29th July 2021

Meditation For Performers

meditation for performers

This past summer I had the opportunity to work with some of the best young dancers from all around the world. I was invited by choreographer Stacey Tookey to teach meditation and goal setting at her unique dance intensive, Camp Protégé, held in Alberta, Canada. The dancers were exposed to the most cutting-edge training in contemporary dance, yoga, improvisation, nutrition, and anatomy. The week was so profound and healing for the campers and faculty alike. I am going to try to give the experience justice, through my words, hoping that the spirit of Camp Protégé will continue to inspire not only those who attended but readers throughout the world.

Camp started with buzzing energy – from the students and the faculty’s excitement to reconnect, nerves about living up to expectations, and fears of being worthy amongst such high caliber of talent. The pulse felt similar to my first weeks at Juilliard or playing “Baby” in the national tour of Dirty Dancing.

It seems artists are constantly questioning their worthiness. It’s common for me to feel like an imposter every time I start a new project, even though my resume says otherwise.

I intimately saw and understood the excitement, nerves, and fears of everyone around me as I was feeling these exact emotions. After settling into our cabins and sharing a meal together, we had a brief circle introduction, taking a moment to see and hear everyone, and then dove into the deepest parts of our hearts through a meditation practice. My aspiration leading this first practice was to remind the students and faculty of their innate worthiness by touching their fundamental goodness, beyond talents and expertise.

I believe that one major reason artists question their worthiness is because we equate self-value with our work.

When dancing, acting, or singing is going well, we feel on top of the world, however, suddenly when we face injury, growth spurts/pains or unemployment, we feel completely worthless. I was taught in high school that it is important to live a balanced life socially, professionally (dancing) and personally. However, the reality is that my passion for dance was so vast it seemed to affect the other two dramatically, even with a conscious effort not to put all my eggs in the “dance basket” so to speak. So how do we begin to know and trust the mere essence of ourselves, beneath talent, relationships, and passions?

I believe to answer this question we must first learn how to take our seat in the world. I am so grateful for the Shambhala meditation practice, which has taught me how to do just that and so I used it as inspiration for this first meditation. It begins with a body scan. This can be an intense experience for dancers as our bodies hold a lot of emotions and often dancers avoid the painful parts in order to push through.

After the body scan, we ask ourselves, “How am I?” Whatever our answer is, it’s VALUABLE.

If we are feeling sad, we don’t try to push it away. Same goes for feeling nervous or insecure. This is honest information about our current state. Again this can be foreign to dancers as it’s rare we’re told to sit with everything we feel. From here we place our hand on our heart and say to ourselves “I am worthy.” I like to have students feel their own unique crowns on top of their heads and feel the weight of their ornate robes. I tell them to imagine that they are sitting on a throne. For me now, when I am feeling intimidated or nervous, I simply imagine my crown on top of my head and it helps me touch my innate worthiness. Finally, the practice closes with touching our throne, or seat, to connect to our lineage. For these dancers I had them connect to their families (many of which were in another country), friends, dance teachers and even pets. This helps us remember that no matter where we are or what we’re doing, these important people and creatures are with us. This roots us and gives us a sense of security.

From this place of innate worthiness and connection to one’s true self or soul, I led a goal setting meditation. I have been working as an educator for Lululemon this past year and I am very inspired by their goal setting model, so I used it as our roadmap.

I had them visualize themselves 5 years from now, starting with waking up. Where are they? What does their room look like? Who is beside them or in the apartment or house? I had them be as specific as they possibly could. Then I had them get ready for the day. What are they dressing for? School? Work? Where do they go to school? What is their profession? Again being as specific as possible. Then I had them make their way to wherever they were going and however they were going to get there. I had them see the building or place they were about to enter and connect to how it made them feel. Were they excited? Nervous? Confident? What was happening today specifically at school or at work?

Then I had them enter the space and begin their work. Once more, I had them connect to how their work made them feel. Next, I had them leave the space. Did someone pick them up? Did they have plans for their evening? Who were they dying to tell all about their day? Finally, I had them imagine getting back into bed, putting their heads on their pillow and saying three things they were grateful for that day. When the meditation was over I had them write whatever they could remember. After reviewing their imagined day, I had them create goals to accomplish within the next 5 years in order to experience that day.

I had them make one goal for each of these 3 categories: health, career and personal.

In order to accomplish these goals 5 years from now, I had them also inscribe “one-year” goals that would set them up for success. Again they were to choose one health goal, one career goal, and one personal goal. Lastly, I had them commit to goals for the week that would set them up for their year ahead according to their health, career and personal aspirations.

I am a huge believer in goal setting as I pay tribute in my career to my 10-year-old self who dreamed of going to Juilliard and dancing for Cirque du Soleil. However, I believe we need to set goals from a place of true connection to oneself as the noise of others can distract us from what our souls truly want to pursue. I also believe we need to set our goals from a place of worthiness, as unlike my 10-year-old self, teenagers and adults seem to battle doubt, the voice that says, “Why me?”

Throughout the week I had incredible follow-up discussions with students and faculty. A constant theme was that it helped set them up for the week so they could truly be present and absorb all of the amazing information they were receiving. It just took an hour to bring us into ourselves and began an inspiring unveiling which continued to unfold throughout the week. This is where exploration of humanity can truly begin.

As artists, I feel like it is our act of service to society to bravely explore our own humanity so that we may inspire others to sense theirs. I believe there is a wealth of potential to heal our world through courageous acts of the heart.

By the end of camp, our heartbeats had aligned. It helped to be primarily unplugged, as we were out in the country with no cellular service. I left feeling an enormous sense of faith in humanity and gratitude for the incredible gift of life itself. As artists we are so lucky to find profound meaning in our work, however, sometimes that doesn’t translate to meaning or purpose within ourselves.

My hope is that through sharing the work I am doing within myself, I might inspire other artists to find worthiness within themselves. As we heal, we can then go out and heal our world.


Also by: Gillian Abbott:

Why Am I An Actor?

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Gillian Abbott made her National Tour debut as “Baby” in Dirty Dancing and her television debut on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. She has performed in choreographer Stacey Tookey’s "Moments Defined", The Metropolitan Opera’s "Prince Igor" and "MacBeth", and Cirque du Soleil's Beatles "LOVE". She is a proud graduate of The Juilliard School and feels blessed to have begun her journey in Calgary, Alberta among family, friends, and mentors. Thanks be to God!

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