The other day I was backstage getting ready for a show when I had a thought; “I can’t wait until the shows are over tonight so I can eat” and friends, I’d be lying if I told you this was the first time I’ve had a thought of this sort. No, no, I’m not referring to thoughts about food- although that does take up a significant portion of my brain space- I’m talking about the thoughts of what’s next while you’re still in the midst of right now. Or rather, placing more value on what’s coming up rather than what is currently happening.
The funny thing is, I was excited for the shows that night earlier in the day. But when the time came, I only felt excited for what came next; sitting with my friends and fellow cast members, eating food, but most prominently, enjoying the satisfaction of having just finished two high-intensity shows. The act of actually performing those shows seemed daunting to me now. To my disappointment, I’ve observed this theme to be quite omnipresent in my life as a performer. In a current job, I start to think about how it will lead to the next. When preparing for a performance exam, I often feel an intense anxiety to get it over with so I can move on. Get through rehearsals to get to the performance, etc. After observing these patterns, I can’t help but wonder; Am I choosing the things I spend my life doing as a dancer purely for the results, accolades and ticked boxes they will supposedly bring?
I really enjoy dancing. I enjoy hearing music that implores me to move. I enjoy moving in a way that brings about gratifying physical sensation. I enjoy the satisfaction that comes from executing difficult choreography correctly. I enjoy the pride of finally stepping on stage in full costume, hair and makeup after weeks of sweaty, sore, tired, makeup-less rehearsals. I enjoy creating my own movement. I enjoy performing for an engaged, lively audience. It’s clear to me that I enjoy many aspects of dancing, so no, I don’t believe I choose to do things just for the aforementioned results, accolades and ticked boxes. So if that’s true, why do I still find myself so frequently thinking of what it brings next?
I think a lot of it stems from both the inherent vulnerability and volatility of being a working dancer. It’s scary shit. Not only do you have to deliver an honest, authentic version of yourself both in process and performance but that person also has to be polished, well-rehearsed and within the confines of someone else’s vision. And then on top of that, you have the knowledge that your next job is never guaranteed looming over your head. It’s enough to make a person constantly think about what’s next, whether that be their next job or accomplishment or simply their next moment to rest. What I’m trying to do is create an environment in my mind wherein I feel present enough to enjoy the things I know I enjoy in dance without thinking of what comes next.
Something I’ve been doing recently to try and achieve this enjoyment of things I know I enjoy (sounds silly I know), is referring to a small list of mid-show check-ins to bring me back into the present and to reconnect me with why I’m here. I plan to write a whole separate post on this, but I want to share my two favorites with you right now:
- Who are you doing this for?
These are two simple things I can quickly bring my mind to focus on that successfully pulls me back into the joy of performing. I like to use “Who are you doing this for?” when I’m feeling disconnected, like I’m just going through the motions or feeling a lack of energy. I usually pick myself at either of two different, specific past stages in my life as the person I’m doing this for and I find it very useful in reconnecting me to my ‘why’. I should note, I always answer that question prior to the show and then remind myself mid-show should I need to. The second, “Breathe”, albeit overused, still garners significant praise. I like to use this when I find myself thinking about too many things on stage- what job I’m gunning for next, the next piece in the show that kicks my ass, how good sleeping is going to feel. It helps to have just one thing to focus on and it actually does have beneficial physical effects since dancing, as we know, requires more oxygen than we seem to remember to give. I am a better dancer when I breathe, this I know for sure.
As a disclaimer, I want to mention that there is nothing wrong with having a next step or bigger goal in mind. What’s detrimental is the belief that this next step or bigger goal will bring more joy than the current process. There’s a lot of happiness and fulfillment to be experienced in the small steps towards something bigger, even if you’re not sure what that bigger thing is. I’m currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and I want to leave you with a quote from the book to reinforce my thoughts. She says, “If I can enjoy the present, I don’t need to count on the happiness that is (or isn’t) waiting for me in the future. The fun part doesn’t come later, now is the fun part.”