Dancing with Nietzsche: “The Deed is Everything”

“There is no ‘being’ behind the doing, effecting, becoming.’The doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed – the deed is everything.”

–Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals*

You know that feeling when you read something that resonates through you with this funny sense of being both mind-blowing and intuitively real–like it hit something you didn’t quite know you already knew? This line did that for me the first time I read it, though it took a while for me to put a finger on why. It’s an idea that has a lot of implications in relation to modern philosophy and identity politics, but I think it especially clicked for me because of my experience as a dancer.

To most people, a world of all verbs and no nouns might seem like an interesting mind trip, but but too abstract to matter to practical reality. For dancers, it can describe the economics of our profession.

For the most part, all that we create, all that we sell, all that we build our lives around is doing. A dance piece or performance can be referred to as a “product,” but only metaphorically: ultimately, it only exist as long as there are living people doing actions in the moment.

The identity is just as alive and fleeting as the creation. You say “I am a dancer” not because you have achieved a status, reached a certain level, earned a degree, or signed a contract, but because you are dancing today, tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future. And increasingly, being a “professional dancer” is meaning less and less of having a stable, static company position and title, and more of going out there day after day to find a new job to take, a new dance to do so that you can keep on being.

And it’s not just a theory. The statement comes with a driving imperative: Don’t stop moving. Don’t stop doing. Because if I stopped doing, what would I be?

If I’m not dancing, could I still be a dancer? Could I still be me?

(These questions hit particularly hard when I’m on a forced break from dance–and I’m sure they hit harder for dancers approaching a career transition.)

The nice answer is yes, that my experiences have shaped me and inform any future path, and that once a dancer is always a dancer, and that who I am as a person is not defined by any pursuit or activity.

I try to believe that–and I do, sometimes, somewhat. But if I’m being completely honest, part of me is not so sure. Because so much of what it means to be me, to really live as myself, has been experienced in the action–in the daily rituals, the gestures, the sense of exertion and the electrifying sensation of being alive that comes with it. And if that stopped . . . well, I don’t think I would be nothing, but I wonder if I might unavoidably be less in some way.

And I really don’t know what the answer to that is. So I just keep on doing. 

*Note: Like a lot of Nietzsche, I like this quote way better out of the context, which is pro-oppression and bleh.

(Nietzsche was really into dance though.)

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