The funny thing about confidence is that once you think you have addressed your demons, they just find a new way to pop up.
In the past week, I have started honing in on the details of my concept and design for my Artistic Project (performing original ballet choreography in an unconventional space). During this process, I noticed a disturbing creative habit: once I have a general concept, my first consideration is not locating a specific inspiration, or challenging my artistic preconceptions, or even a potential piece of music… it is if I can figure out a way to perform this concept without looking fat.
Unpacking my own personal relationship with my body and its shape is nothing new to me - I have been keenly aware of my natural shape - and how I cannot change my skeleton - since I was a young adolescent. However, noticing this element of my creative planning really struck me - not because it is a huge deal, but rather because it was such a tiny, habitual consideration for me… so much so that I didn’t even realize that I have been doing this in my creative work for years without thinking about it. This realization was upsetting, because I promised myself a year ago that I would let this go.
This time last year, I was preparing to have surgery to remove a mass from my ovary. This mass ended up being a golf ball-sized tumor that had atypical cells encased inside. I will never forget sitting in the Cancer Hospital post-surgery and being told that I was cancer-free (thank goodness) and just wondering how I even got here (my doctors appeared to be wondering the same thing, but that’s another story). Even just a few weeks after my surgery, I felt better than I had felt in years. I didn’t realize how much pain I was in every day, especially when dancing and doing ballet pas de deux work. This pain was caused by my tumor being so heavy that it was flipping and twisting my ovary around inside me (gross, right!?), and was paired with major bloating. Every time I would bloat, I would feel so bad about myself for not eating healthily enough, or not working out enough, or just generally being too big. This happened for years. I never once considered that this constant pain was anything other than my fault for not being committed enough to my dancing.
A very serious selfie taken before my surgery. I may or may not have been on a lot of pains meds.
After that experience, I promised myself that I would work on simply being grateful for my body for keeping me alive! I worked hard on silencing those negative thoughts in my head, and I even let myself put on a bit of weight. Now, when I look at myself in the mirror, I think I look great. Not only does my body work very well, and allows me to do everything I want to do, I also enjoy my aesthetic image. It’s a good feeling.
Why can’t I apply that type of acceptance into my creative work? More importantly, how do I fix it?
I don’t have an answer to these questions. Maybe a bit of self doubt and critique is a good thing - I’m not sure I’d like ballet (or academia) at all if I didn’t enjoy a healthy dose of masochism and self-evaluation… but I do anecdotally know that sometimes, changing one’s actions can change one’s thoughts.
I got to choreograph and perform for a beautiful contemporary dance film on the beach last week in collaboration with a very talented videographer who goes by Tiffily Films (more on that soon!). I wore large, flowing white pants, but I wore a very tight white crop top with it. This was my first time performing choreography (other than class-work) in tight clothing since my surgery. I felt incredibly vulnerable… until I started to move. As my choreographic tool, my body has so much to say, and my scars, lumps, and curves add to the conversation.
This was certainly work getting up before sunrise for.
I guess this mental tangent did slow my creative process down a bit… but hey, at least I did make one creative decision: I know I will be pushing myself to show off my body as it is in this Artistic Project and - most importantly - will be trying my best to enjoy it as it happens.