Nothing to lose, nothing to fear.
As a perpetually maturing artist, certain moments strike me as clear signs of growth when I least expect them. A big one happened the other day when I realized that a lot of would-be artists are wrapped up in a fear so debilitating that it surfaces in unpleasant and unbecoming ways, keeping them from any chance at fulfillment or growth not only in their art, but in their daily lives.
Some guy who chose to stand irritatingly close to me at the barre strolled in a minute before class started, sipping his coffee, still wearing sunglasses in the studio, carrying an air that said he was a big deal. (I had no idea who he was.) As we went through barre, he hardly knew any of the combinations but clearly aimed to make it look as though he was consciously choosing to do something different. He also made a point to flat out stop in the middle of a combination and walk away. He was the epitome of a diva and maintained a condescending attitude for the duration of the class.
These kinds of of dancers used to drive me insane. They infuriated me. I felt they didn't deserve whatever space they were taking up. They had no right to be such a distraction to everyone who came to work so hard. And besides, they usually weren't supremely talented—this guy certainly wasn't, anyway—so who did they think they were acting like such self-absorbed super stars?
But the big moment happened for me today when this guy, acting the way he was acting, didn't actually bother me. My initial reaction was "what is he even doing?" which then almost instantly became a simple but important realization: he's afraid.
Of what exactly, I can't know for sure. He probably doesn't have the precise words for it either. It could be so many things: a fear of appearing weak, of seeming vulnerable, of allowing the possibility of being wrong, of looking small or insignificant, of coming off as uncool by caring, of lacking a command of the space around him, and the list goes on.
The fact of the matter is that we all have fears and those fears show up in ways specific to our own tendencies and circumstances. The way I used to react to dancers like this was no less a sign of my fears: getting lost in the crowd and going unnoticed because of the multitudes of decent talent in the room, even though that talent largely struck me as overly confident divas who didn't care as much or work as hard as I did. My fear was that I'd never make it because I didn't believe in myself like they did, and I'd just remain hiding in the back because hardly anyone had ever encouraged me to do otherwise.
Thankfully, I went my own way and found support in teachers who saw me and understood me. It's only with their guidance along my journey that I've been able to see those fears that kept me from really dancing and feeling fulfilled as an artist—and subsequently work through them to become what I am now. I'm grateful that I get to look back on that as a thing of the past; I've come a long, long way not only in finding happiness, but in thriving artistically and finally getting to do what I was meant to do. None of it is a coincidence. I had to seek it and do some deeply challenging, often grueling work on myself to get to the root of it.
That said, where I am now allows me to see others who still exist in that fear space. I don't mean that in the sense that I'm better than them; in fact, I'm only aware of what it looks like because I've been there. And maybe that's why those dancers don't get under my skin anymore, because I understand that they're only acting like divas and whatnot because deep down, they're afraid. Afraid of losing something, be it status, strength, power, or command in any sense, in their dancing life or in their other day-to-day activities.
The way they present themselves is merely an effort towards maintaining that which they fear to lose.
But if there's one thing I've learned, it's that being an artist implies an inner knowing that I have nothing to lose. The things that make me interesting, the things I have to say with my art, the story only I can tell, the way I approach life and work, the way I exist—these things come from a place of authenticity I've only recently been able to access. No one can take them away from me and I can't possibly lose them: they make me the human being I am—the artist I am. And if I know that I can't lose those things because they are so intrinsically me, then what do I have to fear?
Nothing. But it took a long time for me to understand that, mostly because fear has a way of clouding one's perception of self. That's why it seems there's something to lose—something to be afraid of. When we can't quite understand who we are for any number of reasons, we cling to things that we hope will tell us who we are: means of identification in the form of labels, positions of power and authority, signs of strength, etc. And because none of those things are essentially belonging to us—making us who we are—we can lose them. That's why we're afraid. If we lose that status or that strength or whatever means of identification, we lose our gauge of who we are. And then what do we have?
Sure, this is a considerably roundabout way of looking at a seemingly simple situation, but when faced with this diva (whom I nearly kicked several times as a result of his disregard for the given combinations), it all seemed to make sense. So many of us are afraid, perhaps without knowing it or understanding why, and we use our best tools for hiding so we can stay comfortable in that fear, living only behind a guise marked by the empty hopes of superficial success.
This guy didn't bother me like he would have before, when I felt more afraid of what I could lose than receptive to what I could be. I can only hope that someday he catches a glimpse of the freedom I've since been lucky enough to find: a state in which I am so truly myself that I have nothing to lose and so nothing to fear—only my life and my art and myself to fully experience and thoroughly enjoy.