It doesn´t get easier. I´ve said it but I must repeat it: it doesn´t get easier,this thing (is it a thing?) called criativity. Especially when criativity is what you do for a living, your bread winner, your survival tool on a physical and methaphysical level.
It doesn´t matter how much experience and knowledge we have gathered. Wait a second. In fact, it does matter but not in the way we´d expect. The more experience and knowledge we gather, the more we know we don´t know, the more we feel unprepared. Then comes insecurities, those stubborn voices that come back to haunt us before, during and after we´ve done our homework (positive affirmations, reality checks).
Every time I have to prepare choreographies to teach or performances, I go through the dread. The initial enthusiasm – I´ve done this 1000 times and I´ve always nailed it – gives place to the predictable, and feared, self-doubt. Every movement seems to come out like a cliché, and I´m an artist and it´s known artists hate clichés; every solution I come up with feels blah: blah: BLAH. Nothing new there; no juice; no fire. Although I´m aware what is not new, or interesting, to me is certainly new and interesting to my students and audiences, that doesn´t change my demands. I´m selfish that way. I want to please myself, first and before everyone else. If I create something that may be interesting to others but it´s a bore to me, it won´t do the trick. Ah, did I mention I´m also allergic to tricks? Tricks, clichés, smart ass short cuts; what else? Predictability. That too.
So, after the initial enthusiasm and the first glimpses of self-torture, comes THE CRITIC. A critic that wants to be surprised, not only with quality (that doesn´t surprise her anymore) but with something she has never seen. That critic is me and the process of shutting her up constitutes 95% of my work. Yes, you read it well: 95% of my energy is applied on shutting up the CRITICAL voice that tells me what I´m doing is not interesting enough; it´s predictable. Getting her out of my way, so creativity can flow and life can take its natural course, leaves me exhausted and empty – always.
Add the fact that I´ve been doing this work, non stop and exclusively, for about 15 years, 8 of which spent in Egypt and other Middle East countries, presenting 1 hour shows, several times per day, every single day. Burnt out, baby. There´s a chance you get burnt out. It´s only natural, right?
And yet you cannot stop because life, or your bills, don´t stop coming your way just because you´re burnt out. Allowing yourself to rest, retreat and heal sounds perfect on paper but it´s not a realistic possibility if this is your profession, the work from which you earn your living.
Working as a professional dancer is different from dancing for fun, or as a part-time job, in the same way a long term marriage is different from a one night stand or a fast, passionate, fleeting affair. You have to work on reigniting the passion, the purpose, the reason why you put yourself into that relationship, instead of just enJOYing the irresponsible, fresh, spontaneous fire of a passion you know will be over soon.
In a marriage, you can´t just walk away and hide in your “other life” when things get rough. Well, many people do but there´s a name for it (not nice) and I´m not many people. When you´re married – as in 100% committed – to your art, on a personal and professional way, you have no other relationship (job) to go back to. That´s all you have and you gotta make it work.
It´s easy to love DANCE when you don´t have to deal with its dark, uncomfortable side; it´s easy when you don´t have to match your artistic sense with the demands of the market that hires you, or not.
It´s easy to get in and out, as you please; to make it when you´re feeling the vibe and to change paths when the vibe seems to be gone. More difficult, and perhaps meaningful, is the adventure of being married with this art for better or for worse, till death do us part. Exceptional case, one I´m eager to call my own: if you win the lottery or equivalent. When that happens, I´ll write another post with a completely different, more cheerful, tone. Scout´s honor.
When I had time to rip my hair out and cry (I´m a fraud, I am so untalented, I CAN´T DO THIS!), I would do it. Now I don´t. Too much on my hands. Ripping my hair out or taking time to cry is not an option anymore.Those are some of the luxuries you lose as you go up The Mountain.
I´m sweating and I have a Camille Claudel look on my face. Only my maternal grandmother was ever allowed to see me in this state: it´s me, at my rawest self, facing my limits, my bare skin, my walls. A cup of tea with almod milk, once warm, has gone cold, sleeping by the stereo, forgotten. Dampness is dancing through my bones and so is DISCIPLINE, that unpleasant word every professional dancer who lives exclusively from her dance work knows all too well. I know there´s no turning back. Demons or no demons; with or without The Critical, the show must go on.
I take a deep breath and remember what I say to my students: you CAN do this; have fun while at it; put the perfection bullshit on a shelf; feel free to be yourself and create from your heart. Passion is something you can get in and out from; LOVE is not. You´re IN for life. At least, that´s what my Christian background says and I haven´t found the strength to contradict it.
They say you teach what you need to learn. I couldn´t agree more.
The life of a professional dancer is beautiful and, as it happens with most MEANINGFUL human experiences, challenging and ego crashing. It reminds me of giving birth and how most accounts are lovely, dreamy, all roses when the reality is painful, bloody and, some times, traumatic.
-Yes, it´s painful But, after all is over and done, you see your baby and it´s the happiest moment of your life. Everything else is forgotten.
All right, I believe you.
Everybody claims to know the dream and what it takes to make it true; everybody speaks about the glamour of it. Sometimes, I feel like I´m the weirdo who has to struggle in order to get things right. And right, for me, is always extraordinary. In that, I agree with The Critical. After the unglamorous pain, the blood and the screaming, comes the miraculous moment of BIRTH. Is it worth it? Yes!
Let´s do IT!