Many people told me that graduate school would be difficult. I was prepared for difficult.
Other people told me that it would be exhausting. I was prepared for exhausting.
Those same people also mentioned that it was likely to be rigorous. I was prepared for rigorous.
And then I got here and I realized that being prepared in a city you know, surrounded by a support network of friends and colleagues is not the same thing as being able to handle the all consuming, day-to-day scholarly, physical, creative and emotional challenges that pursuing an MFA in Dance has in store for you…in Ohio. I was all ready to show up, follow directions, make some things and wait for the applause. But what I continue to discover is that there no right way and no specific person to impress except (cue eye roll) myself – and my expectations for my own performance expand exponentially when surrounded by other brilliant and talented people [which is another byproduct of being in a fabulous, top-tier dance department].
So what happens when you find yourself in dance artist bootcamp, facilitated and supported by faculty, staff and colleagues, where the person yelling/encouraging/pushing you is yourself? It’s complicated.
- YOU CARE SO HARD! It is all personal: from the first bounce in Cunningham class to the careful wording of a response to another student’s choreography to a short essay orienting your thoughts around the intersection of dance and technology to the use of focus in the solo you’re making to how you choose to socialize over lunch – it matters with an intensity that has never been matched.
- You run up against some limits, physically/cognitively/emotionally, and you start to learn when waking up two hours early to give yourself a Pilates session and do PT exercises before class is the right decision and when to spend that time sleeping (actually, you have yet to spend that time sleeping but you assume that one day you’ll get there).
- You get impatient. It seems like all of your colleagues are getting it and discovering their purpose within scholarship or choreography or performance and you are ready for your aha moment NOW!
- You feel invisible. In your past life you were in charge of so many things and now you are just a lowly student which is freeing but also not quite the perfect fit. You miss facilitating, fostering community, organizing and teaching.
The cumulative impact of caring so much and pushing yourself up against your limits leads to a few outcomes:
- You improve: your dance technique and performance presence shift in measurable ways, you figure out that your work in the studio and the classroom are feeding each other and coalescing into a new way of contextualizing and creating that is deeply satisfying and motivating, you are forced to be vulnerable and start to develop supportive relationships with colleagues who are becoming friends.
- You collapse and reframe: was it productive to work this hard at everything for 105 days straight? Sort of. Might it be wiser, moving forward, to name priorities and limits at the start of the semester and stick to them? Definitely. Is that something that is actually possible? I guess we’ll find out.
- You start actually meeting with all of the faculty who kept telling you that their doors were open. It turns out they have many ideas about your research, ways you can facilitate new projects and how their interests intersect with your own. Somehow you are no longer invisible and the self that is reflected looks different from the one you had grown used to seeing in Philadelphia.
- You change.