Pageantry and the Neverending Dance of Self Esteem

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Sciamachy–An argument or battle with an imaginary opponent or in other words…your internal demon.


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Yesterday, I attended what was my 29th year in the winter guard activity. For the first time in as many years as I can remember, I wasn’t at the show representing any particular unit. I wasn’t there as a judge or board member. I was just there with my 7 year old son watching. Now to be fair, I will be judging many of those units this season and I still consult. But yesterday, it was just about me as spectator. As I sat there watching guard after guard, watching staff members move on and off the floor making their way up top, I couldn’t help but think of the many years I’ve made that trek to the top of the stands at the first show of the season, praying that the show I had spent weeks putting together wouldn’t result in a total performer first show meltdown or a score indicating that I should slink away with my head held down in shame, because the design was nothing but a bag of proverbial ass. As I sat there into the night with my 7 year old giving his own commentary that he liked the horse show better than that show with the green flags, I couldn’t but think and reminisce about all the guards and staff’s I had been a part of. I found it interesting that with all my success, it was my failures that kept coming back to me.

Now, I realize that the term “failure” is as subjective as the shows we judge and I realize that what we as individuals see as failure, is oftentimes a success in the eyes of our fans. I also realize that my inner demon is harder on me than any judge could possibly be.  (Bob Thomas that sentence is specifically for you. Kisses. And yes…you were usually right.)When I consult with a guard I constantly think, “God please don’t let me lead them down the wrong path.” I give advice, but can’t often second guess myself long after I’ve left the gym. Self-esteem is a killer in this activity and most of us struggle with it. Yesterday, I was asked by three guards to take a look at their video or come to their gym and offer feedback. Someone even said that it would be an honor to have me evaluate their show. My mind said, “Yeah. Whatever Shelba. You couldn’t possibly offer them what some designer somewhere with a closet full of medals could.” On the outside I said, “Sure. I guess.”

In the pageantry arts, our lives are dictated by the seasons. A new year starts in mid-January or mid-June…not January 1st and just like New Years Eve, we often find ourselves evaluating our lives and what it all means. This year has been no different for me. Finding myself moving on with life, with less colorguard and more “real life,” has made this season even more reflective. The colorguard I was with for a decade went on without me in Orlando and I had mixed feelings of sadness, joy, and anger. Guard members that I taught in the 90’s not only have their own guards, but their own children as well. Time goes on and with time, means emotional and spiritual growth…if we let it.

Sitting and reflecting, I realized that I’m tired of being so hard on myself. Why can’t I just let someone compliment me without the internal negative dialog? Is it because I’m not a designer in a world that covets designers over all else? Is it because I’m a woman that have been called a bitch more times than I can count? Is it because I don’t have a closet full of medals? Is it because I was once a WGI judge and now I’m not? (Yes I said that out loud). Is it a feeling of not often being appreciated for much of the behind the scenes work that often goes unnoticed? Maybe it’s simply because I’ve seen finals more times from the stands than not. There are goals that haven’t been reached and it still gnaws at me, no matter how much I’ve accomplished. It could be that my personal career hasn’t reached the heights that I had hoped and colorguard is a projection of that. Perhaps it’s all of it. What I realized is that we live in a world that is dominated by scores and right or wrong…those scores matter. We have a judging community struggling to find its voice and what we hear is the joyous glee of Facebook posts with judges flying to Europe, Vegas, South Florida and the likes, in their first class upgrades and Delta Sky Lounge. (While many of us are heading to equally exotic places like Springfield, Mo.) Facebook has been a great place that pulls us all together, but it’s also somewhat a torture ground in the modern version of Dante. You rarely see the Facebook posts that say, “Well…my guard scored ten points lower than I thought they would today and now my life is a lie.” What we get is, “Well…it wasn’t the results I wanted, but it was a great first day and I’m so proud of my kids.” Those comments always make me wonder what the instructor is really thinking and can also make me wonder if maybe I’m just not as Zen as the rest of the activity. To be honest, I often look at a recap and think, “Dear God! F*** Me!” I can’t put that on Facebook, however.

I looked at all the guards on the floor last night and realized that over half of them were taught by someone I taught. That made me smile. When I looked into the stands at the judges, I realized I had been on a panel with all of them at some point in my history. That made me proud, as they were some very brilliant individuals. Whenever I would go out into the hallway, someone would stop me to talk. I never got a moment of peace. That too, gave me an internal smile. I realize that it’s up to me to start looking beyond the numbers and look at the legacy. Most people in this activity will never be nominated to any Hall of Fame and most of us will never know the joy of knowing that every time our guard walks on the floor we will be successful. As a judge, I have similar issues. I was told two years ago in critique that my commentary was not nearly as important as a someone who judges a regional. (True story). That night after the show I went back to the hotel and let the cruel comment go…under the auspices of many a strong drink…and later in the season realized that I never really grieved for the way that comment made me feel. I did with that comment what I do best and shoved it in the back of my soul and let it fester; dragging my self-esteem down with it, because it’s an activity where we get use to taking it on the chin. And unlike the instructor who said it, I actually felt bad watching the guard struggle all the way to Dayton. When I think about it, I have more experience than most judges today in terms of clock hours in the gym and have much to offer, but the comment still hurt.

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When I watched the guards last night, my self-esteem took a huge hit when I realized that A Class has become this enigma that I no longer grasp. I seriously couldn’t figure out what it was the class is trying to achieve and thought that maybe the activity has just left me behind. A Class has become (as I’ve written about often) a breeding ground for the World Class and not the training ground for young instructors I came to value so much. I felt like a big question mark dangled above my head as I internally tackled the idea that a sabre release from the tip, caught in a back hand on the hilt, by an ensemble, on the move, with a triple toe loop, was an A class skill and with and then I couldn’t help but remember that cruel instructors comment from critique. “You’re commentary is worthless.” That’s not what they said, but it’s how I heard it.

Driving home, my thoughts drifted in and out of love for the activity, pride in my former students, pride for the work I’ve accomplished both in the gym and out. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little nostalgic for the old days and a little sad, but I guess that’s what aging is. We exist in an activity where the older you get the choices get harder and harder. Do I quit and move on? Do I consult? Judge? Band mom? Board member? Spectator? I guess that it’s a mix of it all. The corporate world has taught me that reinventing myself every couple of years is a necessity to staying employable. The performing arts is no different. It isn’t prudent to stay in the past. You will get left behind. Two years ago I started this blog as an attempt to show the world of the pageantry arts that I’m more than that bitch tech that sat in the shadows of many a designer. I wanted to show people that I have a history, with a rich and deep love for the people who created and continue to recreate this wondrous activity. I wanted to give a voice for those who feel their voice has been oppressed by their own inner demon that tells them they aren’t worthy of the accolades of the activity.

So this season, I will seek to find all that is good within me and accept every compliment without my own judgment and my hope, is that you all do the same, because as was so evident last night…you’re all worth it. In the end, this activity of ours is nothing but a microcosm of the real world, where our own worth is often times derived from the success or the perceived success of those around us. We judge ourselves, based on the shell of what someone else wants to show us.

There is a Helen Reddy song called “Peaceful” that I just love and speaks to our own internal peace. Its lyrics, “Cause it’s oh, so peaceful here, There’s no one bending over my shoulder, Nobody breathing in my ear, oh so peaceful here,” is the mantra I take with me on the road and this year is about a peaceful mind that will find its way to self appreciation where the negative voice can no longer breathe in my ear.

Good luck to you all and I’ll see you in the gym.