How is everyone? Left in a mental state that is vastly different from the one we had at the beginning of 2020? Us dancers have relocated, lost dream jobs, filed for unemployment, had future plans cancelled, dealt with sickness, lost loved ones, stressed over the state of the country, battled with mental health… the list never ends. Puzzle pieces of our past selves feel like they’ve been scattered aimlessly, those pieces have been bourréed-on, battement’d across the room, and now half of the pieces are lost. It seems nearly impossible to begin picking them up and putting them back together to make ourselves whole again. I know we’ve all had our share of self-love and positive quotes, but our industry doesn’t deserve to constantly feel down in the dumps. Here are a few points for you to think about, because you deserve to be kind to yourself, and to have a clean table to start putting together your puzzle.
Just because you’re not dancing now, doesn’t mean you won’t ever be again.
This may have been the first major break from dancing some have experienced, and some didn’t quite know how to do it. It’s been hard for those to not have their outlet and sense of self, whereas some may have truly needed the break. Taking a break and enjoying not dancing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done with dance. It’s normal to love something but also need a break from it, and you’ll feel whole again whenever you’re ready to start.
Dance careers are not set-in-stone carbon copies. Some dancers have official retirements, completely switch career paths, and never touch dance again. Some dance well into old age. Some have intertwined dance jobs with other passions throughout their life. Careers come in all shapes and sizes and whether you’ve spent the year shooting forward, diverting slightly, completely switching directions, or not moving at all. I guarantee that dancers in all of those categories will still have fulfilling work in the future.
Remember that our industry has been hit hard. As jobs return, plan ahead on them being extremely scarce. If you were experiencing a wonderful booking-groove before March, plan on that taking awhile to re-achieve. None of this means you won’t ever get there again, if you’re willing to work for it again and also, think out of the box. Look in places you’ve never looked before, and there’s every opportunity to begin creating your own work.
Followers and likes matter more when you’re staring at them more
Dancers you see on social media don’t define who you are.
Wherever there’s increased amounts of spare time, there’s increased scrolling. More scrolling means more laughs and inspiration, but also means more “I wish I looked like that,” “I wish I could do that,” and “I wish I had their life.” We’ve all recited the “people only show the good stuff on social media” until we’re red in the face, but with our not-allowed-on-a-stage current mental states, these thoughts start to take bites out of us. Followers and likes matter more when you’re staring at them more and, alas, we’re all only human.
We’ve seen some incredible talent and unreal feats on our screens this global pandemic, but guess what? Other dancers being incredibly talented won’t ever change what you bring to the dance industry. Of course, be inspired and see what’s out there to improve yourself, but don’t let it take away from the talents you possess and what the industry will be missing if you’re not there.
Stop caring if the current work you’re making is good enough.
At least you’re making work! Whether you’ve choreographed a masterpiece, Tiktok’d, Instagram-modeled, filmed the one Zoom class you took in 9 months, YouTube’d, or edited a full-scale backyard music video: put out work and experience your current thoughts and feelings, whatever they may be.
And what have we already learned? Increased amounts of time on our hands can mean increased amounts of scrutinizing thoughts in our brains. Hitting the post button may have been harder during this time, with the extra free time to doubt yourself. Plus, with the world’s current climate, making work or promoting yourself may feel insensitive. However, making work may be exactly what you and the world needs. We remember that art helps us deal with tough emotions, right?
Art is a depiction of the artist creating it, and at that time. Imagine if Picasso went back and tried to “improve” one of his paintings from his Blue Period while he was well into his Rose Period. We’d have a whole lot of weird purple paintings, and wouldn’t have gotten to study the mental health struggles he was experiencing during his Blue Period. I don’t care if you’re not the “Picasso of dance,” but those who have created work during this tough time will get to view it months from now and see how they’ve grown past this tough year. That may be a weird way to look at it, but I love a good cathartic moment as much as the next guy.
Weight. You can lose it.
Who out there went from performing constantly to sitting at home? Who spent quarantine in a studio apartment with no space for a proper grande allegro? Even with the variety of at-home workouts, Zoom classes, and special attention to diet; your body probably does not feel exactly the same as it was, simply because life isn’t the same. High-five to everyone who either maintained or got in better shape, but that’s not everyone’s circumstance. Some used the time to focus, some used it to ease up on themselves, and some didn’t have the strength to do anything but watch Netflix.
