I was reading a message board – one of my pastimes, you know, reading what random, not-well-written people have to say on the internet – about artists (musicians, painters, actors, etc.) that had realized they weren’t going to make it.
That is a terrifying thought, isn’t it? That after all these hours of work and blood and sweat and tears (all of which have happened and had to be mopped off the marley), it all amounted to nothing.
Dance, of course, is ephemeral. But there must be some satisfaction that comes with having had the experiences that come along with a successful career.
Back to the message board.
A lot of people said that they realized it wasn’t worth it when the endeavor started to feel like “work.” That was the word that came up again and again. Combined with living paycheck to paycheck, these people all pretty much said that they no longer were doing work they enjoyed and they went and got secure jobs and downgraded the passion to hobby. You can of course be passionate about a hobby, but when it’s not the main goal anymore, priorities change.
I can understand this in an intellectual sense, but I don’t get it in my gut. No matter what you do – acting, writing, music – it’s going to be work. There is so much dance that I enjoy. There are so many times that when I’m dancing, I feel like a superhero or a dragon or a drug addict getting a hit. But there are a lot more times when I feel clunky like a train, like a slug, like a heavy sack of sand that can barely raise my leg up above ninety. When I would be in rehearsals eight hours a day, I didn’t always enjoy it. I hated some rehearsals, and I hated some pieces. I wasn’t always artistically fulfilled and I hated rehearsing so much for a vision that I didn’t agree with or like or respect.
I don’t always like going to class. My mind wanders during ballet, and certain parts of jazz and contemporary are tedious enough that I find myself staring at the clock again and again, wishing I was already home. Or eating cookies or arguing with people on the internet.
There were days when I HATED putting on my leotard and I stared wistfully at my pretty pink bras and wished I could wear one of those and some jeans and look nice instead of being shoved into a sports bra with my hair up and my face red and blotchy and damp. My heart just wasn’t in it for so many rehearsals and classes. I go to the studio to do work. I don’t always enjoy it.
I have become accustomed to working very hard in a physical way, though, toward an artistic goal that can be hard to explain to non-choreographers. I walked away from an exorbitant number of rehearsals being upset and overworked and angry. Working retail full time is easier.
So I don’t understand, I suppose, that people thought that their passion-career would not feel like work. Dance feels like work, but it’s work I’m accustomed to and good at (at least sometimes).
Passions become so because they bring so much enjoyment and so little tedium – this must be it! This must be what I’m meant to do! But then upon being given projects or gigs that they don’t enjoy, they realize that maybe it’s not so great and maybe they don’t want to be a starving artist for this.
It’s so incredible to me, though, that one can spend years and years training to do this specific work, and then drop it when they realize they aren’t going to always enjoy it or make a lot of money from it. I’ve put in my hours to hone this skill just as much as any engineer or computer scientist, but nobody suggests that these skills just be a hobby. Yeah I know it’s because of the money but come on. It’s insulting to suggest that I haven’t put in the hours just like anyone else, that I should throw that away and start anew with some other skill. I’m good at this. I’m going to be fine.
Maybe I’m immune to this disillusionment because I did so many shitty performances when I was first starting out.
Another complaint from people was about touring. Musicians and performers were annoyed by the constant traveling and then playing the same songs/show every night but in a different city. If you have a family, this must be really rough.
I love touring so much, though. I toured three times with my college group, and I’ve traveled a lot for intensives (which isn’t the same, but it means a lot of time away from home. It means being alone a lot). I love most of that. I love touring with a group the most, though, because the show, even one that’s old and boring, is still made up of people coming together to create something bigger than themselves. Doing the same show can get really old, but you have to find ways to keep it fresh. For example, in one of the giant group pieces, we started playing tag (we could only tag one another onstage). One of my old professors told us about how when they were tired of performing the Nutcracker, they would fill their stage-prop goblets with m&ms and they had to sneakily eat them all before the choreographed moment where they turned their glasses upside down.
Besides that, people had complaints about traveling long hours and being bored on a tour bus. I can’t deny that eight hour bus rides aren’t exactly fun, but I have fond memories of making up games with my seat mates and drinking on the back of the bus. We were exhausted and cranky and hungry, but I wouldn’t trade anything for some of the moments we had while on the bus, or when sharing beds in yet another hotel room, or when we snuck off to find a coffee shop before tech started. Plus, I got to go to places I’d never been before.Traveling in the name of dance is great! And with a group of people you love to work with? I can’t think of anything better. I was so lucky to be a part of so many amazing casts.
I loved rolling up to a new venue and not knowing exactly what was going to happen. I loved the problem solving – how are we going to fit any equipment on this tiny-ass stage? How are we going to teach these kids this piece in half an hour? How are we going to space this piece? The real world puzzle solving was something I was motivated to do even when I would rather have been outside in the sunshine.
I would probably get tired of this after years and years, but for now, I do want to travel and be exhausted and perform anywhere that will take me. I want to travel with people who are passionate and fun and hard working.
So I don’t suppose I would give up for any of those reasons. I think I have a different enough viewpoint from a lot of those people that I can make it through those mental blocks.
Another reason somebody gave for giving up on their passion was that they went to a third world country and felt bad that they wanted to perform in shows that nobody needed to see when people were starving and living in houses made from scrap.
I’ve also considered this, but I took something entirely different away from it. I was so damn lucky to be born when and where I was. I have the luxury to live in a place where I can pursue dance, for which there is an audience. Maybe it’s frivolous, but I don’t see how being an accountant or engineer is really any better, unless maybe you’re doing engineers without borders. Society needs people of all different sensibilities to function. The arts are essential to culture – where would we be without art or literature? Since I won the lottery on my life situation, I’m going to take full advantage of it and not waste this beautiful opportunity I’ve been given.
Those three points were most often brought up when someone asked what prompted these artists to realize that they weren’t going to make it. I think I’ve circumvented these, but we will see what the future holds. I’m sure there is no end to disillusionment.
Merce Cunningham said You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.
That moment means more than I can describe. That moment is divine and perhaps similar to what people feel when they say that they feel close to God.
They say “follow your bliss.” Dancing does not often provide me with bliss. I’m not dancing because it makes me happy. I’m dancing because I have to, on a basic, instinctual level. It’s work a lot of the time, but those moments when I realize that I am a living being in a physical body are so amazingly worth all the bullshit I have to slog through to get there.
Class of the day: Saturday – Jazz with Tracy at NWDP
Monday – Jazz with Tracy at Bodyvox