Friday, September 5, 2008

Dancer to startup nerd in 18 months

As you may know, I've been working on a book that gives the practical education of how to really truly live as an artist with Milena Thomas over at Quiet the Thunder. The premise of the book is essentially two creative individuals who have mapped out the intellectual, psychological, social, and economical minefield that is an arts career letting other creative individuals in on this valuable information.

Things are going well, but I'm feeling like a bit of a poser. We're calling ourselves 'creative individuals' and, quite frankly, I'm a business manager for an online travel startup. I feel like it deserves a little explanation... maybe no to you, but to me and potential future readers. How did I decide to give up my life's dream? And how am I dealing with it?

When I initially hurt my knee, it was dramatic enough to be soap-opera-worthy. It was at the end of a class, in a big leap, on the day of dress rehearsal for THE big show at Northwestern. I had solos and featured roles in half of the show, with no understudy. Suddenly I was unable to even walk, and unable to perform in the crowning moment of my college career. Worse still, I was suddenly unable to fulfill my duties as an apprentice to the dance company I had been trying to get into for 5 years and had, just two months ago, signed a contract with.

First phase: denial. I was convinced I would perform. The cantaloupe where my tiny knee used to be stopped this.

Second phase: more denial. I didn't think about the issue at hand. I just sat on the couch, iced my knee, watched bad daytime TV and waited for Nick to get home so I could stuff my face and mix painkillers with wine.

Third phase: determination. I was going to have the fastest damn recovery EVER. I became fanatical about physical therapy and even performed exercises in the apartment complex pool. I lost weight, tried to eat right, and took my vitamins.

Fourth phase: indecision. Suddenly, I wondered if it was all worth it. To entertain me in between gym and PT sessions, I took an internship with a small PR firm in Chicago. Suddenly I was a real person again: getting dressed, having a schedule, making a little money. I was learning new things, working in a new office environment, and having the chance to go to some really neat events (there are many perks to PR). I came to a huge realization: My identity to other people was not 'dancer'. I was just a smart, silly, very motivated girl with a lot to offer. I liked this revelation a great deal, but it precipitated a series of little breakdowns where I would decide to not go back to dance, only to jump in the car and drive to a ballet class. I was still healing so there were setbacks, and ultimately I just decided that the grief was getting to me. I still planned on returning to rehearsals for the fall season with the 'dream' dance company.

Fifth phase: false euphoria. Back in the studio again, dance class felt blissful. I had never felt happier. But after class, when rehearsal began, I suddenly realized something: this didn't make me happy anymore. I loved dancing, but dancing was not making me happy. Day two in class I blew out my knee again, and it was a split second decision: it was time to move on.

Sixth phase: mourning. It was not until I was waist-deep in the job search that I really started mourning my dancing career. I assumed that I should stick in the industry, and become an arts administrator... and then quickly realized that I couldn't talk about dance or watch a performance without being brought to tears. I realized I wasn't ready to work with my art in this capacity.

Reflections
The decision not to dance ended up being an easy one: it didn't make me quite happy enough to endure working 40 hour weeks for free and holding three part-time jobs in order to make my tiny rent payment. Could I have made it work? Probably. Could I have eventually found the jobs, either performing or choreographing (or both) that would have allowed me to be 'just' a dancer? It is likely. But could I do it at 22? No.

Now, I'm pretty much over it. I can bear watching dance, my knee is back to maybe 70%, I have a job I love that both pays the bills and lets me be creative a bit, and I'm getting the 'itch' to dance again. But why the hell am I not in class, now that I have the money and a working knee?

I AM TERRIFIED. I'm terrified of getting hurt again, I'm terrified of looking like a fat incompetent slob, I'm terrified of dealing with learning the dance scene of a new city. Most of all, I'm terrified that I'll fall back in love with it and try to go back. This, I know, would be disaster.

So what to do? I know what I need to do. I need to get back in the studio and make dance a constant, albeit small, part of my life. Take classes, maybe choreograph, at least doodle around in the studio to some music. I'll let you know how it goes.

1 comment:

Laura Marie said...

Tori, boy, are you correct. It's crazy that we were going through the same though process, near-simultaneously, on opposite sides of the country. I (less dramatically) tore my meniscus on December 12 of last year, and had surgery (finally) in late January. You know what came next. I was going to make it! I rehabed, and rehabed, and rehabed...and rehabed...and actually had a pretty good audition for Taylor in late May. (It was also the first time I had done large jumps since December 12.) Probably I was in my best form ever.

But somewhere I felt like I could be valued as a person, not just a set of well-placed lines. It wasn't quite the dance I was used to. As much as this was THE DREAM for me, I could not motivate myself just that last bit further. I really, really thought I could. But not quite. So dance was over.

And the mourning process still isn't.

How can I, who used to actively, in each moment, seek to create and express meaning, sit at a computer all day? What can come close to living for something that requires such dedication, such unity between artist and athlete? Where else could I be so real? And how can I give up on the aspiration that was my waking thought each morning for so long?

I'm getting there, too. But it is SO hard.