“If I Am Growing, I Am Succeeding”

BY MICHAELA KNOX

Editorial Note: For the past nine 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.

During the early years of my career, I was experimenting and gathering experiences that began to shape my path. I was often inspired by my mentors and even occasionally dabbled in the vulnerable process of creating work and sharing it: What if people hate it? I experimented with different approaches to teaching: Were my students getting better?

When I was younger, I had a narrow concept of how I measured my success. If an audience loved a piece I created, then the piece was successful. If my students mastered the steps, the class was successful.

I turned 40 this year. Over the past five years, I’ve noticed shifts in my experience of my career. I am not so haunted by the self-doubt that used to paralyze me. I am finally at a place where I can accept who I am most of the time. I can embrace what I have to share as an artist and a teacher.

I measure success differently now. And the measurements change every day. I ask questions like: Did my piece share what was true in that moment? Did the audience show up and witness that? Did the creation of this piece provide opportunities for other artists? Was this piece accessible? Did creating this work support my community?

In my teaching, I ask myself: Did I isolate anyone? Did I make sure to connect with each person? Did I honor what was true for each student on that day? Did I make efforts to invite and include those who are often underserved? Did I accept whatever each student contributed to the class? Do I accept myself despite my mistakes?

I have developed a growth mindset that has enabled me to take more risks. I nudge myself to take chances more often. Even if I flop, I learn from the errors and make different choices next time. There is freedom in that. I am willing to take a critical eye to my own teaching and my own work and be honest about how I could improve. This commitment has given me the freedom to try new things more often.

If my measurement of success is based on things I can’t control, I am setting myself up for frequent failure. I can’t control how an audience responds to a performance, nor would I want to. I can’t control my students, nor should I try to.

It has been a gift to release myself from the pressure of meeting a standard of success that was never the right path for me. An expansion has come from redefining my relationship with creating and teaching. My work serves a different purpose now.

I make art because life my life is short. I witness what is true for my students in each moment. I try to create a container of acceptance in my classes. I try to bring dance opportunities to those who have less access. I continuously evaluate what I could have done better, and then I grow. If I am growing, I am succeeding.

Michaela and another dancer in a studio with their arms reaching in front of them

Photo by Bela Knox

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Michaela Knox is the founding artistic director of Spark Dance Program and a master teacher of the Danceability Method. She is also the artistic director of YES Dance Theatre Ensemble. Michaela lives on the coast of Maine with her husband and three children. 

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