Main Entry: suc·cess
Etymology: Latin successus, from succedere
1: degree or measure of succeeding b : favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence
Studying is easy. Success is a high pass, irrespective of what it is you are passing as the end result is measureable and comparable with your peers. Do any of you remember some of the pointless and mind numbing things you had to do to pass both school exams and modules for your degree? One of my degree modules 'Professional Practice' was graded against several criteria. 1: The delivery of a dance workshop 2: Your contribution to the creation of a performance work (there were twenty of us in total in the group - it was disastrous to try to have a contribution!) 3: Your performance in your role as part of a production team.
As the only individual openly competent in audio editing I was voted to take on the role of sound management by my peers. Once the music was edited (I.e. three tracks burned onto the same CD) I had to make sure that the music turned up to each of our performances. If a primary school pupil remembers their reading book every day they don't get a grade that can be accredited against a degree qualification, do they?!
I am not slating my education, I was educated well however was educated in a world of politics designed by non dancers who created such crazy models for assessment. Whilst we were busy remembering to turn up and then being graded for this minor victory in order to feel successful we missed out on far more vital reflections on what it actually means to be successful in the dance world.
Many talented professionals leave the industry every day as they are openly undermined by measures of success and as a result end up feeling worthless and as if they are wasting their time. Many others live on a rollercoaster of emotions (myself included) as they one day feel as if they are achieving something and the next feel like they are climbing an endless slope at the top of which they will find the undefined SUCCESS they have been looking for.
Of course when you are a child to work in dance brings visions of being the next Darcey Bussell (or Ashley Banjo as the dance reality TV storm strikes) and this is both admirable and understandable as you have a very naive interpretation of what dance is. However, as your knowledge expands this prima position cannot be maintained as your only measure of success; if it were then the Royal Ballet would be without a corp as each member left having not achieved their ultimate goal.
Similarly, Scotland is now training a great number of contemporary dancers and for statistics sake let's say that between The Space and Edinburgh's Telford College (only two of many establishments) last year there were 40 graduates. Scotland has one main contemporary dance company who can offer a contract of annual commitment, Scottish Dance Theatre, currently employing 10 dancers and 2 apprenticeships. Should SDT replace its entire cast annually that would result in 28 graduates remaining unemployed with a previous cast of 10+2 being out of work annually also.
Although a ridiculously simple model this demonstrates easily that dance is not a great career for anyone to aspire to should success be measured as achieved only once having danced with a large scale company on a long contract.
Therefore what is success and where else can we look for it?
My peer group of graduates had very opposing ideas of success. I recall a conversation in a tutorial in which several students keen to work in the commercial sector discussed how discouraged they felt after having attended a number of cruise ship auditions and being let go after the first stage of auditioning. Another member of the group challenged this as he had made it to the final round at a couple of auditions he had tried out for and was not so threatened by the standard.
The response to this was along the lines of 'yeah, but the cruise ships we have been auditioning for are up here (right hand placed flat at eye level) and the ones you're auditioning for are like down here (left hand placed flat at chest level)'. This tale does not work so well without visual aid but in summary the girls were saying that they were auditioning for a cruise ship of a higher standard hence they were struggling more to find 'success'.
This begs the question what would have been more successful: to get a job on a less reputable cruise ship or to be refused a job on a desirable cruise ship? Needless to say I would rather swallow my pride and be paid to dance but this may not be everyones outlook.
I am not necessarily saying that dancers should lower their aspirations, of course I want to dance with Scottish Dance Theatre and of course I would like that security in a position, but I am simply saying that dancers need to broaden their scale of success rate. Personally, I have managed to make a living out of dance since graduation (for those of you that know me yes I have had the odd bar job but for those of you that know me well you are very aware that this has more to do with discounted drinks and free club entry than financial benefit!) and I think that is a success in itself.
Some of this income is from performance work, some from choreographic work and mostly from education but who cares; I love dance, I don't just love being a superstar! In saying that, when I teach who is to say I am not a superstar? Without trying to sound arrogant if you ask the children I teach on a Saturday morning they would truly argue the point that I am. Why? Because even though performing may be my current desire I teach them and with that take on the responsibilty of inspiring them and introducing them to dance in many formats.
Education is about broadening horizons and I feel that it is dance education establishments that have to take responsibility for changing the narrowminded perception of success that is driving many talented individuals out of the dance sector. In addition (although a can of worms I do not wish to open today) measures of success should be introduced to potential dance artists in relation to the factors which cause success.
For example, cliques and networking; sometimes it is not what you can do but (crudely) who you can do, hopefully more so who you know but I wouldn't rule the first one out! Why should dance artists feel less successful because for whatever reason they don't belong to a clique which opens doors to other possibly less talented individuals? Why should anyone feel they have to choose between compromising their integrity and achieving success?
Success has been distressing me for a number of months now and having read a great deal of literature I feel Rob Parsons summary of achieving success provides a good model for anyone to feel successful (please note I am a great sceptic of self help and motivation books and usually think they are just an excuse for poeple to sit on their bums and not achieve a lot but The Heart Of Success was given to me as a gift and was very eye opening).
1. Don't be money rich and time poor: In the dance sector this is laughable as there is no money! But basically he discusses that you have to work intelligently not just all of the time. If you become a workaholic you lose yourself and in comtemporary dance one of the greatest characteristics an individual can have both for networking purposes and on stage is a sense of their self. Also, as hard as it is to say no at times, being a jack of all trades is both stressful and under productive.
2. Believe the job you do makes a difference: If you devalue small projects you have done because they were unfunded/ short lived other people will see them as invaluable and in turn you will feel invaluable.
3. Play to your strengths: Observe how little the people who are 'successful' tell you of their failings or weaknesses. If you throw enough mud it will stick so don't get caught up in what you can't do and start telling people what you can. Some of the people who adored at the top of the dance sector don't really do anything that great anymore but because they once did and people have fallen under their hypnotic spell they still ooze success.... why???
4. Believe in aspiring: Still aim big and see how far you can go, just because nobody has done it before doesn't mean it can't be done.
5. Don't forget your family: They'll keep you grounded, inspire you, support you and be those vital people that make up the audience!!
6. Keep the common touch: Nobody likes an artist with their head up their backside apart from other artists with their heads up their own. You're never indispensable and your integrity should never let your ego make you feel this way, the day you stop trying is the day you'll fail for sure.
7. Strive for significance, not success: Make it good not just onto the front page! If there is a project that you are truly passionate about and a project with a big company that you have spent your lifetime despising it should be a no brainer as to who you sign the contract with. Little victories are a big deal even if other people don't want to hear about them after all it's yourself that you have to life with at the end of the day!
I feel as if I have preached enough but if anyone else has a model of measuring success, particularly in the dance sector, I would be overjoyed to hear it.