Reality Check: My Life Behind The Curtain

 

I was scrolling the gram recently and saw a friend post this fabulous story of him at a coffee shop in yet another exotic land. We are not close, and all of my perception of his current life is through IG stories, which are fabulous. The two themes of his life seem to be travel and coffee---not bad.

Throw in a little dancing, a dog or two, and you're basically looking at my retirement plan.

I responded to him, and I'm not even sure what I said any more, but what I remember is the conversation that ensued. He laughed at my comment and said his life was incredibly unglamorous. It got me thinking about our perceptions of people's lives through social media. We know they're off. We know reality is messy...but come on, do we really? When facing highlight
after highlight over and over again, at some point, it's fair to assume our perception will no longer be grounded in reality because we don't even really witness it anymore.

Anyhow, I posted a question on my own story as a result of this conversation: a single question what is your perception of my life.

The answers...wow... either my followers are reaaaallly nice, or it's time for a serious curtain pull back.

Many of the comments were about my work. About how I get to live the dream.

A career in dance -- is there anything more magical, any bigger of a holy grail for dancers then getting paid to do what they love?

Well, this isn't about dispelling that. I love what I do. I couldn't love it more, and I am so blessed. But I owe it to dancers everywhere to get real about the unspoken parts of this job, both the deep yuck and giant yay. If you have big dreams, consider this the lowdown, and even if this sort of thing isn't your deal, there is a broad lesson here, one we all need to look up from our phones and remember.

First, if you're in a position like mine, the dancer in you will always fight to stay alive. It took me a while to really understand how dire this one was, and once I did, I went through a semi-depressed year of resignation. So many of us open studios because we LOVE to dance. Can't do without dance. Yet dance becomes such a small small part of our lives. in more ways then I can
sometimes count. It comes out of nowhere... you realize that a class you once loved is out of the question because payroll is due. You stop going to that one class that challenges you because every time you show up, everyone wants something from you. Answers, solutions, repairs, advice. A student next to you harmlessly makes a remark about the floor having an issue and you
spend the next ten minutes of class internally calculating the cost of the floor repair. You put together a beautiful show but can't afford to dance in it when there are so many parts that need attention. You take your personal favorite class off the schedule because it's not trendy and no one is coming and you can't afford it anymore.

On the flip side...there are moments of delicious creative freedom. Days when you find yourself sitting in the middle of your studio with absolutely no one around and a loudspeaker and James Blake playlist and an urge to move and you just live live live your life. There are moments that a handful of beautifully spirited dancers actually trust you enough to show up week after week and
lets you go in and just play. Move them around make up new sequences, experiment laugh,  create. And the creative freedom isn't just about movement. This past year I cannot seem to contain the creative energy around making things for dancers. Whether it's camp or this podcast or new kinds of classes and workshops...to run a studio means I get to constantly obsess over
these people that I care so deeply about...obsess over how to move them forward, what kinds of tools would empower them. That kind of freedom has infinite value.

I also get to see such incredible amounts of vulnerability. For starters, it's an innate part of who we are as dancers. When dancers move, they're being vulnerable. In a culture fixated on curated . lives, bizarre standards of beauty and always showcasing our best moments, to move our body . around in front of other eyes, often while right in the middle of a messy learning process is
courageous. End of story. On top of that, dance seems to also create this invisible connective webbing throughout the space...bonding us together in all of these small ways. If you listened to last week's episode...this is science. Our brainwaves sync up. The concept is almost too beautiful to take in. Once those gates start opening, words often follow the movement. It's not usual for
dancers to cry, vent, share their fears and excitement, for from kinetic expression to verbal expression, and create new friendships in class. And because so many use dance to process life, I am honored to hear the highs and lows.

But, real talk: I myself can never be that vulnerable. Not because I am unwilling, but because it's not welcomed. And not maliciously, and not intentionally, but the truth is that when you're in a leadership role, your messiness is not welcome. I've learned this the hard way over the years. Teaching adults, I've found myself forming friendships with many dancers over time, and with
very rare exceptions have always found that it's not space where I can really be my messiest. This is a key point of leadership. If you have a loyal and loving community, they will support you, they will accept and encourage you, they will give you grace- but they are not there to witness or bear the bad and the ugly. You need friendships unattached to your leadership for that sort of thing. And please seek them out. I have women in my life who love me through whatever
and also tell me straight up when I'm wrong. They are strong, loyal, kind, honest, and I value my friendships with these women more than I can possibly express.

interlude

I'm gonna hit you with some righteous indignation now, I am dismissed on a constant basis. During the first five years, the studio was in business, I did all the right networky things with enthusiasm and naive belief. I went to meetings, volunteered for committees, got invited to sit on boards, donated my time and talents to countless causes and events...and you know what I found out...

The old boys club is alive, well, and if you think it's hard to be a woman in the working world, add dance to the mix and they may as pet your head and call you a good girl. My creative ideas have been met with an eye roll. I've been underestimated and brushed off more than I care to remember. It's run the gamut from pathetic but normal stuff to insidious dishonesty.

In the last two years, I redirected my energy. This is not without consequences; when you pull back your support, you will be forgotten in the blink of an eye. You will lose favor with people when you don't stroke egos...and I do feel the loss of support, but it is nothing compared to the renewal of energy I feel by directing all of my focus to my dance community. To take care of them as best as I can with whatever resources I can. That's my group. That's who I've been
entrusted with, and that's who counts. And unless you pay my bills or support my dancers, you can take your whack tactics somewhere else.

Interestingly, very wealthy people who work for other companies have a lot to say about dance studios or businesses in the arts in general. They have a giant paycheck and giant houses and find it laughable to invest so much of my time and attention into something that produces a fraction of what they have. I was once told in a board meeting "You are so capable. You could do anything-- why are you wasting it on a studio"?

To those people, I always wonder: what are you putting into the world? Who's going to remember you" Who is waking up this morning and counting down the hours until they come to take part in what you've built because it makes their world a little brighter? When have you been brave enough to put something in the world that requires courage and vulnerability and the risk
of total rejection? It's comfortable and safe to collect a paycheck under the protection of someone else's risk. Talk to me when you're doing something that pushes you into something a bit riskier.

Talk to me when your mission is about other people.

Ok, righteous indignation over. I am doing what I love. But every single day there are highs and lows. I make something that I cant wait to share with dancers...something I spent so much time and energy pouring into, only to realize none of them care. I make something else that gets snatched up instantly by eager, happy dancers, and I've learned that I am not really great at
predicting which thing will be a flop and which will be a hit. But I get to walk into space every night filled with intentional people how are choosing. Choosing to move, choosing to grow, choosing to support each other even on their crappiest days. I don't know where I'll be when I am 80 years old but I will never, ever forget this space.

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