Friday, January 31, 2014

Quitting Belly Dance

I have a confession to a make: I almost quit belly dancing last year. I had hit a point where I was discouraged and burnout, and the two emotions together fueled a major rut.  For a period of almost six months, I said no to every single private gig inquiry. While I was still doing my regularly monthly restaurant gig, a handful of other shows, and teaching with the Experimental College, these were all activities that I had previously committed to prior to sinking into my slump. I had dropped any new goals or ambitions. Despite my authoring a book on regularly practicing and setting goals, I was barely practicing myself. In short, I was being a major hypocrite.

I had hinted at my feelings mildly in this post from last summer, but I wasn’t being entirely honest. I had down-played how extensively I was feeling this. There was a combination of factors that were contributing to my condition. As the post had discussed, I had been pretty discouraged by the lengthy negative feedback I had received during a belly dance competition. And in the second competition, while my feedback and scores were mainly positive and high, I still felt that I had let myself down. That I had more inside me that I could have brought to the stage, but that in the competition and in my other shows, I just for some reason couldn’t access it. It was stuck. 

I was stuck. 

I was feeling that I had plateaued.  I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore and it was all starting to feel like a chore.   Additionally, with moving, changing jobs, and getting married in a nine month time-span, I was just generally exhausted. Put all together, I was dealing with major burnout.  I flat-out just didn’t care if I continued to dance or not.

Thus, I did the only solution I could do: I stopped.  As mentioned, I still fulfilled prior commitments that I had, but I didn’t reach out for new things. Instead, I turned inward.  I need time to nurture myself.  I relaxed, read books, watched TV, and sat on the couch instead of popping in a practice DVD. I took things off my to-do list and released my need to reach certain milestones by certain deadlines. I listened to my body and in the process something magical began to happen.

I started to care again, but in a different sense.  By releasing all the expectations I had built over the years, I got back to why I started to belly dance in the first place: because it brings me inner joy and peace. Because it’s beautiful and it expresses a sacred part of who I am. And because, gosh darn it, I love wearing sequins.  I began to dance more for myself and care much less about what my audience and fellow dancers thought of me. Will I never, ever care about what others think of me? No, that would be unrealistic.  But I’m moving in the right direction.  I also began experimenting more with music that spoke directly to me, music completely outside of the standard belly dance genre. Music that is more authentic to me and my performance.  And I would also add that my students helped me. Just as students learn from their teachers, teachers also learn from their students. By seeing the novelty and wonder that is belly dancer reflected back at me through the eyes of my students, I was helped to see it that way again as well.  While I’m now starting to revisit my goals, I’m no longer frantically attached to a checklist.

Yes, by giving myself the time and space to heal and rest, by literally doing nothing, I got to the next phase in the journey.

So why am I sharing this? Because I want you to know that if you are experiencing a low point, whether in belly dance or something else, you are okay. You are perfectly fine where you are.  Everyone goes through low points, failures, and detours where they want to give up. So if you are experiencing this, just go with it.  Let the ebb and flow of life happen.  Take care of yourself and do what you need to do. You can’t force inspiration or motivation to happen.  As the ebb rises again you will emerge reinvigorated, maybe on the same path you were on before. Or maybe on a new one. Let yourself be a beginner again, starting fresh. Listen to what your soul says you need and nourish the experiences that are authentically you. Not because someone else thinks you should.  Sometimes to achieve something, we have to let it go. Sometimes we have to step out of our own way.

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