We all know this situation:
We are gently flowing along in our dance life and feel comfortable in what we are doing, and suddenly something happens that completely throws us off our path. May it be a note, a new teacher, a challenging performance, or an injury – from one moment to the other we question our entire existence as a dancer and as a human being.
It is often that we slip into this state of insecurity and uncertainty through events that make us think about who we are and what we want to achieve with our art. For example, we take class with a new teacher who has a totally different approach to what we are used to. He may see and correct things that have never been mentioned to us before which makes us question our own approach and style, seeing ourselves from a different perch. It is then that we put different expectations towards our own dancing, and if we do not fulfill these expectations, we get frustrated and disappointed at ourselves. We develop a feeling that we are floating around, unsure about what we do and who we are.
There are a few things to remember if we are experiencing states like this:
1. Life is change
I know that it may seem convenient to think that one day we know who we are, maybe after a certain number of performances we have done or pieces we have choreographed. But it’s – of course – not that easy. The only constant thing in life is change. That we can depend on for sure. There will never be a moment in which we can say “Ahh, so this is me now!” Only moments of “Ahh, I have figured out what characterizes me right now. But that can change tomorrow, next week, or next year.”
The moment we become aware of and open to change, we are able to accept it and rid ourselves from fears.
2. Everybody goes through this
You think you are the only person who experiences these insecurities– maybe because you are not good enough? No. Talking to many different people about this topic, I realized that these states of uncertainty happen to anybody, regardless of style, age, and experience. And if you think about it – even (or especially?) people at the top of their field never dance the same way throughout their career. Tap dance master Savion Glover for example started with Broadway tap dancing, then was famous for his heavy “hitting” style and today is a leading figure in jazz music, establishing deep grooves over a long time period. His style evolved, and so does everybody’s. Our journey would be boring if it was any different.
3. Change your perspective
It seems like the moment we are in this insecure state of being we want to get out of it as soon as possible– perceiving this transitional period as something negative. But what if those times are actually the best? We never learn and grow as much as when we question ourselves, when something pushes us out of our comfort zone. We should not make it even harder by fighting against our feelings. Instead we should embrace everything that comes our way and live in the moment. Sooner or later we will realize how helpful this struggle was and that we go out of it wiser and stronger than before.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others
Everybody is on a different journey. So don’t compare yourself to others in your class or company. They are where they are and you are where you are. Everyone’s life goes at a different pace, and we experience different things at different times. There is no right or wrong. Don’t assume that the girl in the first row who seems to dance the choreography exactly as the teacher pictures it never struggles. She is just at a different place, and you also don’t know what she thinks and feels – maybe she is as insecure as you are? Get inspired by the light that other people radiate, embrace it, and soon you will be able to shine bright again, inspiring others to do the same.
5. Don’t judge anything
Speaking about not comparing you should also not judge anything – yourself, your feelings, other people. Accept everything and tell yourself it’s okay to feel whatever you feel. Don’t get angry at yourself because the pirouette doesn’t come out the way you want it to. Your body and mind are adjusting to a new state of being, and it’s completely normal and okay if some things need a little time. You don’t know what life has planned for you, so you might as well surrender to your inner guide and be open to the experience. Even if something feels weird or uncomfortable or frustrating –
“The more something upsets you, the more it is meant for you. When it no longer upsets you, it is no longer needed because the lesson is complete.” (Bryant McGill)
6. Go with the flow
This state won’t last forever. It is just a transitional path that takes your dancing to a new, higher level. Also, life never runs linear. You might have to take three steps back in order to move four steps forward. In any case, everything is for the best. If you experience a setback, an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation – it may feel ugly in that moment, but in the end everything is a lesson for you. And lessons are not always easy. Sometimes we have to hit the bottom to realize certain things. If something feels really nasty and we are able to learn from it and then let it go, it is a deep, long-term lesson.
7. Don’t take anything too seriously
And finally, do not take the situation or yourself too seriously. Of course we are prone to a sensation of “world weariness” if everything seems to be uncontrollably floating in space. But does worrying change anything? At the most it will make everything worse. So realize that your purpose as a dancer and as a human being is greater than your temporary insecurities. Even though it might not feel that way, life is still beautiful and a gift. If you are able to maintain as much positive energy as possible, everything will fall into its right place sooner or later.
Sandra “Sunny“ Kluge is a tap dancer originally from Germany. Partly self-taught, she was influenced by many different teachers and mentors, such as Barbara Duffy, Sebastian Weber, Pia Neises, Derick Grant, Sarah Petronio, and Heather Cornell, to only name a few. She sees herself as a musician, deeply influenced by the language of jazz music, and is always striving for the most genuine and sophisticated musical expression possible.
However, her style is not only influenced by jazz. Other important aspects of her journey as an artist – as well as a human being – include visual art, singer/songwriter music, world music, different cultures, psychology, and meditation.