Whew! We did it! My classmates and I have just completed the 2014 Tisch Dance Summer Residency Festival, which means that we are absolutely, 100% done with our first year! Looking back, it’s been completely mad. Absolutely mental. And while my experiences this year have not changed who I am, per se, I cannot say that I have remained unaffected; rather, I have become more deeply and wholly myself.
And, as I look back, I also can’t help but think of all the things I rather wish I could have told myself in the first few weeks at this program. So, here are fourteen things I’ve figured out this year that might have been good to hear about ten months ago (too bad the TARDIS is unavailable…)
- You deserve to be here. You will probably find yourself at dance orientation wondering how on earth you’re in a room with so many beautiful people. And then in placement classes and the first few weeks of technique and composition you’ll realize that all of these beautiful people know how to move. It’s going to be terribly intimidating. You aren’t going to doubt that any of your peers belong here, so don’t doubt that the faculty knew what they were doing when they decided that you—yes, you—deserve to be here, too.
- Be yourself. It’s not just a cliché anymore, it’s one of the many high expectations that this school has for you. The faculty will not try to make you a particular kind of dancer. They will be scary and/or silly, almost definitely tough, and collectively from an insanely diverse array of backgrounds, but everything they do comes from a place of caring about helping you to become the best version of yourself. They’re going to give you as many tools as possible, because the hallmark of a Tisch dancer is not one who looks or moves a certain way but one who can adapt to nearly anything and always has a point of view that is distinctly their own.That extends to your peers as well. Don’t fret about not fitting in. In the studio, the individual is celebrated even as we form a community that loves to share movement with each other. Anything less than your brilliantly imperfect self just won’t cut it here, inside the studio or out.
- Practice gratitude and positivity. Begin every class with a happy thought. Don’t just say thank you to your teachers at the end of class out of habit. Be grateful to them, as well as to your peers who are in the trenches with you, to the musicians who are sometimes the only thing that will get you through a rough day (or, other times, will play your favorite song just to make you smile), and to anyone or anything that makes your day better or brighter. You are fortunate enough to be able to do what you love every single day, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be difficult, so create an environment for yourself that reminds you of the good things even when you think you cannot possibly stand to be in the dance building for another moment.
- Show up and do the hard work. And, every day, thank yourself for doing it.
- Accept that sometimes things just won’t work. There are going to be days that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t do a single pirouette and cannot seem to complete even the simplest movement phrases. And that is absolutely okay. Shaking it off—or better yet, being able to laugh at yourself—is a lot more productive (and healthier) than getting upset every time you don’t have a perfect class (which, lets face it, is every day). Technique, in some fashion or other, is something that you will be constantly working on until the last day of your career. So work hard, work smart, but don’t freak out.
- Deal with it. Whenever freaking out inevitably occurs (because it will), go with it. Feel whatever anger or disappointment or fear or sadness you’re going through. Ride it out. Face it, because ignoring it won’t help anyone. Then step away, acknowledge that it happened, and keep moving forward. And on the really brilliant days, let yourself feel that too.
- Listen to your body. Know the difference between discomfort that you can push through and signals from your body that say you need to take a step back. At the same time, however, don’t treat injuries as limitations. Think of them as challenges in the choreography. Prioritize sleep, eat the foods that will help you survive the day, and, for the love of all that is good, ROLL OUT AFTER CLASS.
- Take care of each other. One of our main jobs as dancers is to take care of each other, because if we don’t then nobody else will. There are people here that will love you for all of your quirkiness and madness, not in spite of it but because of it. They will take care of you when you need them to. Return the favor. Sometimes if you’re wobbling, the best way to help yourself is to help balance the people who are wobbling more than you are. And (bonus!) dancers give the best hugs.
- Be a real human. Don’t lose your sense of self outside of being a dancer. The best dancers, you will soon realize, put themselves into the work.
- Find the value in watching. I don’t just mean keeping your eyes open, I mean observing. Of course you should watch your peers in class to give yourself advice or be inspired to approach a movement in a different way, but there is also something very special about coming together with a group of people and really seeing each other move, in witnessing the work happening. No one knows where any of you will be in three years after graduation, but right now you are in a community filled to the brim with brilliant budding artists, and getting to see the collective and individual growth of your peers is one of the greatest gifts of going through this program.On that note, see dance whenever, wherever, however you can. You’re in New York, something is always happening (usually, very many somethings). And then talk about it. And then see some more. [Student discounts are, after all, a wonderful thing.]
- Show up and speak up. If you see someone doing work that you find interesting, tell them so. If you want to work with someone, talk to them about it. Chat with the faculty; they have an absurd amount of knowledge that, in most cases, they would love to share. If the MFA candidates or upperclassmen hold an informal audition or an improv jam, go to it (they aren’t nearly as scary as you think they are). Try for opportunities you think you have no shot at. Be humble, be honest, be kind, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there; some of your best opportunities will come from asking, or by just saying yes.
- Explore new ground without losing sight of where you come from. Experiment, try new things, get so far out of your comfort zone that you have absolutely no clue what you’re doing. But don’t ever discount what you enjoy or where you’re comfortable—it’s the confluence of knowing where you like to move from and stretching past your edges that will give life to your own voice.
- Your work is valid. So is your point of view.
- Embrace the chaos. This many college-aged artists moving and creating in a single building for the majority of the day at least five days a week results in madness. It’s a pressure cooker within the pressure cooker that is New York. You’ll love each other by Christmas and be ready to rip each other’s throats out by summer because families are like that. Students and faculty alike will challenge you to broaden your idea of what dance is, what it can be, what you can be. Absurd things will happen. Plans will change at the drop of the hat. You might learn a part backstage five minutes before going onstage; you might put together a ten-minute piece in less than a week; there might be a piles of brown paper bags or tutus or singing trees. Or, most shocking of all, you might have a normal day (as normal as our days ever get, at least). The point is, you can never know. Figure out what you need for relative stability so that you make it to the other side, be it your morning coffee or a certain ab workout before class or talking to your best friend(s). And then smile, open your heart, and take it all in.
It’s going to be a mad ride. And it’ll go by quicker than you realize. You’re never going to actually feel ready. But you are.
So, shall we dance?