20. The Need to Prove Yourself

When I went back to Albuquerque two weeks ago, I took class at my home studio of Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico (BRT) every day that I could. It was automatically my priority. I felt so at home and so comfortable there even though it had been more than a month since I’d taken ballet class and was incredibly out of shape. Nonetheless, I went to ballet class every day and within three or four days felt back in shape (with the exception that I wasn’t turning as consistently or as much as I’m used to.)

I finally returned back home to D.C. last night and took class today at the Washington Ballet’s adult program, where I’ve been taking class for the past year since I moved to D.C. I didn’t feel the same kind of soul or fire or motivation to take class here as I did back in Albuquerque a mere week ago. And I think I figured out why.

Back in Albuquerque, at BRT, everyone knows me. I grew up there. I spent almost 20 years of my life there. When I moved to D.C., the only person who had been at BRT longer than me was the director herself. I haven’t felt like I’ve had to prove myself in years upon years at BRT. I’ve proved who I am as a dancer over and over again over the years and I don’t have a need to show that I’m better than anyone there. For me, dancing at BRT just allows me to truly dance and be free.

In D.C., no one knows me. I’m one of dozens, if not hundreds, of dancers who move to D.C. for school or work or some other reason and still take class to try to stay in shape and because we love it. The problem, I’ve realized, with my mentality here, is that I feel that I’m constantly trying to prove myself in every class. It’s rare for me to take a ballet class without me trying to prove my worth as a dancer to the teacher or to my fellow students or to myself. Here, it’s been very difficult to just let go and dance.

There are many incredible dancers that I am lucky enough to take class with. For instance, just today there was a girl I’ve only seen around once or twice before. She just moved here from Arizona. And she was absolutely lovely. It’s inspiring to be around so many amazing dancers every day, but it’s also difficult because I’m constantly comparing myself to them. It’s been almost ten years since I have systematically compared myself to other dancers; I’ve compared myself to myself since I was a young teenager. But now, I think it’s different for me because I do feel this pressure to show that I’m good enough to dance in a company. That I am good enough to dance at Washington Ballet if I got the chance and gave it such commitment.

The most difficult part is that I have chosen law school and a legal career instead of a career in ballet. So right now, all of my attempts to prove myself are my attempts to live out that “what if” I had really put my entire heart and soul into trying to dance in a full-time company. They are my attempts to prove to myself that I am as good as those around me and that the past many years of my life – the blood and sweat and tears – haven’t all been for naught.

It took me going back to Albuquerque and dancing at BRT every day for a week to realize what it is that I’m missing here in D.C. And what I’m missing is the absolute freedom and joy in just dancing for myself and myself alone. Of course I still love taking class while I’m here, but the past several months I’ve felt such trepidation at even just showing up at the studio to take class. Tonight I finally realized it’s because I’m growing anxious about having to prove myself day after day.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be able to compare my own dancing with my own dancing and with no one else’s. That’s how you improve. That’s how you excel. That is the way to really, truly enjoy the work you put into something that you love. And that’s what I’m going to try to get back to from here on out.