Editorial Note: For the past eight years, Stance on Dance has asked a variety of dance artists at different points in their careers what “making it” means to them. Please join us in looking at what “making it” means as a dancer, artist and human.
BY ELYSE FAHEY
“Making it” doesn’t really mean anything to me anymore. It used to, of course, but I don’t think “it” can be defined in a helpful or realistic way, as there isn’t one answer to what “it” is. I think the traditional idea of “making it” only happens to a very small percentage of people in dance, which endangers the “rest of us” to feeling inadequate, so I’m very interested in throwing the idea of “making it” out the window entirely.
“Making it” also implies there is some end goal to all of this. For me personally, there is no end goal. At some point, each dancer must decide that whatever we’re doing is enough, is good, is legitimate. Seeking validation externally is dangerous territory – mentally, emotionally, and otherwise – and it’s how I spent many years of my dancing life. I think the reality is that nobody but me is ever going to care as much about what I’m doing as I do, which seems obvious when put that way, but didn’t feel obvious when I was stuck in the loop of seeking outside validation.
Like so many others who have trained hard from an early age, I always thought getting into a company was the end goal. I assumed this was the path to “making it,” the only way to prove myself. I aspired and trained and aspired and trained with my eye on the prize, without ever asking myself if that was the prize I actually wanted. It wasn’t!
It would have been helpful to me as a young dancer to have someone say something like, “Focus on finding what you like in dance. How does dance feel to you? It’s okay for that to change. What are you interested in? However you want to be involved with dance is okay and enough. Seek joy in dance! Life is too short to take yourself so seriously.” The more serious I got about my training as a young person, the more emphasis was placed on the external; please the teacher, aspire to higher technical standards, audition, aim higher, go for it, put myself out there, improve, perform, perfect, etc. I have done a lot of projects I didn’t like, or wasn’t interested in, just to be part of something. I gained insight, knowledge, and experience from those projects, of course, but I never gave myself the option to opt out, because of fear of missing an opportunity to elevate myself on the dance ladder.
Maybe a turning point for me was the realization that the dance ladder is an illusion and should be ignored. Seeking joy is much more important. Joy-seeking in dance is all there is for me now. Regardless of the style, context, project, or participants, enjoyment is my number one criteria for involvement. I really have to love it to do it. I no longer drag myself through anything I don’t love and don’t find joy in.
Getting there took a long time. I had to cultivate confidence and develop more self-respect. Involving myself in dance practices that place more emphasis on internal experience has given me the confidence to be more selective about what I involve myself in professionally. I’ve had to do a lot of my own ‘research’ to figure out what I like the most. It’s taken time, and it’s been well worth it, because I’ve just gotten happier and happier in my dance life over the past 10 year or so.
The happier I am in dance, and with myself, the more joy I can share with others, and the more I enjoy myself in every dance context. It might seem simple or obvious, but joy-seeking in dance was quite revelatory and ultimately life-changing for me. Perhaps realizing that my happiness in this field is more important than anything else is my version of “making it.”
Elyse Fahey is a contemporary dance artist from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She trained extensively in jazz, ballet, modern, and contemporary in Albuquerque and Colorado Springs, as well as in New York City, where she was a scholarship student at the Merce Cunningham Dance School. In 2018, she began developing her own choreographic work. Her approach to movement is influenced heavily by her decade-long career as a Pilates, GYROKINESIS®, GYROTONIC®, and CrossFit instructor, as well as her study of West African dance, Afro-Cuban Folkloric traditions, martial arts, and improvisation. Elyse became a Certified Rolfer™ in 2013 and has a private Rolfing® Structural Integration practice in Albuquerque. She is currently pursuing her BA in Contemporary Dance from the University of New Mexico. Elyse also owns and operates a community dance studio in Albuquerque called Studio Sway.