Politics exist everywhere. It doesn’t mean squat about your dancing. Roles, supposedly deserved, come and go un-danced. You work tirelessly and devote yourself fully, yet you watch in the wings while another beautiful dancer takes the lime light. You aren’t envious of their dancing. You are proud of the way you move and express yourself. You hold your art in confidence, but the results of the moment don’t quantify your efforts. And the only thing I mean here by results are the tangible advancements your choreographer grants you, weighed against your expectations. Amazing results are inevitable when you put your best effort behind your actions. You may work as hard as you deem possible, and it still may not result in you center stage. The beautiful effort you put forth shines, but might not be exactly what a choreographer wants to highlight. None of this is a reflection of your value, but man it can feel like it. How do you not fall down the slippery slope of questioning your own dancing when the choreographer doing the choosing isn’t granting you the recognition you desire? The challenge posed to you is to not need the recognition, and not feel less than or second-rate. Done. Let’s do this. How?!
I start by saying the obvious. I love dancing with Parsons Dance, and it is one of my dreams come true. On the inside of that dream, I deal with not getting the roles I want – an issue that can lie at the heart of any job. It is not that I don’t want my dear friend to have that celebrated experience on stage, but it’s the aching desire to feel value from my determination, to have an outsider put a pretty little A+ on my dancing – pathetic, but true. I thank human nature. Hell, as a kid all I wanted in my beautifully simple life was to have Mom and Dad tote me around, kiss me, and applaud ad nauseam at my perfected, extremely fancy leg kick with a twirl and split finish. Now, at 28, my inner child still cries for attention and validation in moments of weakness. My poor and pathetic ego wants to get what I want at all times, to be the star, regardless if that star role contains moves and a persona that is even uniquely me. Despite if I know the choreography more intimately than another (again, an unnecessary and useless comparison), my commitments do not always lead me to performing the part. Worse yet, when my ego get’s bruised, it affects my dancing. It distracts me. It forces half of my energy to go towards keeping my head afloat rather than all my energy being devoted to the movement.
A few months ago, having been in this respected company for 3.5 years, I found myself upset in the studio during rehearsal; not as much from not getting a part, but for feeling misunderstood. My inner child was crying, “Look at me! I know this dance! Don’t I look lovely! Don’t you love how I am rond de jambing my leg with such pizazz! What? Do you like her rond de jambe better?! Look how hard I’m working!” Logic does not reign in my brain during times of frustration. If it did, I would kindly and obviously remind myself, “Just because I know all the dance moves, it does not mean that those are the dance moves truly meant for me.” Followed by, “You are a beautiful person and dancer, and not getting this role has nothing to do with the level of respect and value you hold, in the company and beyond.” Instead, my clear judgement left the room, and my emotions whined and paraded around in my head and heart. It took a walk outside during lunch, a chat with one of my beloved Parsons family members, and a severe push to get a sweat going, to leave the thoughts outside and thrive for the rest of the day. It was the disconnect between my dedication and the “results” that brought about the treacherous slope of defeat which lead to the ultimate death trap of questioning – questioning my artistic value.
Oh god, I typed it and at the moment I wish I could erase it from my screen and soul simultaneously. I want to demand that I never question my artistic merits. I want to demand that I always hold my self in high value. Yet there are trying moments, that muffle these well-known facts-of-self down to a muted scream in my gut.
My value as a person and artist is not a wavering subject. Value can only be granted to myself, from myself, and is never anyone else’s responsibility to deliver to me.
How often do you let decisions made from the choreographer in the front of the room influence how you feel about yourself? The truth: sometimes your artistic and personal sensibilities are not necessarily in alignment with the preferences of the choreographer and their work of the moment, despite their appreciation and respect of you. There will be rehearsals when you feel a complete connection between yourself and your choreographer, and there will be times when you fight to get that deep connection back. Dancing for a company is a business too. A business full of people who have varying sensibilities of what they like and desire. A business filled with pleasing not only individual dancers, but board members, booking agents, executive directors, the list goes on. You have no idea why a choreographer makes the decisions they do. Choreographers are people. People who are predisposed to particular people’s movement styles based on their own history, mindset, and tendencies. It may be their preference, it may be someone else’s, it may be random. Again, someone else’s decisions cannot effect your self-worth. Not just that it shouldn’t. It actually is completely unrelated.
To unruffle my feathers in times of distress, hopping in the studio, taking an open class I know I enjoy, or even trying a new class – dancing material I will never perform after those 2 hours – has from time to time, been a lovely reminder of why I do what I do. There is nothing political or expected about open class. I can go in, dance my heart out, and not give a crap if anyone else in the room is going to like me, I mean, my dancing (a shockingly, occasionally hard thing to separate). The frightening bottom line about taking class for you alone? You’ll probably dance better, with complete abandon, as you always should, and get recognized for it because you could care less for the recognition. Politics in the studio of a job we work for can make us lose that freedom. So get it back somewhere else. Refresh your memory of the feeling. Get your confidence boost and lighthearted spirit back and then kick ass back at “work.”
You are the one thing you can control and maintain. Only you, yourself, can continuously cultivate a sense of home, comfort, sanity, and integrity. When others rock your boat, break your ship, they’ve cracked into your vulnerabilities. They are not welcome. Working hard and having your passion lead all your intentions will never set you astray. You will see results. You will not care about roles or jobs gained or lost. You will become a better artist, person, and technician. More importantly, your confidence and self-value will be unwavering and take you places you could never conceive possible, and most gloriously, they will be uniquely and entirely yours.