The following is an excerpt from 13: One Woman’s Sacred Journey to Discovering Her Greatest Power (Zenred / November 2, 2023 / $13.99).
I’M PINCHING MYSELF RIGHT NOW. As I stand in relevé with my arms out for balance, I wait while the photographer takes shot after shot.
And he’s taking them off my feet.
As a dancer, I’ve never been happy with my feet. I stared at professional ballerinas for years, their long lines and gorgeous arches and always wanted what they had. I wanted my foot to gracefully curve like theirs. As a teenager, I used to spend so much time stretching my feet, convincing myself that if I did that long enough, my bones would change, my feet would change. I hated the way my feet looked in pointe shoes.
I got on pointe when I was 13 and was over the moon. My mother bought me a ballet barre to practice with in my room, and I had her take a picture of me the day I got them. My hair in full 80s perm, with prep-rolled pants, and pink eyeshadow, I have the biggest grin on my face. Look at me!
Then, when I was 14, we moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and I went to an Arts and Academics Magnet School, where I was going to be taking two hours of dance a day. I was placed in the advanced dance class, but when I showed up for the first day of class, all my excitement drained. I was actually one of the worst students in the class. The 12 year olds were already doing fouette turns and pirouettes in the middle of the floor, and I was still at the barre. But instead of this destroying me, it was actually the real beginning of my dance training because of the teacher.
At the end of the school year, I won the award for Most Improved, and Mrs. Carmony gave me a solo. I went up to her and asked her the question that had been alive since that first day of class, “Why did you put me in the advanced level? I was so much lower than all the other girls in the class!”
Looking intently at me, she took me in and replied simply, “I saw potential in you.”
Looking back at the audition video I made to get into the school, I sat in awe of what she saw. I saw an awkward 13 year old who thought she was hot stuff on pointe, but actually lacked the real strength and technique to sustain being on pointe. Mrs. Carmony, being the amazing teacher she was, saw what I could become. Thank goodness for her. She helped me discover a confidence that was healthy.
When I was 15, my family then moved to Northern Virginia, as my father was stationed at the Pentagon, and I joined a local school of ballet. I was flying high from Mrs. Carmony, from my newfound strength and confidence and was so excited to continue my growth in ballet and dance. I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional ballerina, but I knew dance was going to be a part of my career, so I wanted to continue to train. Except the owners of the new school only saw my flaws. They held me back. They wouldn’t let me perform on pointe my first year and criticized me constantly. I still remember the owner’s long fingernail she would stick into my ribs, breathing into my ear, “Pull UP!” When they put up the cast list for The Nutcracker, my heart broke when I saw my other friends doing Snow on pointe, and I was with the younger kids in Waltz of the Flowers in flat ballet slippers.
This was when I really began to hate my feet, and while I continued to train at that studio for three years, I really doubted myself in dance and was finding an equal love in acting and singing. So, I combined the three.
Deciding to go into Musical Theater meant I didn’t need to continue pointe training in college, so I retired my pointe shoes, wore flat ballet shoes, and started dancing in heels. I grew a lot in college because I had a mentor, another woman who lifted me and saw my potential. I didn’t care so much about my feet, because I was finding my strength as a dancer again.
Then I became a Rockette at the age of 24 and started to see that same envy creep up as I watched many women in my line pose for pictures with striking bevels and arches that had that same beauty and grace I felt I could never achieve. Becoming a Rockette blew me away because I never pictured myself that way, but it was because of a professor from college that that job appeared. When I went to re-audition the following year to join the line again, I was told I “danced in an affected way” and was cut. The director who had sung my praises the year before now knocked me down. I was so confused.
Why did some teachers see potential and others my flaws? Was I a good dancer or not? Did I really look that terrible? I was working consistently as a performer, but it really stung when I got such cruel feedback, and I would just feel it was all my fault. It had to be the way I looked.
As a performer, I was always looking for side hustles, and would see ads for print modeling, yet would never apply. I didn’t have the feet they were looking for. I didn’t have that grace, and even though I was skinny, I never felt like I was skinny enough to be a model either.
When Jon dropped the bomb he was in love with a woman who was 25, every insecurity came rising, thundering from my being. I thought he saw me as beautiful. I thought he saw me for who I am, and now was facing the truth he didn’t want to see me ever again.
And a rage exploded. A rage towards all of the messaging that had said I wasn’t skinny enough, pretty enough, all the messages from those teachers, the directors, the choreographers, who only saw my flaws. And the rage rose as I saw the largest damage of all, how I saw myself. How all I saw was my flaws, for years. For years. I believed them. I believed Jon.
That final moment in couple’s therapy was like a lightning bolt in my body. I was being torn apart, but I was also making a decision there and then that I was enough. Jon had been my compass. In giving over all my power to how he saw me, I lost complete sight of how I saw myself. I had lost any grounding around my self worth. I could see how much I had steered completely off course, and now was crashing into the rocks, breaking upon the jagged edges.
That moment in therapy woke me up. I needed to create a way of seeing myself that wasn’t so critical, that wasn’t based on what others thought of me. I had no idea how to do it, because that was not what I was taught, but I was going to figure it out, and I was going to ask for all the help I needed, because as the lightning tore me apart, a very young part of me was birthed. And she was innocent, young and bright pink from the canal. I promised her I would care for her, nurture her and bring her home.
So when I found Zen, and they told me I had Buddha nature, that I was whole and complete as I am, I knew I was away from the rocks. I was building my boat, piece by piece. I had a lot to learn, but for the first time in my adult life, I was embracing my self-worth.
A month after I got back from Guatemala, I ran into a dear friend on the elevator at the Equity building in NYC, where I was going for an audition. He hadn’t seen me in months and knew what was going on. His face lit up when he entered the elevator and he said, “You are looking much better!”
And I smiled because I was feeling better. I had bought colorful clothes, and was settling into my neighborhood. It wasn’t because my friend said I looked better that I felt better. It was simply that I was feeling better, and he remarked on it.
And then, a few weeks ago, I got a message from a friend on FB asking if I was looking for print modeling work. She was close friends with the owner of a sock company who was looking for a dancer to be their model. My friend had seen photos of me recently dancing and was thinking of me. She also knew I was looking for work.
She saw me. Like Mrs. Carmony, like my friend in the elevator, like my mentor in college.
So, now I am here, in a studio, wearing the coolest socks, posing.
The photographer shows me one of the photos, and as I look down at the image, all that arises in my being is, “Wow, my feet look gorgeous!”
Nikól Rogers is a speaker, writer, and empowerment coach who helps people reclaim their confidence, expand their perfect audience, and bring their fearless vision to life. She has taught her ZenRed Method globally, which teaches you how to re-frame how you think, feel, and act from a place of power, rather than from fear or limiting beliefs. This has helped her clients become more confident versions of themselves and in alignment with their true purpose through her signature course, Powerful Presence. With a 20-year professional performance career that includes kicking eye high as a Rockette, Nikól has stood on countless stages. Her work is greatly influenced by her Zen practice, Qi Gong, Nonviolent Communication, and her decades of experience as an Artist. Nikól teaches that the heart of transformation lies in discovering who you are. It is this journey that unlocks a person’s greatest power and allows you to manifest a life you love. Her clients and students have published books, sold out events and concerts, created Solo shows, spoken on large stages, and created award winning businesses that feed and nourish them. Nikól lives in New Jersey with her life partner and family, and can be found regularly holding binoculars, standing in nature, and fawning over birds. 13: One Woman’s Sacred Journey to Discovering Her Greatest Power (Zenred / November 2, 2023 / $13.99).