Dallas — Last month, I wrote about the perseverance of dancers. I wrote about how emotionally and physically strong they are, and how much they sacrifice for their dreams. But since that piece was published, I’ve been confronted by some issues and circumstances that have me wondering how, when faced with competition and the possibility (an actuality) of rejection, dancers—and artists, in the general sense of the word—can live within a culture of mean.
The dance world, the art world, is small. We forget that sometimes, as we are so focused on our own work, our own lives, and our own troubles. We think that just because we have dedicated our lives to our craft, have made all of these sacrifices to be artists, and spent so long educating ourselves—and getting educated—that we are entitled to the best. To all the jobs and shows and media blitzes. But why do we think that? Why should we just be handed over anything?
Have we earned it?
Have we really given ourselves over completely to whatever craft we practice, that we should just be gifted with success? Sometimes it can feel that way, because we internalize our practices so much that we have made ourselves into celebrities in our own minds. We live in a culture now that allows us to be “famous,” thanks to social media. We can build success through constantly updating our status, posting and re-sharing articles written about us, and we can create happiness through photos and tweets.
We have “plugged in” to a life that is of our own creation, but not always of our own devices—we haven’t always “earned” the life we are showing that we live. But our culture has programmed us to believe that we are entitled to it, and that winning should be emphasized. We are winners in our minds, and that seems to be all that we care about, and all we choose to share. But, “winning,” is a double-edged sword.
I’m using the term “winning” here to represent a good review, and we choose to highlight our wins as they show us in the best light: the more “wins,” the more likely you are to get a job. People want to hire winners. Say you are a director for a musical, who do you want on your team? The choreographer whose work is trending on Twitter and Facebook, and whose Google hits are positive, or the person whose name is unrecognizable; yet, has an impressive résumé? You’re probably going to go for the popular person. The person who the media has shown delivers. They will bring you a win.
It makes sense. We have to publicize ourselves to keep working. But what this situation can create is a potentially hostile environment. Artists are sometimes their own worst enemies. So many feel the need to put down another artist, style, or medium to feel worthy, and those people tend to have a large following of “friends” who believe every word they say or post. They have created a culture for themselves and within their circle of believers that skews the truth, and the result is a world that ends up hurting their peers and fostering unhealthy competition.
And as much as I can understand how we have gotten here, I'm still constantly amazed by the amount of disrespect that some artists have for one another. It saddens me. In a community that stresses how supportive they are of one another, it would be interesting to see what would happen if that was actually personified in actions; instead of snappy comments, unreasonable demands, and a displacement of responsibility.
In 2010, the Dalai Lama spoke to a group at Stanford University on this issue and commented on the fact that we are all human beings who have the right to achieve a happy life, but to do so, we need to develop genuine friendships based on trust that comes from transparency and honesty. Qualities we expect when we open ourselves up to the possibility of rejection.
When we submit our work to festivals, open calls for shows, or propose a work to a theatre or gallery, we think that we should receive a letter or an email that gives us the results (usually because that is stated in the call for submissions). If you’re accepted, it’s balloons and glitter and shouts of congratulations. But if you’re not, you’re lucky if you even receive a notification of non-acceptance/rejection. More often than not, the only way you find out that your work was not included, is when you see online the posting of the groups that were chosen.
Now, if you are so lucky to get an email that says “I’m sorry,” the reasoning is usually so thin and generic, that you’re still as lost as the ones who didn’t receive a note at all. What ever happened to a phone call, a discussion of why a piece of work wasn’t selected, or what was lacking from your application package? It wasn’t too long ago that that was our culture. We used to hear the reasons behind decisions so that we could work on bettering our individual practices. Critiques are healthy. We used to not be so afraid of hurting each other’s feelings by telling the truth. Honesty will get you so much further in life and in your career, whether you are an artist, an educator, a critic, or an organizational leader.
It also helps us to handle rejection better. I know that rejection is a fact of life, and when you are given the chance and the reasoning behind why you should acknowledge that fact you can begin to confront it. And it is in that confrontation that you will be more able to handle it with grace and civility. Handling rejection as an artist hits close to home, because the work lives in your heart, your soul, it is your spirit, your reason for the sacrifices you have made; it is your life pulse. Rejection of a work feels like a rejection of you. There is nothing organic in that, other than the process of moving forward. When you are rejected with honesty, you can move forward much faster.
And toward a culture of compassion—an element instilled in us from an early age, but something that we slowly have blocked out and forgotten as we grow up and experience that sweet taste of success. If we could find ways to celebrate our successes in a manner that isn’t self-serving and narcissistic, we might find that our peers would be more supportive. That this competitive nature that surrounds us would dissipate. I’m not naïve enough to think that it would completely disappear, but if we publicized ourselves with some respect for others who might not have been as “lucky” to be selected for whatever festival, grant, or performance, we might find ourselves in an environment that doesn’t leave us all dreaming of fleeing this city.
What would happen if we all just shared in success?
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
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