This has been done to death, and it’s been written about in books like Art and Fear and talked about in classrooms all over. People compliment each other by saying “you’re so talented” or “you can’t teach what you have.” Teachers tell us that hard work trumps talent when talent doesn’t work hard. One of my fiction writing classes, for example, concluded that you could teach up to a certain point, but then after that talent had to set you apart.
Does talent exist? What is that je ne sais quoi? Since my realm is the art realm, my thoughts primarily apply there but I suppose you could apply this to other fields (maybe I don’t have any talent in math or science?) You can find a huge number of examples of other, better articles written about this.
If we’re talking about athletic endeavors, we can look at people and say that certain body types have an innate advantage over others. My tall father acknowledges that he is not “built” to be a cyclist, a sport which favors shorter, thinner men, but it’s something he has always enjoyed and he’s okay with that. There are plenty of dancers “built” for certain styles – so much relies on how deeply in your hip socket your femur sits, and there’s nothing you can do, at a certain point, to change that. Long fingered musicians are probably more inclined toward the piano. I think we can safely say that physically, we are all built differently, and different styles of movement or sport are suited for all of us.
Aside from the unchangeable physicality of ourselves, what about talent.
When I was much younger, I drew all the time. I painted, I took art lessons. I never really got anywhere. I knew that I had this innate desire to create things. I would make collages and designs, but I never excelled, for all my practice, at illustrating. Later, I got much better at writing. I wrote (and still do, for the record) all the time. I was working toward my 10,000 hours. I was much more successful at creating with words.
And then I saw Bejart’s rendition of The Rite of Spring, and there was an explosion. I signed up for beginning modern, dance theater, and beginning jazz at my soon to be university, and I was off. Something weird happened. All of the sudden, all I could think about was dance. I’d get out of class and watch dance videos. I’d stay after class and try to work on things, asking the teacher for help with a movement or for exercises to supplement it. I was suddenly capable of a level of focus I was only able to achieve after getting a burst of inspiration with words. The outside world ceased to exist when I was in class.
This eventually grew to working out as well as dancing. The world stops turning when I am moving. I am suddenly hyper aware of all processes in my body, and I feel like a part of the universe.
I’m not really sure why this happens, or why it happened when it did. But because I was able to focus so deeply when dancing, and because I took the criticisms and corrections so seriously, I showed a lot of improvement in a relatively short amount of time. Now, I don’t think I’m particularly unusual or special; plenty of amazing dancers find it later in life, plenty of our dance pioneers didn’t come out of a ballet academy at 18. I am interested in why this happens to us.
But is there something special about me, or any of us? Do I have some innate ability to pick up movement? I certainly don’t feel like I do, nor did I feel like it when I was in my first ballet class at 19, nor did I feel like it when 12 year olds were wiping the floor with my petite allegro in my first summer in Seattle ballet camp, nor do I now when I see other beautiful movers around me in class or in front of me on stage.
What if I had continued to pursue drawing? I knew that I needed to create, but what if I had chosen the right thing? People talk about how you’ll just “know” when you meet “the one,” and honestly, I’ve felt that way about dance for years. I still feel it. Even when I don’t like dance, and even when it’s a job, at the end of the day, I’m still enamored.
It seems to me that anyone, after studying something after a certain number of years, that they should be able to be competent in that field. For example, I am competent in ballet. I can take class and follow along and keep up without standing out for being great or terrible (and I very seriously doubt that any of my ballet teachers would claim that I was talented at all unless they saw me in other dance forms). But I see dancers in class who have danced for a certain number of years, yet they are not even competent.
It seems inconceivable to me that someone could study something for an equal number of years as someone else and not reach that same level. Did all the corps de ballet dancers train as long as the principles? Do the principles work harder in class? Do the principles just fucking want it more? Or do the principles have that innate talent that makes them stand out? The fact that two people can study the same thing for the same time and one excels beyond the other…it seems wholly unfair.
Life isn’t fair, of course, but in this point in my life, I am utterly perplexed at the turn of events that led me to this point. My brother was born with a bad body, a bad heart. I was born with a great body. I am built to move. I was born into a family that is supportive and that makes enough money to, with some careful planning, send me off to dance intensives ever summer. I went to school at a modern dance hub, not a ballet conservatory. I am the type of person who finds a great ability to focus when being physical. How the hell did I find dance? What if I had continued in my thought that I ought to be a painter? I don’t feel like it’s simply a matter of wanting it enough; I wanted very badly to be able to draw. I see people who claim that they want to be dancers. I’m not sure how this happens. How did I get lucky enough to find this, at the right time, in the right place, with the right people? It’s ridiculous that so much of the world revolves around luck. When Yvonne Rainer (of Trio A fame) was asked how she and other crazy post-modern dancers ended up in the same place at the same time to create what they created, she simply replied that it was luck.
And then, with all of this behind me, I wonder about my own delusions on the subject. The latest evidence seems to point to me not being completely delusional, but if this person told you, at 20 years old, that they wanted to dance professionally when they graduated, don’t lie and tell me that you’d say it was possible. The transformation was intense. My focus, my training was intense. We all have to be a little delusional to get by, day to day, in light of our failures, but there is a line between quiet confidence and humility and outright delusion.
But how many delusional dancers and artists are out there, who are compelled to make something, who have chosen the wrong thing, who are egged on by people who are trying to be supportive. Do they just not have the talent for it? I don’t get it. There are so many who seem to want it so bad but continually fall short. Is it just the wrong time, maybe? How many innately talented pianists were born before the advent of the piano?
There are lots of opinions but no answers to any of these questions, by the way, this is just me being young and looking at my place in the universe, with my existence and the lack of my brother’s. It just seems utterly inconceivable and statistically ridiculous that all of the variables in life created this situation that I am in with dance right now, which is a rather good one.
I’m not sure what I’m trying to say or get at. I’m going to keep going, of course, on this path, but I never settle for what I am.