Welcome back to part two on my conversation with Nathalie Alcime, class of 2007! Let’s pick up where we left off…
Funny story: the year is 2013. We are doing a production of The Wiz and an Alcime has the role of Aunt Em. She delivers a brilliant performance of “The Feeling We Once Had” and ten years later, I am utterly convinced that it was Nathalie. Of course, it wasn’t; it was her younger sister Jocenelle! (That’s what happens to an older brain – it’s like Swiss cheese.) Nathalie had never participated in Thespians!
Here’s the question I had always asked myself about Nathalie: how did someone with so much passion and talent for music and movement not find a home in Thespians?
I was pretty shy when it came to performances. Mr. Weber was my band teacher and it took a lot for him to convince me to do a trumpet solo. I was terrified and I’m so thankful for my friends; they were pretty encouraging.
She noted that the social dynamics of the school were fairly well-rounded and blended together easily. There weren’t the stereotypical “cliques” that often exist in high schools, and I would argue that is still the case today. So many Spring Valley kids are multitalented; they’ll play on sports teams and also happily participate in Thespian activities if they can make the schedules work. But even with all of that encouraging support around her, and the fact that she had lots of experience singing in church, Nathalie tended to stay in her protective shell at school.
It didn’t matter that I sang all the time in church. It’s totally different when you’re in a different place and different group of people that you’re not used to singing for, or seeing a different side of you. And that’s probably why I never did Thespians – I was just terrified of performing.
Of course, that fear has completely disappeared as an adult and she is all too happy to belt out a tune anytime (see part one!).
Safety in the dance studio
It is always interesting to me how performance anxiety affects people in different ways. For someone who loved music and dance so much, and who had such strength of character, Nathalie rarely stepped into the spotlight, save for an occasional National Anthem performance. She could easily dance in the studio, perform in concerts and color guard for marching band because she could blend in with the crowd. She needed time to develop her confidence before going solo.
It was a safe space. You taught us in a way to be comfortable in who we are, and if we didn’t know who we are, it was a safe space to explore who we are. Everybody who walks into the classroom is a dancer. That was such a different perspective for me. I had started a dance team at my church, but I was pretty insecure about that.
Nathalie had followed her friends into dance. Prior to taking class at school, she had taken a leap and formed a dance troupe in her church. Knowing she needed to learn more about the craft to keep up with her friends, she enrolled in my class in her senior year. She was no longer the follower; she was now a leader, a creator, and she needed to figure out how to do that effectively.
That was another reason why I did dance in my senior year; to be able to learn a little bit more about what creativity looked like and how to be comfortable with my body.
Part of the confidence issue for Nathalie was related to the standard body type for dance that has been set in the performing arts community. For a long time, people who didn’t fit the standard, who had larger body types with curves, have historically not been accepted as dancers.
That was another thing I learned in the classroom: be comfortable with your body because that’s how you’re made and you don’t have to look or make yourself be like somebody else. You just be you.
She appreciated being in a learning space where bodies of all types learn how to dance all at once. When you are comfortable in your own skin, your confidence can carry you further. Once she felt more comfortable in class, Nathalie absorbed many lessons from the dance studio and carried them throughout her life. To name a few:
- Know your self-worth. Seeing what my value is, knowing what it is, and then walking confidently in that. It helps you to continue to pursue consistency.
- Do not walk in shame. There isn’t anything that you need to change about yourself. If you were designed this way, it’s because you were supposed to be designed that way.
- Give yourself permission to make mistakes. I’m such a perfectionist since I was little and sometimes I still struggle with it now. Embrace your mistakes and imperfections because that’s what makes you become a better person. The only way to succeed is to learn from your mistakes.
What is the value of arts in education?
In our conversation, Nathalie reflected all of the things that we have come to value most as arts educators. In schools, there is a looming sense is that you must validate your work through testing, numbers and statistics. The problem is, it is so difficult for arts educators to quantify and create data points that show student progress; how do you quantify a connection to a feeling or an epiphany? How do you put a number to the emergence of courage or the building of community?
Maybe that’s another reason why I’m doing this podcast: to collect the “data” from real people who have experienced, in depth, a performing arts education that has stuck with them. Arts education provides the stuff that builds a person’s character, often changing their life path (for the better) so they can make stronger decisions leading to more personally satisfying adult lives.
Read my blog post from May 2022 all about the value of arts in education.
In the studio, Nathalie recalled so many things that impacted her: how repetition builds memory; finding her body placement; developing an increased awareness, empathy, and connection with others; the beauty of collaboration; and most importantly, learning that she was not alone. Despite having tons of friends and adults who supported her completely, she often dealt with the feeling of being alone. Connecting her experience in the studio to her world was a really important step to frame her future:
Dance is a community, and life is a community too.
These are the tools that help people make sense of the world when things are unclear. Every day, when I teach, I find myself trying to integrate their knowledge base; what they learn in an academic classroom can often be applied in the studio or in the theater and vice versa. Those connections give their overall education a more practical purpose than the tests they take at the end of a unit. They learn about centripetal force and how it affects their turning technique (physics!), the origin of a folk dance (social studies!), and how to be patient with themselves when they aren’t getting a skill (SEL!!).
It’s the first thing that schools cut out. Why would you do that? In so many ways, it touches every subject area, social and emotional intelligence. There are so many things about music that makes it different from other subjects because you can actually see it in every subject.
