career

Not getting the part you want have your tail-feather ruffled? Don’t despair!

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.

Cut the crap and get inspired people… and keep it that way.

It is in our job description as dancers to provide inspiration to the masses.  The arts are seen as the part of our culture that uplifts people out of the looming malaise our society is said to sit in (hate that…get off your butts people and do something about it).  Art makes you think outside of yourself and pulls you out of your mundane daily grind and can allow you to think about things differently, be moved.  The artist being the vehicle behind the work is the hub of this inspiration.  Furthermore, as dancers, our art is witnessed through our bodies and expressions.  So venerable, so exposed, so terribly clear when inspiration is absent, and consequently, so much beautiful potential to impact others.

 

As dancers, when we are in that special place, lost in the moment, we can feel immortal, not of this earth.  The music starts, the dance begins, and we get enraptured within it, miraculously performing steps that just seep out of our limbs while our soul goes on a journey that doesn’t give us the reality check until it’s over, be it the music stopped, or the audience applauds, or we simply realize the steps for the piece are finished (that’ll do it!).  We have this gift to share.  It is our responsibility to share this gift and have it manifest itself as inspiration for others.

 

Now how do we, as inspiration givers, keep this inspiration going ourselves?  Particularly when the practicalities of life (insert excuse #523 here) take over and we find it hard to get to that special place?

 

Inspiration comes and goes.  Being an artist and living in the waves and wakes of inspiration, it’s proven itself helpful to have my big future goal clear and in the forefront of my brain.  Then, setting tiny little goals for every class and rehearsal acts as stepping stones towards this ultimate desire.  Knowing I want to open my own business within the dance industry down the road helps me be the best dancer I can be now, helps me take class with clear intentions, helps me work that much harder because I can see the ultimate payout.

 

Point being, when class, and just as equally your five-year plan, is this focused you have an agenda of which to grow and learn.  You are not thinking of your degaggé the same way you did the day before since it is looked at through a new lens.  Attending class in the first place has a larger purpose to obtain that goal of perhaps dancing with your dream company.  You can accomplish this level of tremendous growth outside of an educational realm because now, even better, you get to be your own teacher.  Perhaps you take class this week and are focusing on your relationship to the music, taking space, or maybe just letting go a bit more and enjoying yourself instead of being such a constipated thinker.  Whatever your reason for taking class, do it intelligently and purposefully.  Then see where you will end up one year down the road.  Without an agenda, a purpose, a goal, you cannot grow and inspire at your upmost potential. Don’t just show up to class, or the audition, or the performance.  It is not enough.   It is not enough for that audience member who came to be uplifted.  It is not enough for your parents who supported you following your passion perhaps when they came from a household that didn’t allow it.  And it is not enough for that little girl sitting in the front row who’s dream it is to be on stage.  (Yes, I went there.  On board yet?)  But most of all, it is not enough for you.  Don’t sell yourself short.

 

Let’s be brutally honest here.  It is not easy to get your butt to class, let alone be inspired for your big dreams while contemplating if this deflated industry is enough to support you financially and artistically.  I’ve questioned my career decisions with dance and the arts (and at times with some shame in that however unfortunate and unnecessary).  It is not always simple to dance; if your artistic side doesn’t feel fulfilled on a large enough level, then the financial sacrifices we make are no longer justified.  These are practical and wise thoughts, but we can allow “real” life to complicate things and serve as excuses for attacking our long term goals and keeping on a daily inspired pathway.  It has been these woes primarily that kept my mind wandering form a livelihood in the arts and shadowing my potential. (No thank you!)

 

Let’s be simple about it.  If you love it.  Do it.  And stay strong when life makes you waiver.  When we chose this profession, or it chose us, we did not come to it for security or pragmatism.  We came to it because of how it made us feel – for the push, the sweat, the odd love of burning foot tape to our broken feet (yes, masochists), for the support from an audience, for the rush on stage, for the camaraderie of others dancing with us.  We can’t just follow the money and security and leave our passion behind….that would make us sheer mortals rather than inspirational superheroes.

 

I had an eye opening conversation with an incredibly smart, slightly socially awkward (of course…), science engineer in the coffee shop a few weeks ago.  I’ll admit to feeling a bit out of my league while hearing about his fascinating but somewhat technical description of having game-changing insight on a mishap of a space shuttle mission.  He felt compelled to write his story on how this mishap could have been prevented, why it happened, and how he knew about it before the launch, only to know it couldn’t possibly work, and how the high powers that be wouldn’t pay his insight any attention.  What an incredible story to tell!  This happened over a decade ago and this very intelligent man was still questioning whether he should take the time to write and share it.  What a waste of time – write it already!!!! I could tell he was aching to do so – clearly, you don’t just tell people this full story within the first five minutes of meeting them without it impassioning you and constantly running circles around your brain.  So when I asked him why he hadn’t written it, he raffled off two common and perhaps sound excuses. – 1.) Who would read it (meanwhile I have this pea size blog!) and 2.) would this story ever reap any profit for him?  I told him politely that he was crazy and he had to write it.  Call me foolish, but money and notoriety follows passion.  He has no idea where his story can go unless he writes it.  He could get it published in a trade magazine, a journal, asked to talk publicly about it, asked to mentor other engineers in similar circumstances.  The opportunities are endless…..if he writes it.  Are you willing to risk a little to write your passion and win big?  You have to do what you are zealous about, sometimes foolishly and completely lacking any practicalities, to allow your fullest potential to surprise you.  Maybe you’ve managed to slip off the wagon a bit and let your story lie dormant.  That’s ok, but stop wasting time.  Let the time passed be what jump starts you back into gear.  You can start over and fresh at any moment.

 

Dance like you did when you were a kid.  When doing the economical and sensible were the furthest from your concerns.  When you didn’t have bills to pay and your main concern was whether Eddie in the third row in Social Studies liked you.  Dance for something again.  Give it meaning and give it purpose.  Otherwise, why the hell would you do another grand plié with burning thighs, another pass across stage while the wind is knocked out of you, another knee crawl with bruised shins?  You need a reason to do the piece better this time than the time before, for yourself and for the audience who came to be enlivened.  So set a single personal goal this week, this year.  Be specific.  Carve your own path to stay inspired and leave the excuses for mortals, us dancers are such superior beings (yes, waft that nose in the air).  And if you can’t find a good enough reason to foolishly pursue your childhood dreams (lame, and probably bs), do it for your grandma who always wanted to live on stage but let her damn feet get in the way….poor mortal.

 

 

Thank you my Fairbanks dancing all-stars from Alaska Grown who reminded me why I love what I do every time I saw you.  Thank you my science engineer for reminding me even smart people can be foolish.  Thank you Jared for keeping my big dreams in constant reach every day.  Thank you Melissa Ullom, Steve Vaughn, Elena D’Amario, Eric Bourne, Ian Spring, Jason Macdonald, Sarah Braverman, Abby Silva-Gavezzoli, Lauren Garson, Leeann Ramsey, Kate Scarpetowska, Liz Koeppen, and David Parsons for being my family and the generous artists you are who keep me going;  it’s an honor to share the stage and studio with you always.  And (tear, tear, sniff, sniff) thank you Mom and Dad for letting me be a dancer from day one.  And yes, I proudly accept this Oscar.