What purpose are you using your art for? Are you trying to get something with it? Are you looking to gain approval or praise? Are you using it to prove something about yourself or to yourself? Are you using it as a measuring stick for your self-worth…or, a method to gain self-worth? Or, without expectations, are you letting your art flow through you as a form of expression and a way to share yourself with the world? Are you coming to the table already full and complete in yourself where the only thing you have left to do is give back? Dance technique-wise, these two modes may not look all that different. But, in terms of the impact you make with your art both on yourself and the world around you, the impression you leave can be quite different.
We’ve all been there at some point. You feel this anxious need to get something out of every performance, even every class and rehearsal. You can’t wait for the feedback and validation after the show. The anticipation of compliments and criticisms fuels you and provides the motivation behind every move you make. You need the recognition in order to feel worthy. You need it to feed your ego. Even more so, you need to dance in order to prove something to yourself - that you are enough.
Did anyone see the miniseries Flesh and Bone on Starz? It revolves around this very struggle. The main character, Claire, is cast as a principal in a leading ballet company. On the surface, she gets everything she ever dreamed of, which makes it all the more devastating when she realizes that she still isn’t fulfilled. Without going into too much detail, she needs to be seen by her brother in order for it all to feel real…for her to feel real.
This may appear to come from a conceited, egotistical place, but ironically it stems from a deep insecurity, from not knowing who you are at your core. If you don’t have a sense of your own value, you are going to look to other people to tell you who you are and what you are worth. Your ego will be built on other people’s opinions, and your demons will create rules, restrictions, and expectations to ensure you fit this image. You will end up using your art to uphold this manufactured self, which attaches a neediness to your art.
This all ends up accomplishing the exact opposite of what you are looking for. It detracts from your art by choking out your freedom and creativity. You tighten up and squeeze your dancing in an effort to fit yourself into this box. Rather than letting yourself flow, you must pretend to be this fake self, which takes you further from realizing your actual potential. The very thing you are using your art for ends up being elusive with this mindset. The more you use your dancing as a tool to chase fame and self-worth, the further you get from it.
That is why it can be so devastating if you don’t get the role you want, the job you auditioned for, or have a “successful” performance…because it is a threat against your identity. You put all your worth into this image of yourself as a great dancer, and when outside circumstances don’t support that image, it can tear you apart.
The most effective, powerful art comes from giving freely without expectations, without needing anything back in return. It’s a subtle mindset shift where the motivation and drive come from a completely different place. When you are doing your art with the intention to impress and get validation, it’s not authentic. Versus, when you are baring your soul to the audience in an effort to share a piece of your self, it is an act of generosity and vulnerability, of true artistic expression. And, as subtle as it may be, your audience can feel that.
Not only can the audience feel it, but you can too. The most fulfilling art comes without being dependent on an outcome and without being dependent on others for a reaction. Having the ability to fully immerse yourself in your art and take pleasure in it should be the ultimate end game of a thriving artist. It’s something that nourishes you from the inside out…not the other way around.
This comes from a genuine awareness that you don’t have to earn your worth; that you are already enough just as you are. You come to the stage as a full, complete, worthy human being before the performance even begins. This awards you the bravery to truly give freely with your art. That is when the real magic can happen. No longer bound by expectations, obligations, or outcomes, you can open up and let your passion run through you.
So what if some people don’t like your dancing? There are always going to be haters. Even the best of the best have critics who pick them apart. Art is subjective, and you will never make everyone happy. So stop trying to. If you put yourself out there and dance from an authentic place, a vulnerable place, you are guaranteed to make an impact with your dance. Regardless of that, you have this song inside you, this passion that has to be shared. If you choke it out, hide it away, and try to mold it for other people's sake, you will never find happiness or fulfillment. And you deserve more than that.
You. Are. Enough.
What kind of an impact are you leaving with your art? Are you chasing fame and recognition in an effort to keep your ego trip alive? Or are you giving your art freely without expecting anything in return? Ask yourself these questions before the curtain goes up the next time you step on stage.
Photo Credit: Steve Vaccariello
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