Dear inner critic….
Osho said, “forget the dancer, the center of the ego; become the dance.”
After twenty one years of dancing, let me tell you, I am yet to arrive at this point.
I’ve had moments of pure ecstasy, of becoming so totally enveloped within movement, that everything drifts away. I am not thinking about technique, or performance, or anything at all really. In these sublime moments I am not really dancing, so much as being danced. I feel the inner critic silenced, and a feeling of pure joy pumps through my body. These moments are heaven for me, and I suppose I must have felt these things at a very young age, otherwise I would not have been so persistent about continuing my dancing.
However, as with probably every dancer I have ever met, the hours spent in front of a mirror, the endless training, the drilling of technique, the discovering your short comings, the constant self analysis, the endless comparisons, and in many cases the relentless reminders that you are not good enough, really begin to take their toll.
I hope as I write this that many dancers cannot actually relate. I hope that you have in whatever way preserved your mind and sense of self love throughout your journey, and feel ecstasy often when you dance.
To those who do see their own stories and their own minds in these words, I hope you realise you are not alone in these silent internal battles, and I hope that you come to love your dancing, as much as you love yourself and vice versa.
Art is a funny double edged sword. For those of us who love dancing so much it has become inexorably tied to our identity, it is an expression of a very deep part of ourselves. Inevitably our sense of self worth also becomes tied up with our movements. I grew up in the realm of classical ballet, and as my dancing developed, so too did my inner critic. Unfortunately all of the training seemed to fuel the inner critic faster than it fuelled my dancing, until suddenly the inner critic had overtaken the dancer, and it was getting in the way.
I would go to try new steps, and instead of my inner dancer taking the lead, trusting in myself and simply trying, the inner critic had grown so large it would block my steps before I even began. It made me shaky, from the inside out, it made me second guess myself. I started dancing with my eyes down, because now the inner critic was so large I saw it everywhere. I saw it in the mirror, in the eyes of my fellow dancers, and of course in the eyes of my teachers.
It was only after leaving classical ballet behind that I began to learn how to tame the inner critic, to reconnect with my inner dancer, and to nurture this part of myself. Because dancing is and has always been such a huge part of my life, I found it impossible to unravel the sense of criticism I felt towards my technical dancing, from the sense of criticism I had towards myself.
When I decided to really try and starve out this inner critic, and instead nurture my inner dancer, my entire life began to blossom. The more I explored my own journey of self love, and experimented with different dance styles that offered me freedom, miraculously my dancing improved. At first it was enough just to keep the critic at bay, just ignoring it as best I could, like the elephant in the room I did not really want to face.
As I built myself up, and my dancing became more inspired and in tune with a much more positive part of myself, I decided to face the elephant. I decided to acknowledge its presence, and to consciously flip it on its head. Every time I would hear the dreaded word ‘freestyle’ or ‘improvisation’ in class, I would listen to the inner critic.
‘You don’t know what you’re doing.’
‘Don’t go to full out or you will look like a show off.’
‘You are not as good as X, Y , Z person.’
I would look at those thoughts, and before I danced I would let them go and replace them with new ones. Even if I didn’t believe them, I would say them to myself until I did.
‘You are a great dancer.’
‘dance for yourself.’
‘your movement is an expression of joy.’
And then the nerves would disappear, my legs would kick higher, and I could lift my eyes and look out.
I have pretty much never met an artist or a dancer who is not also some kind of perfectionist, it’s sort of comes as part of the parcel. And there are certain parts of that which help us, and drive us to work hard and continue with our art.
However, recently I have felt the voice of the inner critic rear its ugly head again, and I have been reminded of my journey up until this point. I have also been reminded of it in the faces of other people I dance with. I see them holding back in their movement, terrified to express, glaring themselves down in the mirror, too shy to stand at the front, not wanting to claim their space, not wanting to go first, and looking at everyone else in the class. And I understand because I am and have been every single one of these people.
But at the end of the day it’s all a story. The inner conversations we have between pliés, are stories we create. The self depreciation we partake in during and after class is of our own creation. The comparisons we make in the mirror, come from our own minds. The self judgements we feel in the pauses, are a product only of ourselves. Which in a way is a massive relief. Because it means we have every potential to recreate these stories, to invert these judgements, and to consciously try and return to that point of love and joy in dance.
We can each watch our own minds, and try to dance from a place of self love and nurturing. If we do this then the results can be contagious. We won’t become that teacher that teaches students to self hate. We will support our fellow dancers instead of tearing them down, and we will build up the people we are lucky enough to work with, knowing that the creation and sharing of dance is the sharing of a very deep and special part of ourselves.
I hope that the next time you are in class and you stare at yourself in the mirror you think you look beautiful. I hope you like the way that you move, because it is uniquely yours. The next time you make a ‘mistake’, I hope you see it as a chance to grow and learn, and not a reason to take two steps backwards. I hope the next time you see someone else dancing beautifully, instead of silently cursing them, you tell them how amazing their dance is. I hope next time you recognise your own inner critic or that of someone else, you look it in the eye, and tell it:
I know why you are here,
But please disappear,
I came here to be danced.
~Genevieve Rogan 2016~
Photo credit ~David Bonnell~