Monday, September 2, 2013

Validation is for Parking

Validation is for parking.

So simple, yet so wise. If you read my post about my experience prepping for and competing in Belly Dancer USA, then you heard me mention this phrase there.  As much as I might like to, I can’t take credit for this genius phrase.  I stumbled across this from Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It’s short and to the point. I got through it in a 1-hour lunch break. But man oh man, is it powerful.
Seeking validation is something I’ve consistently struggled with in my belly dance career. It’s in part, a holdover from the rest of my life, where if I’m being honest with myself, I also seek a lot of validation.  In my past I’ve consistently sought and received validation in the form of awards, money, jobs, promotions, and certifications.  In school, I was an honor roll student, captain of the gymnastics team, first chair in the orchestra, and swimming record holder.  In college, it turned into full-ride scholarships, international business competitions, and graduating magna cum laude. And it’s continued into my adult life with job promotions, raises, and professional designations.  Overall, it’s been a lot of running around checking accomplishments off a list. 

Additionally, I think the need to seek validation in belly dance has arisen for me more in this art form because belly dance doesn’t originate from American culture.  When I belly dance, I’m representing someone else’s culture and history.  A culture that I didn’t grow up in, don’t speak the language, and don’t fully understand the social nuances of.  I’ve certainly tried to lean as much as possible, but regardless of what knowledge I take in, it will never change the fact that I’m an American.  I fully respect other cultures, and as such, want to make sure that if I’m representing someone else’s, that I am doing so in a manner that is respectful and accurate.  However, at times I think this desire has gotten in my way of being my own dancer and allowing me the freedom to interpret belly dance in manner that is individualized and adapted to myself.  
Thus, I’ve spent a lot of my belly dance career seeking outside validation.  Wondering, am I doing it right? Does the audience like what I’m doing? What do the other professional dancers think of me? Am I good enough? Are they judging me?  Is my technique solid?  Maybe they are all bored?  Should I dance faster?  Smile more?  Maybe not so fast and not so much smiling?  Maybe if I just do X, followed by Y and finished up with Z I'll have it down? Or no, maybe I should do Z, then X, and Y? Or how about X, Y, and Z all together at the same time?

In other words, I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about what other people think and hoping to receive their validation.
But art isn’t black and white.  There isn’t right or wrong, regardless of those who try to insist their way is "right".  Yes, you do need to know the rules before you can break them.  But after you've learned the foundation, it's all an interpretation.  You can attempt to compare and categorize, but it’s so subjective that when it comes to art, no two people are going to come to the exact same conclusions all the time. So if you’re always worrying about what other people think you will never reach your full potential as an artist.  You will never own your own creative process.  You will never be truly authentic.  You will never birth the art that resonates with your inner being.  And you will never experience that elusive state of tarabYou’ll instead spend your time being an imitation, chasing yourself in circles and second guessing your choices.  

I should know. I’ve been there.
Well, actually, I’m still working through it. Trying to find my own voice in this dance.  But hey, they say you “teach” what you most need to learn, right? Thus, this is where my current work resides: letting go of fear, fully opening myself to vulnerability, and allowing myself to speak my truth.