Dylan Ratzlaff: Dancing Through Emotions
Our emotions are one of the most important tools we have. They indicate in which direction we are focusing—the wanted or the absence of wanted. There are many “should(s)” and “not should(s)” we believe about expressing our emotions. Negative or positive emotions, all of them have value. When we feel a negative emotion, it’s an opportunity for us to look within and alter the relationship and meaning we have been giving to that which triggers those emotions—if we chose to. When we are feeling positive emotions, it’s our soul saying, “hello” to us. Emotions are always in motion, and it’s important to express them and not try to hold them. By trying to hold onto anything, we are adding resistance to it, and emotions want to move, progress, become fuller. When emotions are expressed from the perspective of self-awareness, we naturally move to the steady state of love.
Artist Dylan Ratzlaff, a dancer and actress who can be seen starring in the role of Rachel in Lifetime’s movie An Amish Sin, begins, “I have always been told that I’m a spirited person. I like to think of that as kind of spicy. I always speak my mind. When I am dancing, I always found it super natural to express what I am feeling clearly showing outwards. I’m very in touch with how to use my emotions. To be so emotional—it’s something that’s come to my advantage. My family has a joke between my sister and I; she’s the sweet one and I’m the salty one. I’m very vivacious and fiery, which is something I’ve come to really love about myself.”
Judgment and comparison are natural to us. As we are observing and experiencing our world, without simultaneous judgment and comparison, we can’t make our preferences. The choice-making about what we like or dislike always comes from some kind of comparison. When we are aware of that, we become also aware that we don’t have to stay longer in the state of judgment or comparison for us to choose what we prefer to experience now.
“My sister being in the exact same industry as me, it’s so easy to compare to her, because we would often get the audition for the same things. We would help each other with all of our auditions. So, it’s like, ‘Oh, she did it that way. Why didn’t I do it that way? Is my way stupid?’ And you go through all these thoughts, which are taking the joy out of the process, and it becomes all about trying to reach this unattainable goal of pleasing everybody. That’s something I actually really had to work through. When I was younger, I was very hard on myself. I noticed I cared what other people thought including my other competitors. And so that comparison, always trying to attain a certain level of achievement, it was like, there was no room for failure. And to be honest, failure is where you actually get the most amount of growth. It’s something I was completely scared of, because of, ‘Oh, this dancer is doing something amazing. This actor is doing something amazing. Why am I not doing something amazing? I got to work harder!’ And it’s something still to this day I have to remind myself not to compare [myself] to other people. Then with my sister, just appreciate that we both have different assets, we’re very different. She’s going to go for something completely different than I’m going to go for because she has a different personality than me. I’m going to book a role because I fit that character. And then she’s going to book that role because she fits that character. There should be no comparison, if there’s an understanding that each person has their own amazing set of assets that they use to their advantage every day. When you can recognize what you’re especial at, then you can focus in on that and double up on that. And that can be what leads you to do amazing things—enjoying the process—being proud of myself. One of my counselors said, ‘Rest in your best.’ That’s such a simple saying, but it’s something we don’t do. We’re always striving for more. I think, especially with social media, seeing everyone’s lives on display—you’re always seeing other people’s accomplishments and wanting more. And so, resting in your best would be like, ‘I did that. That was awesome. Let’s take the time to journal about it and enjoy that moment.’ Then it all becomes way more joyful.” Dylan smiles and continues, “Sometimes I find myself being jealous when other people get something I want. Then I ask myself, ‘I love this person, but why am I so jealous?’ They booked a role, and I felt like this because I didn’t book it. So, it’s something I have to work through and realize, ‘No, they worked hard for it, and they match better with the character. And that’s what they got picked.’”
