Dancing on Air - III
Adam Young's Inspirational Story of Dancing - Cystic Fibrosis & Drug Addiction Brings TEDx Audience to their Feet
The following is Part III of a series of interviews with Adam Young, a 33-year-old award- winning ballet, tap, jazz, and contemporary dancer from Riverside, California, who has cystic fibrosis and received a double lung transplant at UCLA in May 2013. His professional career was put on hold in 2006 when cystic fibrosis caused his lung capacity to fall below 40%. Adam’s determination to overcome an addiction to pharmaceutical drugs through a 12-step program in 2010 allowed him to receive his lung transplant in 2013, which has in turn given Adam the chance to return to the stage and continue pursuing his passion for dance. On October 16, 2014 Adam shared his inspirational story at TEDx Riverside, receiving a standing ovation. Tokyo Journal talked to Adam about the experience.
TJ: The standing ovation you received at TEDx Riverside was heartwarming. Did your experience performing as a dancer help you connect with the audience?
YOUNG: My biggest thing with expressing emotion or performing for an audience is the same as how I prepared for TEDx. I believe you have to be willing to make yourself completely vulnerable to your audience. There’s a transfer that goes on between you and the audience; they’ll give back to you just as much as you give to them. It’s electric and you can tell during the performance if it’s happening. It was the same at TEDx. I wasn’t really holding anything back and I could tell I was reaching people on a real level. I think it’s about being completely open and honest. I have some practice with that as a recovering addict because we have to live transparently. I don’t keep any secrets in my heart today because I can’t afford it and it kind of bleeds into my professional life too.
TJ: How did you prepare for TEDx?
YOUNG: It was a lot of work. I had two coaches that I worked with for drafts and rehearsals of my speech. We did four or five rehearsals. I am lucky because I’m on dis- ability so I could have a lot of free time. For an entire month before the presentation, I worked on it pretty much all day every day. Right before I went on stage my coach said, “Look, you’ve done the work. You’ve worked harder and rehearsed it more than any of my other speakers. You know you know this. The audience is great out there. Now just go out there and have fun and enjoy it.” So that’s what I tried to do.
TJ: In the presentation you showed a video of a dance lesson you had taken recently. How long had it been since you had previously danced?
YOUNG: I took a dance class 10 days before TEDx and before that I hadn’t been at a ballet bar for 10 years. It was pretty emotional. I got a little weepy afterwards when I got home but there was a moment when Michel, the teacher, was demonstrating what to do and while standing at the bar, I thought, when I’m here I’m the happiest. Yeah, I’ve found pathways to happiness since then but stepping up to that bar after 10 years reaffirmed that that is where I am supposed to be.
TJ: What was the most challenging part of giving the presentation?
YOUNG: It was a big audience: 1,600 people for my first time speaking was a lot. Before I went on I said to my coach backstage, “This is all just a frame of mind. It’s a 20-minute speech and a lot can happen in 20 minutes. I can go out there and just kind of ease into it or I could just go out there and own it right now and see what happens.” So I took a deep breath and tried to transfer all my nervous energy into excited energy, which I learned from my years of dancing. I just tried to get to the point of saying, “Get me on that stage. I can’t wait to get out there!” instead of, “Oh, God! I have to go out there.”
TJ: What did you enjoy the most about it?
YOUNG: I’m not going to lie, I love being the center of attention and I love the stage. I had never spoken in front of an audience and I have to admit it was nice to be able to perform without being exhausted and covered in sweat after. So it was like, cool, I get all the attention without having to work my ass off. You know what the biggest thing was? I bared my soul and my story. I tried to really show me and all the emotions I’ve been through–the dark and light, and lay down my entire story and what I’ve been through. For them to get it and to give a standing ovation was just so amazing. I cried when I got off stage because I was so overwhelmed. I’ve never asked for recognition for my story and this was unbelievably rewarding. tj
To be continued. For a link to the TEDx video or to read Adam Young’s blog go to www.cfdancer.com
The complete article can be found in Issue #276 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.