As I near my 30s, I wanted to look back at my glorious 20s.. Analyze, think and set my priorities/expectations straight for the future.
I am thankful to my 20’s for it has truly shaped me into the person I am today. My early 20’s were a blast. Undergrad was undoubtedly one of the best, most fun phases of my life. It is when I found the loud, opinionated and whacky side of myself. I also found my husband when I was 20 and he has played a huge part in who I am today. I spent all of my early adulthood away from home. While I missed living with my parents, being away from the comfort of having my mom do all my work and my father take care of all my responsibilities forced me to figure things out for myself. In that process I have learnt to be independent, unafraid and street smart. If I know a thing or two about taking care of myself today and being an adult, I owe it to my time in Trichy and Hyderabad.
My early 20’s was also when I decided to take a plunge into choosing what I wanted to do – be a dancer. It was a decision I made 95% from the gut and 5% with sensibility. Consequently, I’ve approached my career with 90% practicality and 10% gut. None of the decisions or steps I have taken in the past 6 years have been out of a whim. I have thought, enquired, discussed, slogged and researched every single choice I have made. Some of these choices came at difficult points in my life and haven’t been easy to follow through. Not all my choices have been right, but I made them work. I never gave myself an alternative. I never thought to myself – what will I do if not be a dancer? This was the only way. This is what I must do.
Being a dancer – as fancy or interesting as it sounds is not easy. And thats partly because there is no clear definition of what it means to be a dancer. I started off by doing things I’ve been told, taught and expected to do. But all the while I never really knew exactly what I wanted from this whole “career” choice. I could have easily been someone who LOVED dance and went to classes and managed it alongside a corporate job. Led a comfortable life and danced to my hearts content. I know I would have made the time. Why did I have to make it a profession? What does it mean to me to be a professional dancer? I have never known or been able to the answer this question.
After I took up dance professionally, my time training and practicing were mostly filled with insecurity, self judgement and a lot of self doubt. A lot of this was and probably is necessary for me to grow and improve. But somewhere along this process, I lost a sense of how much I actually just loved to dance. I forgot the simple joys of just dancing without thinking of consequence, shows or outcome. I was moving and working, but not dancing. It feels really strange to think of it now but I realized this when I watched videos of me from back in college. The lack of technique is evident, but I also notice a spark, a joy. Where did it go?
I remember feeling guilty if I spent a weekend with family. Or if I went out with friends. Guilty that this was time I should have spent training. Anxious about what that would mean to my dancing. Upset with myself that I chose to have fun over being in the studio. And constantly doing this somehow, made being in the studio feel like a burden. My spark, my joy was fading slowly and steadily. This wouldn’t be true if I’m the kind of person who enjoys being by themselves. There are people like my husband who would rather spend time at home, who actually feel tired after being in social gatherings or interactions. But that is not who I am. I love people and I am pumped whenever I make new friends or meet people. Social interactions energize me. I need it! It doesn’t mean I don’t spend time in my studio or by myself. Ever since I moved to the US, I spend most of my days alone, doing my own thing and I’ve grown to be comfortable being by myself. But I would still like to meet people once a day, either in class, in rehearsals, or over weekends. There was no reason for me to feel bad for making a few hours over the weekend to hangout with some friends. There is something fundamentally messed up in believing that in order to get something or be someone in life, you have to sacrifice a lot of other important aspects of your life. There is no need to validate ourselves that way. At the end of the day, dance is my profession, my career. As much as I wholeheartedly love it, it cannot be something that takes over my entire life. It might define me but i cannot be a 2D image. I have other layers that require care, time and attention too.
In the past year, I got a taste of what it meant to truly own and be what I am. I have consciously made an effort to be myself. To embrace the person I am, with all my quirks, laziness and habits and STOP feeling guilty because society expects me to. I have healthy relationships, do normal things and by doing so I have started to automatically enjoy my dance again, as it is, without judging myself along the way. And in that process I found happiness, I almost even found a taste of contentment. It doesn’t mean I became complacent and stopped training. But I found a balance. If being happy and finding a balanced life means that I won’t be the best dancer in the world, so be it. It has taken me sometime to understand and feel comfortable with this idea. I realized that my growth as an individual and artist was getting stunted because I had no experiences or interactions to get inspired from. Stopping myself from having new experiences was actually affecting my dance negatively.
As I near my 30s, I have learnt to let go of unrealistic expectations and goals that would star my eyes in my early 20s. I have learnt to be less judge-mental of others and myself. Now I like to dance because it brings me joy. Where that will take me doesn’t plague me anymore because I am simply happy enjoying the process and growing with my dance.
My relationship with my dance is special because it is my own. And it doesn’t and shouldn’t mirror what anyone else has. My 20s have taught me this – YOU BE YOU.