Success has many connotations, as, ultimately, we are the ones choosing the meaning we ascribe to the experience of success. Nobody can choose it for us. Even when we follow someone else’s guidelines of being successful, like with every belief we have, we are the once accepting and making it our truth. Therefore, we can always make a different choice and experience success in the way that resonates with us at any given moment. Nothing is static, everything moves and expands; therefore, every state of being is our choice and can become fuller and fuller. The expression of love and joy are most natural to us; that is why they feel so good. When we focus merely on the outcome, then we may lose the opportunity to enjoy the process of accomplishing things. In comparing the moment of accomplishment with the process of moving towards that accomplishment, the process takes the greater amount of time, so who wouldn’t like to enjoy it all?
Dylan goes on, “Something that I’ve been working through is, the way I used to look at success was by achieving great things, and constantly getting amazing projects. I was fortunate enough to book my first lead role on a TV show at 15 years old. Since then, things just kept coming in. And so, every year, I would think to myself, ‘Okay, what’s my big thing that can happen this year?’ It was this expectation that I had to book something big each year, in a sense. That’s what it used to be. But my parents along the process have been so awesome guiding me. And they said, ‘When you’re really successful is when you make a difference on the set.’ So, if we can make a great movie or a TV show, and everyone comes out better people, that’s when for me, it’s success. In my most recent lead role on Lifetime’s movie, An Amish Sin, there’s a lot of hard content about sexual abuse. And if I’m coming to set in a grumpy mood, and we’re filming hard scenes, and it’s hard for everyone to watch, no one’s going to be happy. No one’s going to feel like that was a day accomplished. They’re going to go home and probably complain. And so, I’ve shifted my mindset to [this]: if I can affect people in certain workplaces and make their day better, then that’s my job done. I think we can still get focused on the materialistic part of things when really, we need to look at how that process is created, and how we can make it a better process in a sense. If I do continue to get blessed with these great big projects, how can I make a difference when I’m on them? And if I never booked anything again, I’m still a dance teacher. So how can I affect those kids that I’m teaching? They’re like sponges; they’re listening to every single word you say. If I’m going to come in grumpy, they’re so intuitive, they’re going to pick up on that. Obviously, there’s bad days, but how can I come in there and change their life for the better. I’ve been trying to shift my mindset to that being a success, rather than all these accomplishments.”
Dancing is the expression of the union between the mind, body, and soul. The mind accepts the story, emanates manifestation of the story’s energy through the body movement wrapped in the infinite container of the soul, becoming a divine expression. Dancing is the perfect analogy of the creation process—we are the creators, creating the creation of us—all at once. Are you aware of the story of your life that are you are creating, choosing to be—therefore to act, and to experience?
“The expression of the body in dancing has a lot to do with what the story is. With acting, I found, being able to use my whole body and my dancing skills really help with my acting to make it a full body experience. I find sometimes [that] actors can get stuck in saying the lines, and they’re so concerned about what’s coming out of their mouth. When really it should be emulated through your whole body. And so that was a big thing used to telling a story through my body, and then it was just adding the words; that combined so well together. I was already used to what it would feel like in my body to tell the story. So, we should be able to tell a story or go through the scene with just our body, and then use the words enhance it. It’s like having three parts: it’s knowing what the story is, knowing the physicality of it and knowing the emotionality of it. You can’t have a scene with just emotionality and physicality and not know the story, or just story and physicality and not know the emotionality—we need all those parts together. And then acting also helps my dancing. I found a lot of teachers would give you a theme and say, ‘Okay, you’re in the hospital, that’s your theme of the dance.’ And we never fully gave it a whole storyline. So once I started to unpack scenes, and really delve into what this character is, what do they do in the morning, giving them a full story, I brought that into my dancing. Whenever I teach, I want to teach the full scope of the storyline, top to bottom what those dancers are going through. And sometimes you will have a jazz dance just for the fun of it. But if it has a storyline, the audience knows exactly what those dancers are going through. So it just gave me a better idea of how to portray a story through movement and what I needed to encompass in order for the audience to understand what the story was,” shares Dylan.
