A Perfect Wave

Editorial Note: Last August, I asked eight dance artists at different points in their careers what “making it” means to them. Their responses were so poignant that I decided to make every August “making it” month and continue posing the question to various dance artists. Please join us this month in looking at what “making it” means as a dancer, artist and human. -Emmaly Wiederholt


My Sunday starts with a text message: “Let’s just get away from the city for a bit.” After nearly an hour on the road, which doesn’t feel unusual after living in Los Angeles for a year, we find ourselves sitting by the Pacific Ocean.

On this late afternoon, the SoCal sky is unusually cloudy. It seems to be one of those days where the sun decides to set early. It slowly begins to disappear behind the mountains by Pepperdine University. I am happy to see the sky’s pastels – yellow, pink and red – turn to blues, purples and shades of gray. People begin to leave the beach but two things remain – the pleasure of sitting in comfortable silence next to a new friend and the flock of surfers in the ocean, waiting on their wave.

It is almost like some have a better radar for the ‘perfect wave’ than others. Once they see it build, they hop on their boards and stay standing until the wave dies down close to shore. Keeping your balance until the end, adjusting with the rhythm, going with the unpredictable path of the wave and deciding to jump off at the end after a moment of pause – that is making it.


The adrenalin rush must be similar to that which I felt when the lights dimmed after a really good performance. Of course, nothing’s ever perfect, but for that split second before the curtain call, life was good. In the darkness, enjoying the silence of exhaustion – I had made it. I made it through. The feeling of excitement and relief equaled happiness. Now, a few years later, the same feeling applies when I hand in a piece of good writing like that interview with someone I am sure has a world of success waiting for him or her. Or when I get to be the first to read someone else’s work as an extra pair of eyes, a ‘consult’ on a special topic or just as a friend. To live these writers’ stories feels intimate and it has changed me as a person over the course of this year as a graduate student in journalism school. At the end of the day, the pride you feel when you hand in or hand back these pieces, the sense of accomplishment and being connected to someone on a deeper level is the same as the pre-curtain call bliss I remember.

Of course, by the time the lights turned on, by the time the applause and smiles had faded – I usually had returned to be my own worst critic once again, picking apart every minute of the performance.

So back to the ocean. What happens next, when the wave is gone and the surfer jumps off his board after ‘making it’? They paddle back. They always paddle back to wait for another wave. Hours pass and they don’t always make it. Sometimes, the wave dies seconds after the surfer jumps on the board, sometimes two of them crash into one another. Sometimes, a rough wave swallows them up, but they resurface momentarily. Sometimes a surfer decides to make an abrupt turn and jumps off the board.

It’s always you on the board. The choice to steer the motion comes from you. Success seems to be somewhat influenced by the environment. So if I surround myself with like-minded people in our natural habitat – is there a way to find a formula to ‘make it’? Not one I have found. But here’s a thought: if you go out of your environment to seek – even if you’re not sure exactly what it is – the ‘what’ becomes clearer as you go. Partly because you get swallowed, you turn around and jump off deliberately, you loose your balance, crash into an obstacle or just simply wait it out and nothing happens. What the perfect wave is will become clearer every day you get up and practice dancing, writing, living. Like-minded people will become friends and new, foreign environments may become home. You can always ride the memories of these small moments of connecting, of accomplishment and bliss – they are yours to keep. To remind yourself of who you love, what you love and how close to ‘making it’ it can feel to be living in a moment.

But how good is it to paddle back, and wait and try and fail, to balance and to succeed.


Wiebke Schuster grew up in Germany where she fell for dance. She received her B.A. (Hons) in Dance Theatre from TRINITY/LABAN Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London and went on to test her feet in the New York dance scene. Here, she performed at venues such as Judson Church, New York City Center and the Ailey Citigroup Theatre. After returning home, she worked at the Bavarian State Opera and Ballet and just recently received her M.A. in Arts Journalism from USC. She currently lives in Los Angeles and has yet to get on a surfboard.

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