Juliette Binoche
Photograph:
An innocent question, an impulsive "yes," and the next thing the actress knew, she was dancing through uncharted territory—a whole new side of herself.

In French we call it une boule de neige—a snowball. It begins as one flake of snow, but more and more is added on until it becomes a larger form. For me, one brief experience rolled into a much bigger one. I was filming a movie, Breaking and Entering, in London. The long days and trying work knotted up my shoulders, so I hired a masseuse to come to my apartment. In the course of these sessions, we had become friendly. One evening, as she was leaving, I did a kooky little dance of joy and gratitude. "Thank you!" I said, twirling around the room.

The next time she came over, as I lay on my stomach, she dug her elbow into my back and asked me casually, "Is dancing something you would like to do?"

"Yes," I said. I didn't think about it; it was just an impulsive answer. Why not? Sure, I want to do everything—I want to write, I want to paint, I want to dance.

The week after her inquiry, the masseuse asked me to come to a recital by the famous choreographer Akram Khan. The masseuse's husband, it turned out, was a producer of the show. Several days later, I took her up on the offer. I loved the performance and went backstage afterward to meet Akram himself.

After we'd spoken about how much I enjoyed his work, Akram asked me, "Would you like to collaborate on a piece and dance with me?" Later I learned that Akram likes to work with diverse people, not all of them dancers.

I didn't have any formal training; I had never danced in front of an audience. But there it came again—that spontaneous, uncontrollable yes.

"I would," I said.

And there went my life, veering sharply off one path and onto another. The next thing I knew, I'd taken a yearlong sabbatical from acting and found myself in a studio with a man I'd met just once before, practicing so many foreign skills. As I worked out for hours every day, I found myself in pain and out of both breath and my element. I learned how to push the limits of my body and express myself through movement.

In the fall, Akram and I will perform our co-choreographed piece in London. Then we'll tour the world. Some people might be scared, but I'm not. My new passion for dance devours the terror.

In two small, unconscious moments, I said, without hesitation, "Yes." After those affirmatives, everything changed. I found a side of myself I'd never known, a fresh excitement, a fascinating art, and an amazing new friend and collaborator.

I believe such illumination comes if you're open to the surprises the universe throws at you. You must be able to let go of the past, whatever success you may have seen, whatever your comfort, whatever your habits. To me, that's the key to loving life: Enabling yourself to step bravely into the unknown. Only there will you find yourself again. —As told to Justine van der Leun

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