Editorial Note: Each August for the past five years, I’ve asked dance artists at different points in their careers what “making it” means to them. Please join us this month in looking at what “making it” means as a dancer, artist and human.
BY COURTNEY MAZEIKA
When I sat down to write out my thoughts and musings around the idea of “making it,” I initially felt awfully under-qualified for the task. I had a moment of: Who am I and what have I done lately? But the more I thought about it, the more I recognized that this feeling of being unprepared has been a consistent factor in so many of my favorite (and most terrifying) life experiences. Traveling, moving, dancing for other people, teaching, making work – all born out of a “yes” that was backed by an inner “no, no you’re not ready!” The quote about “waiting for the moment you’re ready means you’ll never start” has rung loud and true for me in the past four years – and I am forever grateful for that. I hope I can keep diving into the scary stuff.
Christian Burns once said in an improvisation class, “When everything in you says stay on the side, that’s probably a sign you should enter the space.” I’ve seriously run with the concept ever since.
It seems to me that “making it” must have something to do with upping the ante for yourself, your community and the world… diving into the unknown… and no one else can really define what that looks like for you. Our own definitions have evolved and will continue to develop as we learn more about what we value, require and hope. I know that my definition of “making it” is still pliable. Subject to change. But I enjoy the direction it’s heading these days.
“Making it” as a dancer has been something I’ve thought about and discussed with friends over coffee quite often, habitually… constantly? I think it used to be more connected to my ambition for recognition and my desire to achieve the career trajectories that I had been told were respectable. (hashtag that rep company life though) And that’s not to say that I don’t admire those positions or aspire to be a part of a structure like that some day – but I know that there’s no end-all-be-all job that will answer my prayers.
I see that my interests lie in the research of dance: the investigation of movement and the composition of ideas; the collection of tools and the training of instinct; the challenging endlessness of developing work. I’ve found these things in the mash-up nature of this current freelance life that I’m navigating. My career goals have shifted from a linear construction to an expansive, accumulative expedition. And that’s way more heartening!
I feel really lucky to work and collaborate with people who have oceans of information to share, and who somehow want to share with me. Just being in the room alongside dancers/choreographers who I consider to be giants, masters and explorers – how can that not be a manner of “making it?” I believe in the ability of good people having the capacity to make big change, and for me to have the opportunity to put my efforts behind some of these people, is something I am proud of.
I have watched all kinds of dancers I know become unbelievably multi-layered. People are working for companies, developing their own work in choreography/collaboration/film/music/photography, cultivating stunning passion projects, starting websites, attending residencies/festivals, committing to movement practices, getting grants, taking meditation retreats, traveling, adding to social and political discussions, and much more. It’s mind-blowing. I can honestly say it’s inspiring to see everyone “make it” happen. It’s always been worrying to have no formula, but when we continue undeterred and make things work however possible, the open roadmap is somewhat of a relief.
Courtney Mazeika, Photo by Stephen Texeira
One thing I can definitely point to as something that has spurred dramatic change in my perspective on “making it” has been working at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. When Summer Lee Rhatigan asked me if I would be interesting in teaching and making work at the Conservatory, I immediately said yes… and was then overcome by worry and doubt. I was petrified. The impostor syndrome in me blazed white-hot. I considered the list of faculty and the years of teaching experience among them, their rich careers, their poetic expertise – and I just didn’t understand how I fit in. But if Summer thought my mixtape of experience was worth listening to, then I knew I had to turn my dread into something more productive.
So, I made an unceremonious pact with myself:
- Never lie
- Always return to kindness
- Share what you’ve found to be true and helpful
- Stay open to change
- Be transparent about what you’re researching and what you don’t know
- Don’t be afraid to reference your mentors and inspirations directly; they made you the mutt you are
- Ask questions
- Require the highest level of work you can
- Dance it out (your body is often smarter than your words, Court. *knowing nod*)
This contract with myself has seemingly steered me well so far. I know I’m still in the thick of figuring things out. But I’ve found that just sharing my ideas sparks discussion and investigation, and more threads unravel – and that’s more than I could hope for in a process. Digging into the complexities of movement with other people is a way of “making it” for me.
I am fortunate to have a structure in the Bay Area that allows me to pursue my practice in a way that fires me up. I have a solid community that is enriching and supportive, but it’s also flexible enough to let me travel and work elsewhere. Having the ability to venture to and from my home base is essential to my restless heart, so I absolutely count that as part of my “making it” bundle.
And, of course, I have to return to a Bob Dylan quote that Malinda LaVelle sent my way when I was a student: “An artist has got to be careful never really to arrive at a place when he thinks he’s at somewhere. You always have to realize that you’re constantly in a state of becoming. As long as you can stay in that realm, you’ll sort of be alright.” We don’t have to worry about arriving anywhere because wouldn’t arriving be disastrous anyway? Rock on! Just keep swimming!
I suppose the point is that I don’t know what it means to “make it,” because I’m not sure it’s something we can pin down. Nor should we want to. I think the pursuit of the thing is the thing. As long as I’m thoroughly engulfed in and motivated by the research that I’m doing and the people I’m working with… challenging myself and others to constantly find more… then that’s my current understanding of “making it.”
Courtney Mazeika received her BFA in dance from the University of Texas at Austin. Upon graduation, she moved to the Bay Area to train with Summer Lee Rhatigan at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and join Alex Ketley’s company, The Foundry. As a freelance artist, Courtney has had the opportunity to perform in various projects, including works by burnsWORK, Crossings SF, Project20, UNA Projects, Bobbi Jene Smith and Tom Weinberger. She currently works closely with Tom Weinberger on new work, commissions and workshops throughout Europe and North America, and she is proudly on faculty at the SF Conservatory of Dance.