This post is for all my belly dance and creative freelancer friends who just can’t seem to take a break. And yes, I include myself in this statement.
This morning, I read an op/ed piece in the NY Times about the American epidemic of “busy-ness” that really struck a chord with me. In this article, Tim Kreider suggests that a great deal of our society’s busy-ness may be self-imposed and even self-serving, as many people feel guilty when they’re not occupied, and validated by being “in demand” at all hours of the day. (You can read the whole article here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/).
I know the feeling.
This past weekend, I had some time off, and laughed out loud as I caught myself saying to my roommate, “Oh my gawd. I have a Saturday off, my boyfriend’s out of town, and I literally don’t know what to do with myself.”
Of course, you can rest assured that my life went on, without any weddings or parties to dance at. After hitting a few estate sales, tending to some neglected costume projects, making a late dinner, and finally slipping into a hot bubble bath, I thought to myself, “This is what normal people do on Saturdays.”
The next day, I felt refreshed, and grateful for my mini-vacation from the hustle of marketing, and the emotional and physiological peaks and valleys of entertaining a crowd, and then crashing back down to earth and going to bed. (That’s a weird internal process that only other entertainers really seem to understand!)
You’re probably wondering why I feel a need to post about something as mundane as having a weekend off, and the real reason is because about a year ago, I probably would have been embarrassed to publicly admit that (the horrors!) I wasn’t gigging on a Saturday night.
I think many dancers suffer a similar anxiety. We all know at least one dancer who bemoans how busy and stressed they are, and how hard they work, yet somehow finds several hours in their day to post on Facebook about their eleventy-billion gigs (real, embellished or outright fabricated), or how many emails they sent off to clients that day, or their latest adventures in being all-around fabulous and in-demand. And we all know dancers who would rather have 6 $50 gigs on a Saturday night than 1 $300 gig.
While personal preference comes into play with the later, you can’t deny the toll back-to-back gigs ultimately takes on the body. Or, the fact that the quality of an event vendor’s work will suffer if they spread themselves TOO thin, running from one wedding to the next, often sweaty and exhausted from the gigs before, and rushing to make it to the next booking. There comes a point where we ALL need to slow down, to protect both the quality of our work AND our irreplaceable tool: the body.
So what’s my proposition? Work smarter, not harder!
You see, artists are passionate by nature, and at times, borderline obsessive. When you find something you love to do, it can consume you. I possess a very similar tunnel vision, at times. But I have finally discovered my “off switch,” which has begun to work wonders on both the dance and non-dance sides of my life.
How do you find YOUR off switch?
- Learn to say no – to freebies and favors that don’t benefit a good cause or your portfolio. Say no to gigs that are too cheap, too far away, not your stylistic cuppa’ tea, or have PITA written all over them. (And I’m not referring to pocket-shaped bread).
- Know your limits, and don’t book more gigs than you can comfortably and competently handle in one night. (My limit is usually 2; 3 if the work day starts in the late afternoon).
- Quality trumps quantity when it comes to gigs. Every time. Would you rather do 2 $400 gigs or 8 $100 gigs in a weekend?
- Listen to your body. If you’re developing a repetitive stress injury, take it easy, adapt a gentler style, and get yourself checked out to avoid career-altering injury. Dancing through chronic pain and injury does not make you a hero. It makes you foolish. Yes, I said it! Oriental dance was not designed to put you in a wheelchair by 35.
- Eliminate all “time suck” distractions – this includes limiting your Facebook and social time. Stop filling your day with mindless busy-work just to say you’re doing something.
- Don’t get caught up in the social media rat race. Posting about your gigs on Facebook is all fine and well, but constantly bragging about how busy you are really doesn’t do much but stroke your ego and annoy your fans in one fell swoop.
- Embrace your down time. When you have a Saturday night off, enjoy it! Experience life as the rest of the world lives it. Take the time to create, make something shiny and pretty, go out with friends, or simply DO NOTHING. Better yet, take a leisurely drive to the beach, climb out on the rocks, stare into the sea….and don’t bring your phone! Some of my best ideas, oddly, have come from moments of loafing around the house and doing nada.
- Most importantly? Have a life outside of dancing! One day, you may wake up and realize that you never had too much of a social life, or never took up that hobby, or never went back to school because you were always too busy with dance.
Slow down and embrace ALL sides of you. Including the non-sparkly one!