Everyday we wake up, go about our morning routine, rush into the world to take on the day- some of us have the opportunity to actively pursue our art, others may find themselves struggling to find the time, energy or motivation to push forward- nonetheless, we are all artists in everything that we do. Although we may forget it, I think it helps to remember that our identity as artists is not dependent on how much art we make in one day, or how many classes we take, but how we go about our lives and how the choices that we make matter in the long run.
During the summer of 2012, I had the unique opportunity to interview several successful dance artists, living and working in New York City. I picked their brains about how they began their careers, who they have worked with, what challenges they have faced and what advice they could offer to young, bright eyed and bushy tailed dancers trying to pursue a life dedicated to dance and being an artist. As a twenty-three year old, recent college graduate, who has been on quite a roller coaster ride while attempting to “make it” in New York, I had to take the time to remember the advice and encouragement I received that summer.
As I have met and engaged with more young, twenty somethings in New York, it seems that I am not alone in my struggles or moments of doubt. Rather these feelings and struggles seem to be the norm, so as an attempt to offer some motivation and encouragement, I would like to share the following quotes from renowned dancer and choreographer, Jennifer Nugent.
As dancers, we often struggle to feel satisfied with our work or where we are, despite our dedication and blood, sweat and tears. This endless flow of energy and effort seems to be the element of this ephemeral art form that no one can escape. However, Jennifer’s words helped me to understand that this is not a phenomenon experienced only by people like you, or me, but by all artists, and it is something to embrace. She says, “I feel as though being established is also a personal feeling, I’m learning, because in some ways you are established, and then in some ways as an artist you never have a feeling of being established, and it’s more of an inside sort of satisfaction”. Her words remind us that we are always working towards something else, ever changing and evolving in order to reach new levels and ideas. It never ends.
After a long conversation about stability, finances, production aspects, living in New York, etc, Jennifer left the most meaningful and longlasting impression on me with her advice to trust in myself and to trust in the universe. She explained, “when you really want something to happen and you really want to do something you just figure out a way and then it happens. I think it’s 50% of that, and 50% of really working hard to make it happen. There is some sort of spirituality to it. In some ways the universe does provide. It doesn’t mean you can just throw caution to the wind and not ever focus and hope that everything will work out for the best… but when your priorities are in a good place, or a place that is appropriate for you, things will manifest in those ways. It’s just kind of part of the path. So it kind of works that way, which is cool about being an artist; there is this spiritual path that you can choose to take and it does provide and it does lead you in the directions that you need to go. Sometimes you listen to it and sometimes you just can’t hear it, or you struggle for a while, and then all of sudden you’re like, “oh, okay, let’s try this”. Or things are presented to you and when they are, grab onto it; if you don’t something else will present itself. You might find yourself where you never thought you’d be…I think the main thing is just follow your interests, and it will take care of you. I’m glad I just did that. It’s not like anyone told me to do that. It just so happened that I did, and I am really glad that I didn’t know anything about the modern dance world. I was very fortunate to be lost in the showgirl life, and be like “oh!” bright eyed and bushy tail when it came. It served me well. Being a little naïve is okay”.
At the end of the day, trust in yourself and trust in your interests. Follow your interests until they no longer interest you. Don’t be afraid of change, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to journey down an unknown road; none of us know where life is taking us. And with that, as you journey on, I will leave you with a few more words of advice, from the woman who says it best…
“The dance world has changed so much. I feel like younger, newer artists are so much more prepared for the unknown…It seems like you are an artist so everything about your life can be about being an artist. It’s not just if I get in this company, then I’m an artist. It’s that everything is about being an artist—your choices for the day, the way you live your life, what you want, what you go and get. It’s not the getting that makes an artist, but it’s everything before it. I think that’s a huge thing. It’s not like, “oh, I’ll be an artist when I get into this company”. I know it’s about every single step leading up to that and then after that that is about being an artist. There is no ladder, there is no quota, there is no measurement or graph where the color line is going to rise and you’re more an artist when this gets there. It just doesn’t work that way. It can just set people up for a lot of disappointment. Have high curiosities but not high expectations, or rather… just be open. You just don’t know which way it is going to flip or switch. And don’t get too tied into the idea that it has to be this way. I think it is being fluid, and all those tiny little steps are so important and so valuable. You don’t want to skip it and just get to some grand place; that grand place is never going to really be there because you are always going to be working to the next place. It’s kind of a façade, or a mirage in the desert. It’s a mirage because every time you become something and are being it changes… that’s what is so beautiful about being an artist… there is no endpoint. Everyone wants to be an artist, then you are an artist. You are an artist. Right now. So then tomorrow, and everyday it is going to be building towards where you are going to end up. Or never end. And artists have so many lives… Every experience is necessary and important, and not important meaning precious or needs to be indulged upon, but just remember it and be like okay this happened, and that happened…”