Battling imposter syndrome
In high school and college, Nathalie enjoyed a diverse cultural experience with a lot of support, which was fundamental to her personal growth. She had a similar experience to Darian Garner (episode 35): moving outside of Spring Valley into different parts of the country, what she considered “the real world,” her experience was no longer comfortably diverse. It had changed dramatically and as a result, she had to learn to strengthen her inner voice:
Remembering all the encouragements, the things my teachers have highlighted about me and remember that those things are true to who I am. Sometimes you’re going to step into places where you’re not going to get that support. Or, you’re not always going to get someone who understands who I am as a person or my culture and how that ties into my personality or how I do things.
That’s important to remember when the imposter syndrome sets in.
The imposter syndrome is so deadly, because you feel like you think you can’t do anything. The reality is that you actually can, it’s just a matter of perspective.
When that nasty feeling sets in, we have to remind ourselves that we have everything we need to do what we want to do. Really, it’s all about our self-perception, because most of the people we interact with view us in a much brighter light than we see ourselves. Imposter syndrome is self-imposed, and we have to Hulk-smash it in order to get out of our own way and accomplish the things of which we are capable.
Pursuing success by failing forward
I asked Nathalie what she might tell her adolescent self now to help ease the way.
Take more chances. I’ve always heard this term to ‘fail forward.’ Failing forward reminds you that you are human.
The other thing is to have fun! I was so serious!
That seriousness stemmed from the pressure not just to survive, but to succeed. Nathalie’s parents emigrated from Haiti, met in the states and started their family here. Like so many children of immigrants, Nathalie’s parents made sure she and her sister understood that she was here to get an education, be the best, make something of herself and never be in a position of not having food and shelter. The message was: You have to be the beacon of life for our family so that we don’t have to struggle.
When you are a serious person, one who plans, organizes, and follows through, the biggest challenge to your psyche is when life doesn’t go according to plan. Her latest uncomfortable life transition, which we talked about in detail in part one, has made tough work for her brain to accept that society’s definition of success is not always the truth.
I’ve had to really remind myself that everybody’s journey is different and that is okay. Just because you didn’t have that straight path doesn’t mean there wasn’t purpose.
Amen, sister. She shared some great insight about learning to be present in the moment so you can find joy in the process of allowing things to be revealed as you go.
Sometimes, we look for this big thing for us to feel that we’ve arrived. We’re always chasing the next best thing. What if the next best thing is what I’m doing right now?
She is getting more in touch with what it is that she really wants to do with her time on this Earth. More important, once she find what she wants, she wants to do it without settling for less.
I don’t want to go into the next thing and feel ‘oh, I can only be half of me here.’ I want to come into the next…whatever that is… to be able to bring all of me: all my flaws, all my successes, all my joys, all my sadness, where I don’t have to feel like I have to split myself. I can be in an environment, a community where they see who I am, accept me for me, and they can encourage me to be the better version of myself.
How has she changed since she grew up?
Nathalie talked about the differences in herself then and now. For one, life required that she mature a little earlier than normal and learn how to make decisions quickly. Out of that, she grew very confident in those abilities and never second-guessed the things she chose to pursue (or not pursue out of fear). Now that she has her fully adult brain in play, she has become more mindful of how others might perceive or even judge her choices and tends to overthink things. She definitely misses her adolescent confidence.
But what has improved as an adult is that she is much more aware and validating of her emotions. The culture of a Haitian immigrant household is not one that gives much space for processing feelings. If something triggering happened, you just kept going.
You’ve got to push through; don’t stop and think about how you feel. If you do, you’ll cry and you won’t get back up again. You’ve got to stay focused.
Part of the pressing drive to be successful, especially in a Haitian household, is the lack of a sense of vision for your own future.
If you ask ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ a lot of our parents wanted us to be doctors and lawyers, for the females, nurses. I definitely broke the mold of that. I’ve gotten a lot of heat from that, not being a nurse.
It is heartening for me to hear Nathalie to speak about her experience, wanting to contribute to the world as the best version of herself, absent of other people’s design for your success.
I am going to stay true to who I am and how I am designed.
Thankfully, Nathalie has fully embraced the gift of focusing on her mental health. She gives herself that space now to notice when she’s not okay and works to uncover where those feelings are coming from. Self-care has become a regular practice to help balance the serious worker that she has always been. She has a few things that she focuses on that help keep her centered:
- Faith. If I did not pray and I did not know Jesus, I would be losing my mind. This often applies when dealing with people and she feels compelled to hold back some “choice words” for them. She feels the benefits of prayer and reading the Bible to learn from challenging situations.
- Movies. She also like to get lost in on-screen entertainment. It’s a therapeutic activity: If I can’t figure out what my emotion is, I usually find it when I’m watching a show! I feel like I’m involved in the show; it’s very therapeutic because it helps me to stay in touch with my emotions.
- Movement. Walking, exercising, dancing: it all helps her to process her experience. She calls it mind breaks; she recognizes that she has tendencies to work straight through the day without a rest.
I am so grateful for my continued connection to Nathalie. Click the link below to watch all of part two, and if you haven’t already, check out her performance at the end of part one!
2 thoughts on “Changed for the Better: episode 36, part 2”
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