I considered making this a sequel to a couple different pieces: Performing When You’re Not a Performer, Snowballing, Dealing With Disappointment, If You’re Not Embarrassed to Death You Aren’t doing it Right. But Dealing with a Disappointing Snowball Performance When You’re Not a Performer That Embarrassed you to Death is a bit long.
All right, so maybe not that last one so much. I’d say of everything else I had been feeling in that moment, and the weeks leading up to it, there was simply no room for embarrassment. But that one aside, a lot of what I wrote in these has lead up to the reason for this one: performance burn out.
Despite my claims of not being a performer, I’ve continued to perform for my studio, even doing so a few times outside the studio where the audiences are a little less forgiving and a lot more nerve-wracking. And despite everything I will say, I do plan to continue performing in the future. So what’s the problem? I still don’t consider myself a performer. I consider myself a dance student who uses performing to become a better dancer. The concrete goals, the deadlines, the clear cut image of what it should be, and pushing myself to meet those.
I thought I had the performance formula. I knew how to approach it. Long before my last performance was over, I was looking to the next. I chose a song I loved with a theme he loved to a dance we both loved. But I wouldn’t be complacent either, pushing my limits further than I ever had before. For months, it was my goal. Then the time came to actually begin choreography, and things…changed.
But what? I wish I could pinpoint it to just one thing, and then I could have done something about it. Both my teacher and I were under massive amounts of pressure for this next coming studio performance. I was expecting more from me, he had so many student and pro performances to choreograph and practice, and the studio itself was planning to make some big changes to this one.
For myself, I had gone through a near lifestyle change. This performance, what I was thinking as my gateway performance to my “next level,” had huge physical demands of me. And I responded, changing my diet, my workout, and my practices so I could. I got stronger. Leaner. More flexible.
And yet week after week, I heard the same things. “You need to get stronger.” “You need to work on this.” “You aren’t there.”
I was working harder than I ever had. After each practice, each rehearsal, I was feeling more and more worn down. A little more crushed under pressure and expectation. I started to question “why am I doing this?” At what point did this stop being something I wanted to do, and something I did because I was obligated?
About a month before the performance, I texted my teacher and told him I didn’t think I would perform in whatever studio event came after this one. He replied he wasn’t surprise because I “just didn’t seem happy.”
The dam broke.
Over the next few hours we exchanged texts, the hardest conversation I’ve so far had with him. To the point I was in tears. To the point I was dreading seeing him my next lesson. I could barely type those things on a phone, how could I do it face to face? Instead, we went on as before. Or nearly. Perhaps he thought I just needed to get these feelings out, and it was true I felt better knowing they were known: lighter and freer at the prospect of a performance break. Of a few months just having dance lessons to dance. Of trying to push myself in new ways, and learning new things that had nothing to do with looking good on a stage. We continued to hit our choreography as hard as before, but without the weight of before.
Then came performance day. The changing rooms were crazier than ever, and so was my stage fright. There was no time for that usual pre-performance pep talk. Or perhaps there was but my teacher didn’t realize I still needed it. Line-ups were switched around, and before I knew it, I was bumped up to next.
It was a disaster.
I don’t mean this in that “aww….it was soooo bad!” self-pitying way. I mean in front of an audience, I freaked and completely forgot my entire routine. My teacher had to physically muscle me through to the end. And whatever we did was nothing like what it was meant to be. Not even my teacher could sugarcoat it, telling me “Everyone has a bad performance.” I was devastated, my friends spent the rest of the show trying to console me, and my teacher simply decided I “needed space” and didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day.
Our next lesson was not my favorite, and I got lectured on about sulking. He told me the only way I was going to get over this performance if I did it again. “So next time we’ll do two dances.”
…But what about my break?
That’s the problem with assuming. He assumed I was just in a dark place and I would be better after getting things off my chest. I assumed he understood and accepted my reasons. We ended up fighting about it, both of us accusing the other of overreacting (and a few other things).
What’s going to win out? I’ve recently learned that next performance I so desperately needed a break from is being pushed back two or three months, and my teacher has now slated me for three dances (one being a group performance). I know he has a goal for me he hasn’t felt like sharing. I can’t see any other reason why this would be so important to him when he has so many other students to perform with too. I continue to love dancing, and never want to let this go. But that makes me afraid of burn out all the more.