It’s interesting that this link from a few years ago popped up on my Facebook page yesterday and again this morning.
(It’s an interesting read – have a gander.)
In it, dance artist Shawn Renee Lent – who wonderfully describes herself as “…a social practice dance artist and program manager, blogger, adviser, and presenter/facilitator.” – discusses her journey through the dance industry, and how her decision to concentrate on dance in social, therapeutic and health contexts leads other dancers/industry professionals to make an assumption that she somehow ‘gave up’ on or failed at dance, because she does not dance on stages in commercial (read: professional?) contexts.
It is heartening to be reminded of the breadth of this (often wonderful, but persistently tricky and mind-bogglingly stubborn and difficult) industry, as well as the prompt to remember that success doesn’t fit into a neat checkbox, and that it doesn’t look the same for everyone, or mean the same thing to everyone.
I say this after being thrown into a mental and emotional tailspin in recent weeks after seeing a number of ‘hard work pays off’ type posts on social media. You see – and this does not denigrate in any way my wonderful colleagues successes and hard work, or how proud I am of them or thrilled I am for them – sometimes…sometimes, hard work just doesn’t seem to pay off. Sometimes the only reward for hard work is burnout.
Burnout is real and scary, and it has happened to me.
(Here comes the agonising soul baring – sorry folks.)
Sometimes striving so hard for the ‘success’ you think you want (and the thing that the industry and seemingly everyone in it defines it as) leads you to working three jobs, running yourself down to the point where you can literally no longer go on (and yet still can’t stop or say ‘no’). I made myself sick last year. My burnout looked like vertigo followed by 5 months of intense and inescapable vestibular migraine and visual disturbance which still haunts me like a bastard dementor waiting to take grip of my brain and my life at any opportune moment. It looked like anxiety and exhaustion and sleepless nights and still work-filled days. It looked like being ground to the point at which I found it difficult to watch any sort of dance at all, let alone be creative – or, for that matter, have any desire to be creative. It looked like no longer wanting to move in any way construed as dance and seeking solace in yoga studios where I somehow gave myself a pass to be physical in a space without the weighing judgement of whether or not my dancing body worked. It looked like a lot of self-hatred and disappointment. Some days, it still does.
It looked like me having to make a change. It looked like me quitting my job, putting ‘normal’ life on hold, and leaving the country in order to reset and rediscover a pathway more sustainable for the long term than the one I was on.
Burnout is real guys, and it’s fucking ugly.
I’m still away, sort of on sabbatical, and I’ve had the most incredible 8 months of travels and adventures and sleep and rest, and there’s still time yet. I’m feeling much, much better health wise. And yet, on my journey of discovery, I still haven’t found exactly what it is that that new, improved pathway looks like. Or what my definition of ‘success’ is for me as an artist. Or what my work going forward will look like, or in which contexts I think I should be working. Some days, I don’t know what it looks like at all, which is terribly scary. Currently in my mire of uncertainty, all I know is that it can’t look like the boggy road I left behind.
I do know that I, we, the industry should continue to think about and discuss and debate what that elusive ‘success’ looks like. To break down walls that define certain things as successful or professional and other things as amateur or less than. We should speak openly about the trials of surviving as artists, about burnout, about roadblocks. About the hard work, not just the payoff. And about pay, and equality and inclusivity.
It’s the only way we can open up possibilities – for the industry, for artists, for work.
We’re living in difficult times – if artists can’t think in big and revolutionary ways for ways to make the world better, who can?