This vulnerable business

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Earlier this week, a smart, beautiful young dancer asked me a very familiar question, “How can I do this?” She is working on a solo video project under my direction, and she is struggling with this business of vulnerability, a struggle I know very well.  Standing at the top of a busy stairwell, she was clearly fighting back a well of tears as she explained that she hated all the movement material she had made.  More to the point, she kept comparing her work and her body to those of her peers and always found herself at fault, not good enough, never sufficient.

It was like listening to echos of myself from ten years ago…and, if I’m painfully honest, even just days ago.


Usually, it is the opposite. So often we see the worst version of ourselves instead of the best.

As we move to a quieter place to talk, I tried to comfort and reassure her the best I could.  I found myself saying things that were true but sounded hollow as they passed through my lips: “You are the woman you are and have the body you have partly because of choices you have made.  You have to make your art right now based on the woman you have already chosen to be.  Who you are right now is enough to do this.”

I really believe all of that to be true. This young lady has great ideas and a lovely movement quality; she has everything she needs.  And yet, my belief matters little when stacked up against whatever she chooses to tell herself.  The “answers” I was giving her felt lackluster.  I’ve heard them before and rejected them myself.  Sometimes no matter how much I want to believe that I’m sufficient, I just don’t feel that way.  Sometimes I don’t feel brave, just broken.

Making art, growing up, being a woman.  It is all such vulnerable business.  Sitting across from this young woman, her tears flowing now, I decided just to be blunt with her. With over ten years more experience than her, I’m still struggling with the some of the same questions.  I just couldn’t offer her definitive answers.  All I could honestly say was, “Me too. I’ve faced this too and it hasn’t defeated me.”

As she walked away to face the rest of her day, I wasn’t sure if I had really helped her or not.  Part of me felt…well, insufficient…but another part of me felt this odd sense of joy.  Seeing the difference between what she has to offer and how she felt in that moment gave me a greater appreciation for how blessed we all are–if only we can see it.  And, perhaps this is the most important business of art and life: reminding each other that even our brokenness can be blessing if connects us, instead of isolating us.

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