It's the 15th-Century Italian renaissance and the noblemen and women are entering the king's court for yet another lavish event, one that is sure to have an elaborate spectacle of music and dance.
King Henry the ll of France has taken an Italian noblewoman, Catherine de Medici, as his wife. de Medici used her aristocracy to bring ballet into the French courts. A passionate dancer himself, King Henry performed in multiple notable shows, elevating ballet until it was in the eyes of the public, revered by all as a regal art, fit for royalty, an art form only to be enjoyed in the royal courts until almost a century later when it took it's leap onto stages.
In the mid-1900s the vibrancy of jazz music gave birth to a new era of movement. Inspired by the dynamic music, styles like Jitterbug and Lindy Hop began to emerge with pioneers such a Catherine Dunham bringing in Caribbean traditional dance influences and breaking performing arts boundaries.
Bob Fosse emerged on the scene causing double take over his inventive style and quirky isolations.
In another part of the world, a rebellion was forming. Fed up with the restrictions and socio-economic implications of classical ballet, artists such as Isadora Duncan, and Loie Fuller were turning their feet parallel, working with the floor, and finding an entirely new kind of freedom in expression, eventually resulting in Martha graham stepping on the scene; cupped hands, contractions, spirals and all.
Out in the South Bronx of New York City during the early 1970s, DJ Kool Herc was looping song breaks, which proved pretty damn irresistible to dancers on the scene, setting off the breaking movement.
I often think about these moments, moments when a single artist and their conviction led to a decision that transformed the dance world.
I wonder what would happen if King Henry shied away from bringing in a completely new form of royal entertainment.
I wonder if Bob Fosse was ever told he danced weird and should stop.
I wonder if Martha Graham was tempted to uncup and soften those hands as to better fit in with the norm.
What would happen if DJ Herc didn't see the merit in breaking those tracks down, or the dancers in his presence raised an eyebrow and wondered where the lyrics went?
Every day we face these creative callings and I wonder how many even cross into our consciousness. I wonder how many we're even aware of, or whether they get killed on site because they are too different to entertain.
If I had to break this concept down, I would start with the myth of creativity, this idea that creativity is this thing that savants are born with. The idea that some of us are just born seeing the world differently, in vibrant colors and sudden strikes of inspiration that results in genius strokes of a brush, destined for history books.
We ALL see the world differently. No two people in the entire world will have the same frame of reference or life experience, so let's stop romanticizing this notion and start to entertain the knowledge that we're all equally unique, all naturally given a completely different set of cards to work with.
Creativity isn't a part of your DNA, it's a skill. And while some may have a proclivity for it, it's a skil whose mastery is available to every single one of us.
What separates us and great artists is that they're willing to make a crap ton of bad art where most of us don't even want to start.
Part of the confusion is that we often link creativity with art: dance, music, painting, etc.
Creativity is defined as the use of the imagination or original ideas, and yes this can be artistic...
but it can also be your business idea. It can also be your new recipe. It can be the outfit you picked out. It could be the way you problem solve.
As Chase Jarvis says "Creativity is not “just” art. It’s even more simple – but more far-reaching than that. It is the practice of combining or rearranging two or more unlikely things in new and useful ways."
Creativity is a habit to cultivate. I covered this in an earlier post titled "inspiration is for amateurs' but let’s break this into a few key points:
It is my firm conviction that every dancer has a unique and mesmerizing way of moving, but that we simply don't allow ourselves to start exploring it. Whether we're worried about what we look like, are unaware of our potential, or just cluttering our Instagram feed with so much of other people’s movement that we live in a world of comparison, we're missing out.
So, let's say you buy it. You believe we all have it in us. You believe in starting before you're inspired. You’re down to start making crappy stuff to get good— so, what now?
I think it's helpful to work through a few unavoidable sticky issues:
First, there is almost a shame or guilt associated with creativity both from the outside and inside.
To start, creativity isn't immediately rewarded. There is not much in our culture that praises the creative effort. We talk at length about innovations and artistic endeavors but it's usually a rewards-based system, and after the fact acknowledgment. It’s product, not process oriented.
But before we even get there, the dues we pay are painful to get through- so much unacknowledged stuff.
Take this podcast/blog for instance-- it matters to me. Some episodes have been just awful, and some I"ve been really proud of, but week after week, I'm making the thing in the full knowledge that it will get better, even though these beginning stages suck.
