fosse actually used his imperfections to create something mesmerizingly beautiful! Instead of killing himself working on his turnout, he celebrated his pigeon toes! Instead of standing up straight, he exaggerated his own posture and found the sensuality, darkness, and awkward beauty in this stance. Hats and gloves, instead of covering up imperfections, became objects of play: hats were a vantage point under which dancers could peer with a sly, sideways glance, and white gloves illuminated splayed fingers in perfect articulation that told an entire story all their own.
By exaggerating and celebrating the strange beauty that was so perfectly him, Fosse created a dance form that resonated deep in the core of so many of us. From the world of ballet, pink and fluffy and perfect, came this exploration and celebration of the darker side of humanity. While ballet features movements that originate from the extension of the arms and legs, Fosse created movements led from the pelvis or the hips. It was a more contracted, subtle movement, just as precise but more “come hither” than “here I come!” And audiences found themselves on the edge of their seats, leaning in, yearning to know and experience that darkness too.
And oh, the awkwardness! Because let’s face it, life is awkward. Why pretend otherwise? What if we could actually fully embrace the awkwardness, allowing it to blossom like a flower within our bodies? What if, instead of hiding it and hoping no one sees, we actually celebrated it? Here I am, imperfect, strange, dark. Here I am, wanting to hide and wanting to be seen at the same time. Here I am, perfectly imperfect.
Which brings me to a challenge for you, if you dare to accept it. Why not create our own dance of imperfection? Choose an area of your body that feels “imperfect” to you. A place that causes you pain, physically or emotionally. An area where you habitually hold tension. A part that you don’t like the look of. In my own exploration, I chose to work with my lower back, which has an exaggerated arch that causes me physical pain sometimes and also created difficulty for me when I was performing in the dance company. I also worked with my thumbs, particularly my right one, which habitually stiffens and holds tension. And my shoulders which, like Fosse's, tend to roll forward.
Choose one or several areas to work with, but begin by working with them one at a time. Really explore how it feels to move this place in your body. Not trying to fix it, like we usually do, but just fully experiencing it. If you like, work in front of a mirror and see how it looks from the outside. Then allow movements to originate from this place in you, and ripple out through your whole body. Again, not trying to change it, just celebrating and discovering the beauty within it. When you feel complete with one area, you might move to a different area. After you’ve explored the places you’d like to explore, you might try putting them all together into a dance that is all your own. You might think about what kind of music would go with this dance, put it on, and continue to move your body in whatever way feels most delightful to you.
Want to uplevel? Do this exercise with a friend and teach each other your dances of imperfection. Seeing how our “flaws” look when someone else is exploring and expressing them can help us see how beautiful they actually are! And feeling another person’s dance in our own body can expand our own movement vocabulary and can help us to know them more deeply. Allowing ourselves to know and be known in this place of deep vulnerability, and the celebration of that vulnerability, can be transformative.
Please let me know how it goes for you! I’d love to hear about your experience. And again, please let me know about the people who most inspire YOU!
Wishing you a magical holiday and a joyful and transformative New Year!
To learn more about Bob Fosse, be sure to check out these links:
Mein Herr from Cabaret, featuring Liza Minnelli
Who's Got the Pain? from Damn Yankees, featuring Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon