For a little while now I’ve been questioning why I do what I do for a living. The doubt is actually a huge part of the reason I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve been doing a lot of reflection, but not the kind that is easy (or pleasant) to put on paper (or screen). First, there is the ego to consider: I turned 31 in September, which for me has meant that everything hurts all the time and I’m officially too old to be considered for any of the hip “top people under 30” lists that occasionally pop up on the internet. (Side note: I never really gave them much thought until I was no longer eligible, but man does it bruise the ego not have even been considered.) I haven’t had the illustrious performance career with American Ballet Theatre that I had so boldly predicted at age 12, and my choreography, while not bad, isn’t exactly attracting the Paul Taylor-esque attention I had hoped it would by this stage in my life.
At this point, most of my work time is spent as an administrator, enabling genius practitioners on my best days and wrestling with copy machine on my worst. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate every single opportunity that has been provided to me, and I have been incredibly lucky to work for the largest dance education advocacy organization in the country. But with all that has been happening in the world, lately it feels like – why? What’s the point? Beyond the considerations of ego, there is just this nagging feeling that the efforts are fruitless. There is so much that needs fixing in the world, and frankly right now dance feels pretty trivial next to what happened in Orlando and Israel, not to mention the everyday violence and suffering that happens everyday in our communities. The hopelessness only gets worse when check I Facebook and see the people I love and care about resort to screaming and meme-ing over one another instead of actually communicating. It’s like I can see the humanity evaporating before my eyes every time I log on or turn on the news.
But sometimes Facebook comes through, like when I came across a meme of my own:
The quote from Frederick Douglass rang truer than anything I’d heard in quite some time:
“It is easier to build strong children, than repair broken men.”
It was one of those almost-cheesy epiphany moments, one in which the ego and the altruistic come together. “This,” I thought, “This is it.” This is why dance, dance education, and the behind the scenes admin work that supports the field, is important, even in light of this crumbling world. In fact, it might even be more important now than ever before. Because the answers to what troubles us – what really troubles us, even more than guns, access to mental healthcare, foreign policy, and the embarrassing state of our political discourse (although all of these things are pretty super important and in desperately need to be addressed) – the answers to what really trouble us can be found in the dance studio. The answers are everything I’ve learned from dance: cooperation, communication, teamwork, empathy, perspective, and compassion, just to name a few.
I don’t claim to be sophisticated about the ways of the world, and I’m sure what I’m about to say will be considered naive. But maybe a little naivety is what we need right now. Every time I watch the news I feel like I lose a little more innocence. The atrocious acts that people commit against one another – have committed, for ages – are beyond comprehension. But maybe the solutions, the answers don’t have to be. Maybe, it is as simple as raising the next generation to be better than we are: to be less self-absorbed, less dogmatic in their beliefs, less isolationist, more community oriented, more empathetic, more willing to listen and share. Maybe it’s as simple as raising the next generation to be whole, to be grounded, to have less need for the kind of fear that leads to hate. Maybe, it’s as simple as guiding them toward the dance studio. Because the lessons learned in the studio are applicable far beyond it’s walls and mirrors:
- How to be part of an ensemble, a company, a community. How to connect with your fellow dancers onstage (your own group) as well as with others (an audience, whether it is one person or one thousand), in a way that is meaningful and real.
- How to be an audience member yourself, whether it is in the wings cheering on your castmates or in the director’s chair giving feedback, and to know that being receptive and supportive in these situations is just as important as being in the spotlight all the time. It’s not always about you.
- How to hold on to multiple truths, lessons taught by different teachers in different ways that can all serve you well when you need them, even if they contradict one another at times.
- How to make sense of these sometimes conflicting lessons, to work through them and ultimately come to cherish your own understanding and principles without demonizing others.
- How to relate to other people in real time and real space, by feeling, sensing, and seeing each other – not hiding in chat rooms or behind Twitter handles.
- How to let yourself be seen, to be comfortable being noticed and appreciated by classmates and teachers and audiences, and to stop apologizing for your existence.
- How to be present in the moment, connecting with others and learning from them and respecting them for who they are and what they bring to the ensemble or to the creative process.
- How to be in your body and respect yourself and feel whole, to know that you are capable and strong and smart in many different ways, and that you are allowed to be expressive (but you are not allowed to be an asshole).
- How to grow, shift, and change over time, in accordance with your changing body and expanding understanding of how it works.
- How to let ideas you love go when they aren’t the best fit for the artistic vision, and to defend them against criticism when they are – but only after careful consideration of and reflection on all possibilities.
All this, I learned from dance. And I am privileged to be able to pass it on to others, and to provide other teachers with the resources and support they need to do so. I can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but I can help the next generation develop the skills that will be needed in the process. I can help them feel whole and capable and loved so they don’t have to resort to fear. I can help them realize they are a valued part of a community, that they are vital to the success of the group, and that their actions matter. I can help them see others, respect others, value others, so that they can move past the ignorance that leads to hate.
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