I had the most unique commencement ceremony when I graduated high school. Very few people wore cap and gown. As it was a performing arts school, section "8a" in the handbook stated, "Thou shalt act as weird as thou can whilst thou graduateth from the School of the Arts." No kidding, I swear it was in there! Well, perhaps not, but one would have thought it to look at the strange collage of youngsters raring to go out into the world and become "professional starving artists." For example, I wore a cap....with the tassel standing straight up and a clown nose, and I twisted animal balloons throughout the event.
My school is known for having exciting speakers at commencement. My class was no exception. We had an extremely well-known actress whose work I have continued to enjoy over the years. She was witty, sincere and encouraging. The message she had for us was simple.
"Get a life."
She talked about the importance of not taking our work home. As artists, we would need to have interests and social settings that would not be connected to our work as performers in order to lead healthy and balanced lives.
I have had this quote tattooed on my mind ever since. It has saved me on a number of occasions. I cannot imagine what I would do without my interests that have nothing to do with that which I work at thirty hours a week. Oftentimes, It is extremely difficult to leave work at work. I had a co-worker a few years ago who had an interesting way of handling this. When conversation continually shifted towards our job, he would eventually say, "Ok, that's enough shop-talk. We're going to talk about something else now." Every time the conversation would drift back it was, "Nope. No shop-talk!" I love that way of thinking of it.
Like so many things, "getting a life" takes practice. It's frightening to put myself out there. I have always been an outgoing person, and few who know me would ever categorize me as "shy," but when I am out of my element, I freeze. I can crawl into my shell so quickly that one could ask, "who's that mope in the corner?!?" I have found that if I present myself with confidence, self awareness and respect for others, people are likely to meet me at least forty percent of the way. I've always said that as long as someone is willing to give at least that much, I will happily give the other sixty percent and see where it goes. After all, who knows where the next lifelong friendship may be found? The next mentor? The next employer?!? Is it not at least worth it to try and see? Networking is imperative in the performing arts. Some think of it only as a business tool, but I would advise anyone who sees it this way to take the leap and branch out.
I am afraid that one of the stereotypes dancers face is that of being snobby and overly self-absorbed. I know this to be a great misconception because I have come to know many genuinely wonderful and generous people throughout my time with the ballet company. I can see however, where this image comes from. If from an early age, we aren't pushed and encouraged to branch out and open up to others who aren't exactly like us, we have to create this skill later on in life. This is a huge flaw in our isolating training as dancers. I am not sure where or how to solve this, but I do know that I will do my small part and strive to encourage my students(and anyone else for that matter) to move beyond their comfort zone and "Get a life."