LIKE MOST, I RECOGNIZED THE SYMPTOMS: acne, growth spurts, romance and tragedy, mountains of homework, and the anticipation of a promising yet daunting future. And that was just year one of graduate school. Tumultuous and often uncomfortable, yet so rewarding and formative, the two-year path that culminated last spring in earning my Masters of Fine Arts in Dance was undoubtedly equivalent to a career adolescence.
The best way that I can describe graduate school is like this: it was the condensed soup version of dance puberty, with all the necessary and flavorful ingredients jammed into super-tight packaging for maximum efficiency and deliverability. The crazy upheaval that graduate school throws you into—challenging everything you ever thought you knew or stood for and causing you to grow in a rate more rapid that you are ready for—makes it akin to an intellectual version of puberty (complete with awkwardness, hesitations, and strangeness).
After being exposed to so many new ideas and theories, I often felt like I had awkwardly outgrown the legs of my former training, which of course led to a lot of stumbling and tripping over myself (both literally and figuratively). I was pimpled from the rushes of inspiration and perspiration resulting from constant challenges and stimuli, and—like hormones raging through my system—I alternately experienced fits of creativity and droughts of confidence. I fell in love with new concepts, argued with them late into the night, and often experienced devastating break-ups followed immediately by the next passionate encounter with a muse.
It was all coming to a head as I approached the evening of my thesis concert, which was an experiment in democratic dance-making, interdisciplinary collaboration, and site-specific work. It seems rather cliché and self-important of me to consider this night my most inspiring or memorable of the year, but at the same time, I have to admit that these big events in our lives, like the prom, graduation, your first kiss, are the ones that we remember for good reason.
I had been working with a cast of eight dancers in an experimental process in which ownership of all aspects of the dance were shared equally by all of the collaborators. This put me in a very unfamiliar place as a “choreographer,” or maybe “director,” and of course everything was inevitably going wrong at the last minute; all of this added to the frenetic pace leading up to the evening’s performance. Lighting trees were still being adjusted and the music system was failing as the audience was walking through the doors, but I slapped on some mascara and changed out of my sweats just in time to grab a spare set of speakers from a friend and walk up to make my welcoming remarks. In that moment, I looked around and saw my mentors, my family, and my friends, all who have supported me kindly and thoughtfully. They kept me together through this adolescence, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude as well as awe for what we as dance-makers go through to do what we do. And I thought to myself with surprise, I can actually do this.
I still face the question every day: what are you going to be when you grow up? And my experience in graduate school was a growth spurt that eventually proved to strengthen the convictions and passions I went into it with, while at the same time uncovering new, unexplored paths and humbling me in the best way.
Last year marked a milestone and will hopefully act as a springboard, yet I am early in the process of finding out what an M.F.A. can do for a dance artist, especially one who is as young as I am. While the past year held many artistic, intellectual, and philosophical questions, the coming year will be full of practical ones: how to pay the rent, what artistic grants to apply for, how to connect with other artists, and how to get my work “out there”…wherever “out there” is. I hope to continue to grow as an artist in depth, flavor and richness, now that my condensed career adolescence has ended. Perhaps it’s time to really get cooking, with ingredients of my own choosing. No more “just add water.”