Making the decision to lean into the discomfort of my changing situation changed me. I started to look at it as less of a war – me against my body – and more of a second chance at life. The life I had designed and living to that point was hard. It had hard boundaries. It had hard expectations. It had hard rules. It had hard consequences. I was in love with the challenge of the life I had designed, but there was little room for pleasure.
I was being given a second chance to design my life. A second chance to find pleasure in my life. Without being able to do everything I had before, I had no sense of worth. I was given a chance to find the meaning within myself rather than outside in the decorations I used to justify myself before. I was given a chance to find out who I was and who I could become. I had always been certain of a few things about myself. For one, I was strong. You could beat me, literally, and I would stand back up for more. You could torture me emotionally and I would get past it. You could abuse my trust and I would find a way to trust again.
I also knew that I was smart. I could absorb information at a rate that few could contend with. I could evaluate a situation in short time and be able to tell you the best way to navigate it – in business, life, and human interaction. I could control my body in ways that defied my body size. Smarts were something I had always been able to call upon.
I knew that I was honest. Someone that couldn’t get away with a lie or be able to stomach the idea of being deceptive. If someone asked me for my opinion on something, it was hard for me not to be blunt. Even if my opinion was one that did not put someone in a favourable light. Sometimes I wished I could sugar coat my opinions, but alas, I was not.
These three traits were on what I could start to build my life. They were my essence for as long as I could remember. I knew that there had to me more to me than this, but this was a starting point. I needed to build branches from these three seeds I was replanting. I needed to define meaning in a new way. I did not have the definition yet of who I was, but that would come.
Why is registration on the decline in the dance world? Why are studios closing and teachers moving on to other professions? Why are competitions struggling to stay after they existed and thrived in the past? These are questions for which the answers have not yet been found to satisfaction.
I live in a city where the economy can be boom or bust depending on the resources it is based on. It is not the most stable economy, yet, we keep plugging on. Areas where they have a more stable basis for their economy are struggling as well, but they have more gradual shifts. In recent years, the economy of the dance world has been on the decline. It is a strange phenomenon. I know that other business fields are experiencing or expecting to start experiencing crisis in their economy as well.
There are fewer people registered for classes. There are more students leaving than there are students to replace them. Having fewer students to teach when the same number of teachers exists results in hard times for those who provide the foundation of the community. Is this because dance as a past time is being replaced with other activities? Maybe. Perhaps we are in a natural low in the dance economy’s cycle? It is hard to tell. What we can tell is that there have had to be major cutbacks in classes offered. This has resulted in less variety being available because there is not the student body to support what used to exist. I would have thought with the popularity of dance shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, there would have been a spark of new interest in dance. The numbers do not show this. Hence, there are studios that have been around for decades that are choosing to close their doors because it no longer makes sense to run an expensive facility. The return on having a business has to justify the cost – financially, emotionally, and physically.
The decline of registration in competitions has been staggering. Some competitions that have existed for decades are closing their doors in the coming years. This is a shame as they were part of the tour of competitions that students dreamed about at the beginning of each dance season. It is justifiable why the competitions are closing though. They come at a staggering cost for the promoters of the competition. The facility to host the event at costs a lot. Hiring a variety of judges to create an unbiased panel involves travel and hosting expenses. When there are not enough registrants, it becomes difficult for advertisers to justify advertising if there will be little return on the investment. It feels like one thing after another for the promoters and the stress from trying to keep a dying competition alive hardly seems worth it.
Is the media affecting the dance economy? I would say yes. We are seeing natural disasters happening all over the world. There is coverage everyday about the global economy being in bad shape. That we are headed for crisis again soon. Perhaps this has become a wake up call for those who were spending outlandishly. I have difficulty justifying material purchases for things that I can do without. Investing in my health though is something I cannot scrimp on. Part of this investment is dance as I consider this one of the healthiest things I do. I continue to support dance events in my community as I want to do my best to help maintain what we have left. If dance is important to you, make sure you are doing your part to ensure its survival.
As dancers, there is an expectation of beauty and perfection from ourselves, especially when we are first developing as dancers. This is to be expected when we are new learning skills. There has to be a level of mastery before we can start making things our own. I still have this expectation of myself when I start learning new moves. Once my body understands how it should be executed to fit the criteria of perfection, that’s when the fun begins. That’s when I work on the ugly.
Ugly is not an easy concept for dancers as we are so entrenched in the philosophy of beauty. There are days when I want to be beautiful and dance in a way that is accepted in my realm as such. These are the days I am staying within my comfort zone. These are the days that I do not grow. These are the days that are good for my ego. These are also the days that are bad for my career because I am not stretching my mental limits. It’s understandable to have to have beautiful days to keep confident. They have to be matched with days of discomfort as well though to have balance. There is always a dichotomy to be able to have a whole person in balance.
Some of the most interesting choreographers, teachers, and coaches work with ugly. What I mean is they break from the accepted beauty of the dance. Whether it is using different faces, broken lines, or unusual sequences of steps, it makes for new challenges for the body while discovering new movement. One choreographer I worked with challenged me years ago with the concept of ugly. It wasn’t labelled as such, but that’s how I think of it. There were days I wanted to cry because my boundaries were so stretched, I was so uncomfortable and self-conscious. Even though she knew she was doing this to me, she kept pushing me anyway.
At the time, I was not that thankful. There were days I dreaded going to rehearsal. My stomach would be in knots just thinking about going. However, she shaped me more than any other dancer. Whenever I choreograph, I think to how she shattered my concept of beauty and use that to get outside my box of tricks. This allows me to create performances that are more beautiful and touching than if I stuck to pretty dancing. It allows for a unique experience for the audience and they walk away with a memory that I helped imprint. Does it get any more satisfying than that?