The Art of Bowing

For a ballerina, there is no greater feeling than when taking a bow at the end of a performance. In that moment all the hard work you’ve put in becomes worth it. All the moments of frustration, exhaustion, and fear that have led up to the performance melt away to the sound of a cheering crowd. The applause is overwhelming, the lights are beaming and the music plays loud. You had given your all to your dancing. You had felt so at home onstage — soaking in the experience and savoring each step, leap, and turn, executing tricks and developing your character.

It wasn’t perfect, it never will be. But you brought your best to each moment of the performance. Then it’s over, just like that. You stand in the wings wiping the sweat from your face. Your body is numb and your heart is beating fast. But you’re smiling. You try to remember what just happened, analyzing what had gone wrong or what went right. Then it is your time to take a bow.

You run onto the stage and the applause grows louder. You see them all for the first time — the audience that silently watched from beyond an invisible curtain. You didn’t know they were there but they had become part of your world. Enraptured in your story, captivated by beauty and movement and grace. Feeling emotions beyond words. Finally, you see them — clapping, cheering. You stand under the light feeling the energy. Basking in the joy of that community of love and their appreciation for what had just occurred on stage. Then you bow. This is the art of bowing in its simplest form. A moment cherished by every dancer.

I started thinking more about what bowing truly means. A bow is a very sacred movement in many cultures, yet a gesture that is mostly under-appreciated. To genuflect is to show respect, to show humility. It is a wordless display of gratitude – a moment of surrender.

Reflecting on what bowing meant to me as a ballerina, I asked myself: What was my intention while bowing? I realized that a curtsy at the end of a show was never meant to be a time when you were exulted or praised for your work. Where you basked in some imagined glory. It could be, but why? I feel there must be some deeper and purer intention to be had from that sublime gesture which is truly a privilege not accorded to many.

A dancer bows not to be thanked but to give thanks.

Ever since I could remember, I had tried to make curtain call a grounding and reverent experience. When I bow and curtsy, I silently thank the audience for watching; thank the stage for its sacred space, and most of all, thank the Spirit that moved within me.

And now, with this realization, it is my hope that my bows would always be moments of grace and humility, rather than of pride or ego. That no matter what happened during my performance I would always end up kneeling on the stage, bowing down to something much bigger than myself. Because my dancing should never be about me — it is about a shared joy. A radiant and infectious energy. A message merely channeled through me as the vessel.

Learning to bow onstage is great practice for learning to “bow” in our everyday lives. As I write this, I am currently going through some very rigorous training as I prepare to compete in two major international ballet competitions this summer. I am pouring myself fully into this work. I am learning and growing everyday.

But of course, the outcomes of these events remain unknown. Fear of failure has been tugging at my mind, trying to catch my attention. But instead of letting fear take over, I choose to come back to “the art of bowing”. I choose to focus on the NOW and block out the negativity by giving all my energy to creating my best work everyday. Giving my all to improve, to learn, to excel, and to become my best self. With this mindset, I am able to enjoy the process.

I also practice bowing to the unknown. Whether I win or lose, fail or succeed, it doesn’t really matter what happens in that arena of competition. What matters most is who I am becoming in the process of pursuing my dreams, and that I remain humble and grateful for whatever is about to take place.

Releasing the uncontrollable – in this case, the end result — is the most liberating lesson to be learned because only then can you take a leap of faith and achieve the impossible!

So, I bow to life as it is and as it will unfold. I bow to the joy of my work everyday. I bow to the people in my life supporting me. I bow to the Spirit that guides me, one day at a time. For all we truly have is today.

Today is a great day to get up and dance… And then to surrender and take a bow to whatever may arise because we chose to do that which we love.