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Year three of my taichi journey finds me onstage

... the continuing story of one Taichitoday student's evolution ...

One day early in my third year of taichi, our teacher announced to the class, “We’ve been invited to perform at this year’s Asian Festival at the Rolling Oaks Mall. I hope everyone will participate.” It was the first time I’d heard her recruit performers from the entire class. Before, performances were for a select group of students, those she’d identified who were far enough along in their taichi journey to demonstrate in front of an audience.


My immediate reaction was, I’m not ready for this. By then, I knew Yang 24 Form well (one of the forms she planned on demonstrating), but, once again, given the relapsing-remitting MS, my balance was off. I was no longer stable standing on one leg. The thought of attempting the kicks and stumbling made me cringe.


She then told us that the next class would be devoted solely to preparing for the performance. I had mixed feelings about this. I loved our classes, but I didn’t want to perform, so I was unsure about whether I should go that day.


In the end, I decided to skip class.


A day or so later, I talked to an advanced student about it. He asked, “Will you be joining us for the performance?” I responded by telling him that I wouldn’t be, that I didn’t feel ready. His response: “You are ready. You should do it. It will be fun for you.” I thanked him, but it didn’t change my mind. I wanted to do it right or not at all. But I decided to attend the festival anyway, to support my friends and watch a performance for the first time.


The Asian Festival was fantastic. Everyone looked great on stage. They demonstrated Yang style 24 form, Taichi 42 Competition form, and Taichi Fan. I’d never seen a fan performance before, and I was enthralled. The sight and sound of all the fans opening at the same time was exhilarating.


Regular classes resumed after that.  As we moved from winter to early spring, my balance fluctuated. I had good weeks and bad weeks, and there was no way to predict when it would change.


I was having a “good spell” several months later when my teacher approached me during a class break. “We’ve been invited to another performance. Would you be able to participate?” Oh wow. This was momentous. I’d never been personally invited to perform before. The thought of it made me a little anxious, but her reassurance that I didn’t need to kick at all if I was feeling unsteady (she suggested I just point my toe, something I’d never thought of before) and the advanced student’s encouraging words convinced me to give it a try. I told her yes.


Around this time, I began to practice daily and, sometimes, with other people. Several of the advanced students were gracious enough to give up their time to help me prepare. I grew more and more confident, and by the time of the performance, I felt physically and mentally ready. An extra plus: my balance was better than it had been in a long time.

The day of the performance, I got dressed early. My new tai chi uniform was a loose, black, silky, pajama-like outfit with gold accents, traditional Chinese buttons, and a bold, stylistic dragon on the front. I didn’t yet have dedicated taichi shoes (which I regretted), but looking at myself in the mirror, I was surprised at how official I looked. I was now truly “part of the club.” I felt so proud.


One of my advanced student helpers (by now, a close friend) and I carpooled to the event. Along the way, I thought about all the advice that she, our teacher, and other students had given me: focus on staying in sync with everyone, don’t worry if I make a mistake, relax, and, most importantly, have fun.


The event was a wellness fair at St. Philips’s College, and we were to perform on their spacious indoor basketball court. As there was plenty of room, our teacher arranged us in a staggered orientation instead of lining us up in perfect columns. This meant, of course, that I could not “hide” behind anyone like I’d envisioned. The audience would see me. But I wasn’t worried. I was to be in the second row surrounded by more experienced students, with a clear view of our teacher for most of the form.


Soon enough, it was our turn. We walked out in single file and then turned into our designated rows. When I reached my spot, I looked out at the audience. Medium-sized crowd, friendly-looking, close enough to enjoy the demonstration but probably too far away to notice any mistakes. Perfect.


The music started. I took a deep breath. And then we began moving.


First the Parting the Horse’s Mane movements. Then White Crane, Brush Knees, and Playing the Lute. So far so good. I wobbled a bit when we began walking backward, but I recovered quickly. Grasping the Birds’ Tails went nicely, as did both of the Single Whips. At one point, we were going faster than I’d practiced, but I did what I had been told to do and matched my pace with that of those around me.


Soon, it was time for the kicks. What to do? I’d been debating for days whether to attempt them or not. In the end, I decided to give it a go. And guess what? Success!


It was over all too soon. We gave our martial arts salute, bowed, and walked off the court, once again in a neat, single-file line.


Afterward, there were hugs and fist bumps and group photos, all of it with us happy, full of energy, bonded together by this special event. Several people, including my teacher, told me I had done well. This, more than anything else, made my day.


The thrill of performing was now in my blood. There would be, I would happily discover, future opportunities.


On to year four…


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