While moving all my belongings from Florida to Ohio, securing some sort of income, navigating my declining health, and figuring out why my mail was showing up in random locations (long story), I didn’t realize I was still eating like I was dancing off my calories. Also, I spent the first months at my parent’s house and wanted to enjoy their cooking, and most importantly wanted to finally make an enormous baked mac n’ cheese because it wouldn’t be followed by a weight talk. I first gained, and then lost about 30 pounds in the last 9 months, and I have no regrets. If you gained weight, forgive yourself. It doesn’t make you any less of a performer or human. It surely will take hard work, but you’ve been in your previous shape before, and you can do it again.
That thing you hate about yourself the most, other people probably don’t notice.
With the increased time on social media and in-turn the increased hating on ourselves, we still have those specific things about us that bother us the most. Like I’ve said before, with all that extra time on our hands, we’ve had plenty of time to up the ante stressing about them!
I’d like to share a favorite story, which my colleagues still bring up as the “neck incident.” I always thought my neck was extremely thick, as in, I pictured a straight line from my ear to my shoulder. When I finally revealed this deep insecurity to a dressing room full of cast mates, it caused an absolute uproar. Nobody in the room had ever noticed my self-titled “horse neck,” and none agreed with the critique. Them being some of the most honest (sometimes, brutally) people I know, I thought “wait, really?” It got to the point of measuring everyone’s necks using one of our costume chokers, which led to my ‘aha’ moment, realizing we all wore the same choker size.
The time and effort I spent looking in the mirror, putting myself down, and disguising my quite normal neck with clothes and accessories, was actually all a massive waste of my time. I could refuse to learn from this moment and say, “They’re just being nice and I still have a tree trunk neck,” but there are better ways to spend my time. Of course if you’ve identified “problem areas” you want to address in your workouts, absolutely do so. But realize it’s for improvement and not for dwelling.
Goals change over time, and they should.
The largest and most renowned stages in the world have been hit hard. Many, many people are very heartbroken, and have every right to be. Those stages were countless performers’ ultimate performance goals, and many were happily on their way to achieving them. Unfortunately, some of the biggest theaters and companies are having the hardest time reopening, because every detail of reopening has to be meticulously planned-out, many are located in the states with the most restrictions (with good reasons to have them,) and well, unions.
Let’s say, you’ve dreamed of being on Broadway since you were in the womb but “pandemic circumstances” caused you to flee NYC. Ten months later, you’re a changed person due a new location and your various survival jobs. You may have found other skill sets, know yourself better, learned of new artistic facets in your genre, or stumbled upon another wonderful place to perform. You aren’t the same person you were when you made a goal. Just because your family and friends keep saying, “But that’s your dream! Go after your dream!” doesn’t mean that’s still right for you. You’re not any less of a performer if your dream is put on hold and you’re doing something else right now, and not wanting what you wanted 10 years ago doesn’t make you a quitter: it’s just life. Successful people are adaptable, and some of the most successful can attest to switching their goals when they don’t make sense anymore. If you found something that is currently fulfilling you as a performer or human being, I’ll be mad at you if you don’t stick with it!
You’re not any less of a performer if your dream is put on hold and you’re doing something else right now.
Other people don’t have a say in the pandemic experience you had.
When joyously returning to a paid dance job and mentioning my recent weight loss, someone responded with “performers should always be ready to return to work at any time.” Ok, stop that. First of all, you and I just booked the same job, and were about to perform the same show. Casting didn’t care what I was doing before I got to the room, just what they saw once I was there. Also, rest is equally as important as hard work. I needed it and nobody else can tell me I didn’t, and as a child buckling her own car seat in a viral video once said, “Worry about yourself!”
Now, let’s give it up for the people who had a productive year. You should be extremely proud of everything you’ve accomplished, whether big feats or small. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel guilty for your successes. Your self love can encourage others to have hope that they will again feel pride in themselves. Always think about your audience when speaking about your triumphs, since many are in a very different head space and aren’t processing things normally. And please: don’t complain about your new gig to those who haven’t had the chance to get back on a stage yet.
Nobody else lived the life you did through the pandemic. It’s a fact, and there’s no getting around it. You know the areas in which you killed it, and the things you could’ve done better. You know the hand you were dealt, and nobody else can ever fully understand it. There’s no point in comparing our experiences to others’, unless you’re actively building someone up.
Everyone should be extremely proud of themselves for making it to 2021. I am most certainly not preaching laziness, excuses, or that hard work doesn’t matter. Dancers are perfectionists by nature, and some have been drained of any trace of self love. One thing I know for sure is the last thing anyone needs after a global pandemic is an order of making-your-life-more-difficult. This has been a time for reflection, mental health, overcoming obstacles, and not being kind to yourself won’t change the current state of the world. You deserve to treat yourself well and have a positive perspective for the future, in whatever ways that work for you.