Playing Superhero: The Dark Side of Discipline

Discipline in the arts is usually one of the major “gains” in training and one of the reasons many parents choose to enroll their child.

Discipline in pre-professional dance, for me, was what separated those that wanted to succeed and those that did.

Discipline in professional dance takes on a different perspective in response to the nature of one’s success. For those with company success, discipline may still be dedication to their craft, daily technique class and the commitment involved. For those without consistent work it can mean carving out the time and money to maintain one’s technique and conditioning and challenging one’s self to stay engaged at the fullest level.

But when all is said and done, discipline can have a dark side. The cape donned in the thrill of physical prowess and being at the top of one’s game can lead, in other scenarios, to a mask of re-hashing and obsession over improvement with less healthy side effects.

This is where I sometimes find myself now. I have come to the opinion that, in teaching as well as other aspects of life, reflection is what separates those that want to be successful and those that are. But there is a precipice where success can fall into obsession the longer one dwells. From the outside things may still look very successful, and they are, but the inside graphs another story.

I have mentioned before that the last twelve months have been challenging. For all the positives, I tend to focus extensively on the areas in need of work. There is my challenge.

Here’s an example: rather than simply rejoicing in the fact we have a 9 month old baby, a bright and active 4 year old boy, a nice home, seemingly stable jobs, a challenging new teaching environment, new and interesting problems to solve, satisfying side projects, and opportunities on the horizon,…

…I find myself dwelling on whether or not my baby has as much of my attention as my son did at her age and what I can do about it, if my son is in the right learning environment and what the arrangements should be made for him next year (whether he starts school or not and where), the dust and the cleaning that is so sub-par based on my pre-children standards and the related shame whenever anyone comes over, the overwhelming awareness of judgement (positive or negative) when working in a new place, with new people, new students, and new curriculum, how to balance what is artistically satisfying with what I do and how I have to do it, what I need to do to maintain my artistic, educational, online, friendly, and familial reputations, and so on.

Instead of material goods, the Joneses that I am trying to keep up with are the top of their fields no matter where they are working: at home, in the classroom, in academia or online. In my mind, I find myself competing with the moms that stay home focusing most exclusively on the family and the home, the teachers that dedicate themselves and many extra hours/days to supporting their curriculum, to the professors that balance teaching and publishing and presenting, and the internet gurus who seem to be able to seamlessly document their lives or their creations (I visit a lot of craft-based lifestyle blogs).

Has my profession taught me to always feel I can’t quite measure up and there is always more work to be done?

Has the sheer number of times as dancers we’ve been told, “there is always a replacement” elicited a feeling that you can’t possibly be less than super-human if you still want to be good at what you do? In all that you do?

Has the emphasis placed on cross-training and generalist approaches to dance academics seasoned me for eXtreme multi-tasking and over-achieving  and thinking it is”normal”?

Or is it all personal?

Which aspect of my personality does this reflect most- the artist or the perfectionist? Can they be separated? Or which came first? Is one a product of the other or the inspiration?

Often, people seek my advice in teaching, or balancing professional and personal lives, or both. But now, perhaps it is me that needs the advice.

In truth, I do rejoice in our kids and family life, love my job and my opportunities, and all that go with it. Yet….

What do you do when you can’t find anything to let go of……  When life demands that you have your hat in many rings and your personality and/or your conditioning doesn’t allow you to be second rate in any of them….

Or am I the only one?

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4 thoughts on “Playing Superhero: The Dark Side of Discipline

  1. Thats a question worth pondering. I had always assumed that it was a personality quirk–the perfectionist tendencies, and wanting to do moremoremoremore in high school and college, etc. However, I do see how dance training could create the same tendencies, in the fact that students are pushed to broaden themselves, and pursue progress in a relentless fashion. I suppose if that translates into general life, it equals a need to be good at everything. I don’t know how to get away from that impulse though. Hmm.

  2. With children about the same age and working in the same field as you this could have been written by me – so my answers are yes, normal and no, you are not alone!!!!! Keep up the good work!!

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