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Riley Knouse: Sugar plums dancing somewhat happily through my head

Riley Knouse

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This last weekend, I performed in the Nutcracker. It is a stressful, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved it. I also felt like I had to savor it more because it was my second-to-last Nutcracker performance.

“But Riley, why is second-to-last so important? It isn’t the last.”

That is true, however I started to realize going into performance week that I’ve been dancing in the Nutcracker for a while now. The thought that now, I’ll only have one more, is daunting and slightly terrifying.

If I’m not dancing to Tchaikovsky in the fall and winter, then what exactly am I doing?

So, I tried to enjoy every day of performance week. However, not many noticed. In fact, almost everyone thought that something was bothering me.

Since the 6th grade, I’ve refused to smile with teeth. My braces were awkward and showed off how bad my teeth were, so I decided that a closed-lipped smile was the safest route. Now my braces are off, but I still haven’t gotten back into the habit of actually smiling.

The more I concentrated on dancing, the easier it was for my smile to fall. I realized this when looking through the photos that a mother at my dance studio took of the dancers onstage. I consistently looked unamused and annoyed, even though that wasn’t what I was feeling at the time. One night in the wings, I was talking to this mom about how great her pictures were (they really are stunning), and laughed at how angry I looked. She then turned to me and said “I was wondering, is everything alright? You don’t really smile anymore.”

This hit me. I’d always thought that while I’m not the best dancer, at least I can perform. The mom didn’t mean what she said in a bad way; she was genuinely concerned. Thinking about this, I forced myself to smile as much as I could for the rest of the performance week, no matter how weird or uncomfortable I felt.

After two days, parents and backstage volunteers had noticed the difference. I was told multiple times that it was a good thing that I was smiling again.

When did I stop? I don’t know whether it was when I had started to feel like I was buried by homework and tests, or when the inevitable insecurities about my dancing started to set in. Either way, I had taken away the one thing that I truly felt confident in: performing.

I had confidence in my ability to make someone believe that I loved what I was doing, even if I felt like something was wrong. By forcing myself to smile, I started to enjoy myself more and more. The fake, cheesy smile slowly became genuine.

What I hope you can take away from this is that even if you only appear unhappy, try forcing yourself to smile. You will feel ridiculous at first. That can’t be helped. Along the way, though, you’ll eventually find yourself smiling naturally, and feeling more happy and less cheesy.

Give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen?

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Riley Knouse: Sugar plums dancing somewhat happily through my head