Some people assume that dancers or performers in general are narcissists. Speaking for myself, I sometimes fear that this is true, but for the exact opposite reasons than you might expect.
When people think of narcissistic performers, they picture someone who needs an audience. They need the constant attention and validation of others to feel important. Yup, they live for the applause.
That’s not me. I fell in love with being on stage at a young age, but since then, it has been far surpassed by a love for simply dancing. Performing is great–I love being able to share what I do with others, I love the rush of the moment, and a little applause/external validation is a nice bonus–but the truth is, I would be doing the exact same thing for an audience of none. Even if I knew that no one would ever see me dance again, that wouldn’t stop me from dancing and working to learn and grow and discover myself and loose myself in the process.
Which can be thought of as simply another form of “ME ME ME ME ME!”
One of my fears is that the work I’m doing as a dancer or choreographer is a whole lot more meaningful for me than for anyone who is watching. Sometimes this is inevitably true because the work just means so much to me. (Plus, lets face it: we’ve all seen a few performances that seem like they were a lot more interesting to make or dance than they are to watch.) And then, how do I justify this sort of self-indulgence to myself and to others who think it’s a waste of time? When you want to do something that makes a lot of money, you can get away without having a moral justification, but when you want to do something with little financial promise, you end up having to explain yourself a lot. How do I deal with the fact that I want to dedicate a huge chunk of my life to making things that might benefit me more than anyone else?
I can try psuedo-mathmatical rationalization: maybe if I added up the value that each person got from watching, it would equal something big enough. I can talk about how art can profoundly impact lives, giving people hope and inspiration when they most need it, but I know that as great as this is, it is beside the point for why I do it.
Because I know that I would still be doing it if every audience member left, leaving me without any pretext of altruism. And then what would I be doing? Certainly not stimulating the economy or even the minds or hearts of others. What would I be making? Personal discovery and spiritual fulfillment? How privileged and selfish it is to want those things. And what a beautiful privilege it is to want those things.
Heres the thing. I can and will argue that art matters, but even if it didn’t, that that wouldn’t stop me from doing it. I’ll be thrilled to share my art with you, but even if you’re not interested, I’ll still be dancing.