When we deny our innate freedom of love and joy, we deny the core essence of our being. It can be painful, but it doesn’t always have to be this way. Making the choice to live being in love with life is honoring the perfectly Divine creation we all are. Sometimes, we can feel that we are losing something when we chose to live the life that we consider is best for us. But only then, by regaining that which is our birthright to love, to be happy, to enjoy, to have fun, to create, and to express it all, we are actually having it all, as our life is no one’s but ours.
About her experience in becoming Rachel on the film An Amish Sin, Dylan, says, “Through the story of An Amish Sin, Rachel gained so much courage and really finds her voice. In a sense on the set, I was very intimidated with this being the lead role. But every day, I got to find myself a little bit more and got to realize that this is something that I was capable of. This was in my toolbox. I just needed to access it. I never thought in a million years that I would have my first lead or my lead role at 21 and be able to portray such an important story. It was heavy emotionally and it’s a story that matters. So, it’s something I wanted to get right so bad that I felt so fearful of not being able to do that at first. And with every day, Rachel discovers more and more courage which was the same thing with me. I just came out of it knowing that this is something that I can do. We never want to say that I did well, because it feels like somewhat cocky, but it’s not, you’re allowed to say, ‘I nailed that.’ And I did! It was something that I could be super proud of for being able to handle a role that was so intense. And so again, with Rachel growing, I grew in the same way.”
We become what we feel ourselves being. When we allow ourselves to be love, then we naturally become that beacon of love shining through every expression we chose to experience. The best we can do to each other is to take care of our state of being first; then, as we emanate that which we are, the ripple effect in inspiring others becomes infinite.
“There was one theme that kept running on during the set. It was like we were making a movie for one person. And if that one person found the courage to leave their situation similar to how Rachel did in the movie, we did our job. The context of the story is about the Amish community. But An Amish Sin transcends it—it’s more about how people in power abuse it and abuse people around you and how that’s not okay. Knowing that, it’s incredibly hard to leave that situation. For Rachel, it costs her everything, her family, her home, her security. That was one thing I kept going back to, with my family, I feel so secure. I know that they’ll be there to help me no matter what. And for Rachel, for her to leave the situation, she would lose all of that. So showing people that it is extremely difficult to leave that situation, but to be inspired by Rachel’s courage, and to do the same thing and leave their undesirable situation—if one person does that, that we’ve done our job with the movie,” passionately expresses Dylan. “I love dancing, and I will be dancing my whole life. But to be at a place where I can be working on set all the time and potentially doing a lead role that would be in movie theaters, that would be so amazing. I mean, like walking the red carpet, it would be so cool. And to have fun. I feel so fortunate to be so young and experiencing this.”
Every conversation that touches us with any level of resonance feels deep. We tend to forget to appreciate and praise our expression of life because it’s considered by many to be arrogant. But only those who are repressing their own worthiness wouldn’t celebrate the brilliance of others. When take a moment to acknowledge the magnificence of who we are continually becoming, only then can we start acknowledging the magnificence of others. As we can’t see in others what we don’t recognize within ourselves.
Dylan shares, “Just recently, my friends and I were like, ‘We don’t have very many deep conversations.’ So, we wrote a bunch of questions down. And what do you love about yourself the most was one of them. And we all ran around a circle; we were having such a hard time with that particular question. And this year, I’ve come to realize my biggest fear in life is embarrassment. For some reason, I have this fear of failure. But the one thing that I love most about myself is no matter how crippling sometimes that fear can be, I will always still go for that thing that I’m going for. I think one thing that I’ve always told myself is no matter how hard something is, or how scary something is, that I have the strength to do it. And so, whether that be going into the audition, and being so scared of this massive role, I’m still going to do that. Or taking a workshop with this world-renowned choreographer that I’m so scared of, I might not get the choreography, I still go in and do it. I guess my perseverance is something that I really love about myself. And it’s been, in a sense, fired by my biggest fear. So, it’s very interesting how that can work and how your biggest fear can actually create your biggest strength.”
Like Dylan, do you recognize your own strength? Strength lies not in the illusion of being more powerful than others but in knowing your innately unlimited potential for the full expression that carries the essence of who you are—love.
Photography // Annika Brown