I started dance at the age of 2. My mother was a ballroom dancer, she met my father dancing, my Aunt owned what was then the biggest ballroom dance school in WA, both sets of my grandparents danced, and my great-grandma, Ho Ho (pronounced “Hoo Hoo”), sewed my dance dresses and taught me as long as I kept moving, no one would notice the hem might not be perfectly straight. She’d say that every time. With a laugh.
That oft-remarked comment was extra funny because there’s no way one of Ho Ho’s hems would ever dare be imperfect.
When Ho Ho died, she took with her the endless delight of standing in her sewing room at the top of the home her husband had built with his own hands, like a skinny attic room, length of the house, bursting with sequins and fabric and threads and glues and diamontes and a particular smell – something I’ve never smelled since, so my adult brain has never been able to work out what it was – maybe pure excitement and anticipation mixed with the kind of love only hand sewing on 2397239487324 sequins with an individual seed bead for each delivers.
The room was always hot. Unless it was freezing. I have dreams about it still. There’s always a hot, fluro fabric swathe fanning about my face and I feel total comfort.
So, I grew up dancing. When I was 12, my dance school restructured and brought in voice lessons. Group singing became compulsory for anyone doing competitions or on the cheerleading squad, of which I was a member of both, and my Mum said to Miss Nola – head of voice – “Sure, give her a spot but don’t let her sing solo, she’s a much better dancer than singer.”
For once. Just once. My entire life. My mum was wrong.
Singing helped me find my voice.
It took me out of the chorus line – somewhere I never really fit, given I’d have to gaffer tape my boobs every time I danced professionally because even after dancing 7 days a week and running home most nights, living on Kavli crispbread and watermelon, I still out-curved most of my dance troupe mates.
And it put me in the spotlight.
Turned out, I was a bit of a belter.
And where I’d just always been a passable dancer – even at my best – I was something quite different given a microphone.
“The best set of pipes we’ve heard so far” was the comment when I auditioned for the QLD Conservatorium.
But, here’s the kicker.
When I look back now, I realise I was only ever half.
Talent, youth, enthusiasm, energy – sometimes it’s all so wasted on the young.
And I was young – so young. So silly. I’d danced every day of my life so I hit 20 never having had a job, not knowing how to use the washing machine, there was simply no time between school and dance to do anything else. I guess I was a little bit immature.
So when I toddled off to WAAPA and then the Conservatorium in QLD, I thought I was SO it and a bit. I mean, what 20 year old wouldn’t think they were the ants pants hearing “the best set of pipes…etc”?
I sang. Sang and danced and sang and acted and sang and sang and sang. In performances, backstage, on my bike riding through the Mackay cane toads (they pop, by the way), in shopping centres – both invited and uninvited! In pubs, in clubs and yes, on the back of a Monster truck in mud deep enough to sink up to your thigh in and, of course, I was wearing platforms.
When I look back now, I wish I could give that girl a shake.
She didn’t make it, and it’s not for lack of talent, or lack of trying.
It may have been lack of maturity.
Because what I didn’t know about singing then – what my copywriting career has taught me now – is it was never about just me.
OK, let me backtrack.
Then, when I was 12 – 20, and even beyond, before I had children, when I was still timestepping my way through my life trying to find my spot as a Musical Theatre performer – I thought the singing was all about me.
- Every time I took the stage it was because I wanted to be on stage.
- Every time I chose a song to belt to the back row it was because I wanted to belt that particular song.
- Every opportunity I said yes to, every group number I worked on, every trip I took or masterclass I signed up for or workshop I put my name in the hat to participate in.
It was all about me.
Every time I stepped on stage and found my place and felt the hot, hot lights of the theatre light up my face.
It was never about the audience.
Youth – right?
Then, 6 years ago, I started my copy career and things had changed. Oh goodness, how I’d transformed.
Having children, becoming unwell, getting a divorce with a newborn. All those things, they’d made me small, scared, and squeaky.
Gone was that belter of a young woman who lived her life lit up by the limelight and selfishly pursuing every darn thing that made her happy.
Now I was drab, sad, and a little bit lost.
And maturity had arrived, sure, but it had taken a bit of the shine off. You know, as life will do if and when you let it.
I found it oh, so easy to see the shine from my clients. I saw them glowing and powerful and taking up all the stage they could, and I helped them do it.
In my own copy, however, I thought I’d learned something from my previous, youthful self about not being the star of the show.
And I reasoned, therefore, that my copy should be all. about. my. audience.
I’d made the mistake of selfish immaturity once before, I sure wasn’t going to make it again.
Perhaps you’ve been given this advice too – write copy that’s not about you, but all about them.
Let me tell you, it’s total, absolute, utter balderdash.
Because who are you if you can’t showcase your own brilliance? Who can you be for someone else if you can’t turn the spotlight onto your own brand when no one else will? How will anyone ever appreciate the brilliant human you are – sent to help them solve whatever problem they have keeping them up at night – if they can’t hear your heartsong?
And this is what I’ve learned – from a lifetime of singing and a career of copywriting – the only two things I think I’ve ever been really, truly, good at.
It’s never all about you.
And it’s also never all about the audience.
What I wish I could tell that 20 year old now is to be both star and seat-holder. To have perspective and the intelligence to figure out how to feel the emotion of both. To not sing for herself, and not sing for the audience,
but sing for the magic that exists in the middle.
That ‘something’ – it hovers in between the creative’s soul and the consumer’s heart – it’s intangible, invisible, and it can only be created by the work being created to honour that ‘something’.
It’s a transfer, transformation, transmutation of what’s being delivered and how it’s being received. It’s elemental and fleeting, but powerful and life-changing.
And that’s what we have to sing for.
That magic between you.
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