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Saturday, 14 November 2015

Making a Song and Dance of it...for Mental Health

I haven't written much here about singing - something I used to do all the time in choirs, as a soloist, in musicals etc., perhaps as I sing so rarely (in public) these days, and only at people's weddings if they ask me. Singing has, though, always been a major part of my life, ever since I can remember (and actually even before that). I made myself extremely popular aged three when I participated enthusiastically with the singing of hymns in our local Catholic church by replacing the words and music to the hymns with the words and music to "Daisy Daisy", a much better and uplifting song in my three year old's opinion. (Clearly!)

"On a bicycle made for two" 

Having begun my singing career in front of audiences. Not appreciative audiences, mind, but audiences all the same, I found a joy in singing that I cannot say I have ever found in anything else.

"My heart wants to sing every song it hears."
I couldn't have said it better myself, Jules.

Aged five, I had memorised all the words (yes, I really do mean *all* the words) to The Sound of Music (among other things like "I Know Him So Well" and "Karma Chameleon". I enjoyed demonstrating my impressive memory for lyrics to Mrs Edley in the playground at break time, where the poor, poor woman had to listen to endless renditions of "The Hills are Alive" at 10am by a five year old. Another reason we need to respect teachers: their endless patience. I also joined my fellow TSOM enthusiasts organising short performances of "So Long, Farewell" during breaks, preceded by lengthy discussions on choreography and styling. Precocious, nous?

I'm about to burst into song here, can you tell?

Now then, there is a reason for telling you all these things about my brilliant childhood singing career, and that is that last week I was involved in two events where signing, and dare I say it, dancing even - were suddenly back in my life, front and centre stage.

On Friday night as I sat writing my post for the weekend a tweet popped up from Mind mentioning open auditions for a musical, to be put on (i.e. rehearsed and then performed) within forty-eight hours. Not only that, but auditions were to be held the following day!

Err YES. Yes, yes and YES!

At this point in the evening I knew that I had consciously committed myself to writing slides for a proposal at some point during the weekend, and my exhaustion levels were increasing, but still, I knew that I both had to have and wanted to have a break from work in order to be able to function and in order to decrease my anxiety levels. And, quite frankly, because I needed to have some fun - a work *life* balance. I decided that in support of Mind and to encourage myself to do something new and fun I would go and audition to show my support for this wonderful initiative which raises funds for a chosen charity with each 48 hour challenge.

Read Ian's blog for Mind about putting on shows and
managing his anxiety through his creativity

Saturday morning I went to bootcamp (which I've not done this week as I've been travelling) and after many, many squats, burpees and a whole host of exercises that made me wonder what mad decision had led me to commit to a Saturday class, in the rain, outside, where I was putting myself through a hell of endless press ups and sprints. Saturday afternoon (a glutton for 'punishment') I went to Paddington Academy to meet Ian and a whole host of extremely enthusiastic casting team, choreographers and more performers auditioning for this year's chosen show - Thoroughly Modern Millie - to be performed next year.

People who really can dance. Incredible.

Just for absolute clarity, since I have no video evidence to share with you (thank goodness) of my absolute inability to dance, I would like to make it clear that I can, in no way, dance. I can do the YMCA dance, the time warp, and I can do aerobics. And that's it. The wonderful women and men observing the dancers and teaching us the steps were kind and supportive in spite of this, and one of them has amazing photographic skills - she made it look like I can dance. Miraculous.

See? Doesn't this make it look like I can dance?
I really, really can't. At all.

I came away from the audition absolutely exhausted physically with the effort of performing and re-performing the jazz steps that I saw my fellow auditioners perform with an ease and snap I definitely did not exhibit, but it was just so, so much fun. The exertion and joy had eradicated my anxiety and I felt absolutely wonderful. I hope I remember more often the instant curative nature of dancing with others or alone, for the pure love of music and movement. Any exercise - running, walking, swimming and more helps my anxiety, but adding music is even more effective.

Me acting. I can actually act. Thank goodness
there's something I can do!

And there's more! On Sunday through Tuesday this week I was fortunate enough to attend the Power Shift Forum at the Said Business School in Oxford. More on that in a future post, but at the networking drinks in the Ashmoleum Museum on Sunday evening I was again so so lucky to be surrounded by music and kindness. The super cool and hugely talented In The Pink came to sing at the event, In The Pink are an all-female acapella group in Oxford comprising students both from Oxford and Oxford Brookes universities. And they are INCREDIBLE. Thirteen young women with a shared passion for music, just singing their hearts out in a way that made me laugh, grin, cry and just love everything about them.

The mighty and magical In The Pink

A few of them were kind enough to come and meet me the next day and over drinks me made plans for do a couple of events together next watch this space.

I don't know if singing or music is a passion of yours, but even if not, I have rediscovered how enriching and what a natural medicine doing something you love can be. I'm resolving to do more singing, bad piano playing, and even horrific dancing. I am smiling as I write this, and given that smiles are rare, I'll go in search of them in whatever way helps me to be here, smiling, writing this, living. Take care x

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