I own a dance studio and it's thriving and that's lovely, and I've gotten used to the feeling of a thriving community, so when I launched Unify I was reminded of what it felt like to begin: the crickets, the fight for attention. It's just a real drag…
...but if you're going to make something, it's your only way.
The guilt component is a real thing. I've received a lot of emails over the years from dancers who miss dancing, miss the studio, and tell me they stopped dancing because their family or bank account or something else needed them and that they felt guilty and self-indulgent for prioritizing dance in their lives.
It's so hard to hear, but I can't say anything about that. It's not my place to make judgment calls about other people's priorities. I just wonder if they're truly happier? If the trade-off was worth it? It’s so hard to make these decisions, I feel deeply for them.
We're always being discouraged in our creative pursuits, and it's sometimes not even clear what else we should be doing, only that creative pursuits are selfish or silly.
We've also been trained to avoid obstacles; we put so much effort into avoiding the very things that often result in growth. Creative learning curves, in particular, feel very risky. because there's no guarantee or immediate payoff, so they fall by the wayside.
Often, we spend an extraordinary amount of time pursuing other people's ideals for lives. I can't tell you how many people have told me, sometimes in an almost shaming way, that I would have made a great social worker. In my pre-dance life I worked as a public speaker in the social services arena for many years and after hearing my story, that was the number one comment.
“You could really change lives..you should be a social worker.”
I cannot think of anything I want to do less.
I have so much respect for those warriors, but there's not even a small part of me that wants to do that, and I often felt guilty and wondered for days after hearing those comments whether they were right and I was selfish.
We're also a nation of starters. We love to start things, myself included. I love the start: the planning, the strategy, the novelty of new ideas and possibilities.
We throw parties for engagements and housewarmings, celebrate the grand opening and getting into med school. Yet you never hear anyone say "You’ve responsibly and diligently paid off your mortgage? Lets throw a party!".
Finishing gets much less love.
To quote Jarvis again: "Starters can put years, even decades, of work into creative practice and come away with nothing concrete, nothing was done. Worse, all those unfinished projects linger in their minds, taking up creative bandwidth. Over time, many of the “new” ideas start to look like variations on the old ones, though usually, this is more obvious to everyone else than it is to the struggling Starter, who is constantly reinventing the wheel instead of, you know, rolling anywhere. In this endless chase of the new, things start to get old."
He's right. It is in the finishing that the magic happens. No difference can be made in the world unless we put something into it.
Many of us view creative calling as an archeological endeavor, hoping that if we just keep digging and digging, we will uncover that passion, that passionate creative that lives inside of us.
This isn't the case- it's not archeology, its architecture. We create it. We build creative calling through habit, that's where all the fulfillment and success lies.
I want to pause give some credit here:
This episode was inspired by three books I love-- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, Atomic Habits by James Clear, and Creative Calling by Chase Jarvis.
I’d also like to highlight Jarvis' four-step framework for moving forward with this new info:
Step One: Imagine your enormous dream, anything you desire to make—or become—in this world.
This step is juicy, isn't it? It's like when someone asks you "what would you do if you couldn't fail"? We sometimes get a bit desensitized to this, but it is a huge question.
If you couldn't fail?
COULD NOT fail.
My enormous dream is to eradicate loneliness. I choose to do this through dance, but more than anything, I never want anyone to be lonely again.
Step two: Design an everyday practice that supports that fantasy—and the existence of articulation and change.
This goes back to the architecture. It can be five minutes a day, 20 minutes a day: it's not about turning your life upside down. What is a small practice that will allow you to keep your mind wrapped around that enormous dream?
Step Three: Execute on your aspiring plans and make your vision genuine.
If you've been following me even a little. you know this word comes up a lot: Implement. Implement. Make your ish. Choreograph, collaborate, make the video- IMPLEMENT. I don't care if that video gets one little view on Instagram. It is one more view than you had yesterday. One more human who is witnessing your convictions.
Step four: Amplify your effect through a steady network.
I think this takes care of itself with a commitment to 1-3. When you start executing with conviction and consistency, an amazing thing happens: your world starts to change. Your inner and outer circles start shifting because people are drawn to action takers. We love to see people do and not talk, and we want to be a part of that vision....your vision.