Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Permission to Fail

When I was a young choreographer I struggled with a lot of insecurities. My biggest fear? That I was doing it wrong and someone might find out.

As a result, I walked into every rehearsal with the attitude that every step I created was a... I don't know, a rainbow made of pure gold. I had to be so certain of every detail, because if I wasn't, someone might find out I didn't actually know what I was doing. I'd be unearthed as a fraud. I couldn't let that happen. I had to have answers for every question and I had to have them immediately.

After a few years of choreographing dances, I started working on one in particular. Now, this dance was giving me a really hard time. Even though every minute was agony, I kept forging ahead. I tried to clean it and fix it and figure out what was wrong. But, the truth was that the whole dance was wrong. It wasn't working. I knew it wasn't working, but, even worse, my dancers knew it wasn't working. They knew that the dance I was creating for them was not, in fact, a rainbow made of pure gold, but more akin to a turd made of tin. Not that anyone said anything, but I could tell by their lack of passion.

I had to do something. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this dance was never going to be good, no matter how I tried to fix it. This realization was followed by a tremendous collapse of self-esteem. What could I do? I couldn't admit that I had created something horrible, could I? Everything I made was supposed to be amazing. I was supposed to be amazing. How else could I expect dancers to stick around and people to come see my dances? How else could I justify my career path?

Ah, silly, inexperienced me.

Finally I swallowed my pride and fear and went to rehearsal. I admitted that I had made a bad dance and made an announcement that we were going to start over. We were going to try something different. Something new. And, we did. And, it turned out okay.

And I learned something. First of all, I learned that everyone makes bad art from time to time. It's okay. Making bad art doesn't make you a bad artist. You can't let your bad art defeat you. You just have to leave it behind and keep working.

But, more importantly, I learned that it isn't always about me. I can't choreograph to my own ego. I can't create to justify my right to do so. I can't let my fear stand in the way of what is best for my art. Because, really, it isn't my art. It's art I happen to make. It deserves to become more than a stressed out tribute to my ability to make a dance. It should get to breathe and live beyond what I can give it.

What about you? Have ever come to a point where you've had to start over? Was it a hard decision to make?

7 comments:

  1. I think everyone feels like a bit of a fraud sometimes. But you're right, one bad piece of art doesn't have to define you unless you let it.

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    1. Sometimes it helps to remember that, the fact that everyone feels like a bit of a fraud sometimes. :)

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  2. Truly one of the most difficult things to do (in any endeavor) is to just let go. I believe we think we can control fear, external expectations, perceptions, etc. so we fight like hell initially. It's only after a few fall-downs/get-back-ups we realize the inevitability of struggle. It's what we're MEANT to do. No one is a natural. No one JUST has it. Not Michael Jordan, not Brad Pitt, not anyone. They all have to work, and plow ahead when they fail, and believe.

    You're 100% correct; if we are so preoccupied with not screwing up, we'll never see it even if we do succeed. Lovely post!

    EJ

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    1. Very true! I guess the hard part is knowing when to let go and when to keep fighting.

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  3. Excellent observation! I haven't done choreography or dance, but I do artwork along with writing. And some works just don't have the zip that others do, as much as I try to improve them. Just as you said! I'm glad you were able to realize that. :) But it's good to explore our ideas, because we don't know what might work out fabulously, with a bit of work and fixin'. :)

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    1. Or, what we might be able to recycle into another piece of art. ;)

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  4. This is such an important lesson. I try to give myself permission to try things and fail which is hard since I want to be good at everything. As a creative person I totally understand the feeling that someone is going to find out I'm a fraud and don't know what I'm doing.

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