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Loving the Process

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I always tell my students, if you really want to dance, you need to love the process. If you're just in it for the thrill of the performance, get out. For that matter, if the motivation to engage in most endeavors is simply to achieve an end result, one can expect to be frequently let down. Whether you aspire to become a professional dancer, (as I did), a brain surgeon or you are simply playing a round of weekend golf, there are great rewards inherent in the process itself. This was my experience throughout my dancing life, and the lessons I learned from all my years of training have carried over into my life today.

Years before I ever read Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, I learned about being in the moment from George Balanchine (the genius who brought dance to America, master choreographer and founder of the New York City Ballet) and my other great ballet instructors. Balanchine wanted his dancers to give 100% of their energy and not hold anything back. He said, "The time to rest is in the grave." The energy you put into a small and seemingly insignificant step is just as important as how you approach a big and grandiose one. Balanchine was even known to like it when a dancer fell down; to him it signified they were going for it with all their energy. From my ballet teachers I learned that transitions are just as important as end results. When executing a jump, for instance, how you get into it and how you land from it is just as important as how high the jump itself is. The same goes for a turn, or pirouette. The way your toe lifts to the knee as you take off from the turn is just as important as how many revolutions you achieve.

A great performance on stage is the culmination of the long hours of class and rehearsals and all the preparation. If you are not interested and dedicated to that process, your performance will not reflect a great joy and artistry; something will be missing. I have found this to be true, even for the simpler things like preparing a meal. I love shopping for the food, picking out the freshest vegetables, coming up with interesting recipes that work for my diet as a diabetic. And of course I love eating the food as well.

We can't always be engaged in what we are doing. But by learning to be as present as we can we habituate ourselves to understand there is more of a reward in doing it than not. There were plenty of mornings, when my muscles ached from the show the night before, where all I wanted to do was stay in bed and watch TV all day. But, I knew if I just made the effort to get up and start my day, as I walked to the theater I'd feel differently. Being conscious and aware of the small steps bridges the gap between purely acting and actually experiencing life.

In the same way that we can throw a frozen dinner in the microwave, we live in a world of quick fixes and instant messages. I often wonder if the young and talented are less inclined to put the work in that it takes to become skilled at something, or even just to find fulfillment in their craft. Especially when someone can go from total obscurity as a novice to being the next American Idol in an instant. That's not to say some of them have not worked hard. Adam Lambert was performing and competing years before he appeared on the world stage.

In his bestselling book, Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell claims the key to learning to do anything successfully is practice. He estimates that in order to master something it takes 10,000 hours. That can be anywhere from 6-10 years. It would be hard to stay motivated for that long without an appreciation of the work itself.

Too many idealize fame and success, aspiring to rise quickly to the top. I would suspect that those who do get there, but have not worked hard, and have not lived and loved the process, would feel an emptiness at the top of that mountain.

I think it is a great gift to find meaning and passion in life; to feel connected to why we are here and to what we do, in each moment, whether all the world hears about it or not.

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