When does a dance become just a gymnastics showcase? When does inspiration become discouragement? I can't pinpoint the moment. But at some point in the day, I turned off the camera after one piece and I let out a big sigh. I'm never going to be that good, I thought. I don't care about fonjis. I can't do those insane power moves. Why am I even dancing? Why do I bother performing? What's the point? I don't even compare to that girl.
I know that I'm not alone. After every competition, big or small, someone posts a video on facebook of an uber-intense power pole routine with a caption that's a variation of "what am I doing with my life? why do I even try?"
Well, after feeling sorry for myself for a good 30 seconds I remembered why I try. This weekend I also saw some visceral, brave, soul-shaking pieces that didn't have anything to do with power pole. Don't get me wrong, a great iron X can make me cheer, but it doesn't necessarily SAY anything to me. The performances that stuck with me this weekend were deeper. They required a kind of rawness, something I've written about many times on this blog. Crystal Belcher performed to "Strange Fruit," and left the audience in shocked silence, absolutely torn open with her hauntingly beautiful piece about the lynching of African Americans - before they burst into wild applause. Danielle Romano honored a relative with her heart-wrenching performance about going slowly out of your mind through torture and captivity. These dancers were the definition of epic - in the literary sense.
They didn't just tell us a simple story. Their characters had nuance and depth. They clawed their way to triumph, felt the torture of heartbreak or came crashing to earth in despair. These were not pole ROUTINES. They were STORIES. They were artwork in motion.
And that's what yanked me out of feeling like I don't belong in this world. So maybe I'm not going to win any competitions unless I learn to fonji. But the bottom line is - I'm the only one who can tell my stories. I just have to reach deep enough, give enough of myself to the audience that they feel what I feel. And anyone can do that. I saw little glimpses of it even in the Level 1 performances - women who are just learning basic spins and still struggle with their bodies - nevertheless, they gave me moments of delight. It's not about being "good." It's about what you have to say.
There were too many dancers this weekend who opened themselves up onstage, didn't place or forgot a trick and ended up crying in the wings. It just kills me when I see that happen, because I have walked offstage feeling like a failure too. Although - it's always from trying to be impressive, comparing myself to other dancers, and feeling like I come up short.
Of course in a competition, it feels like it's all about that comparison - but in my experience, the pieces that felt as if they were crawling out of me were what impressed the audience, not the routines I put together because I was TRYING to be impressive. It takes time, and it's so hard, but it's worth it. As an artist you will always be hungry and you will never be satisfied. But when you can give voice to a story that comes from your soul, it's as close as you will ever get. Find those stories. Pay attention to them. Your inner artist is saying something important. Listen.
I leave you with this quote from Martha Graham, that hangs on the wall in my home studio. It keeps me sane, on those long nights when I am choreographing all alone and feeling frustrated.
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.