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A Time to Dance

By Anne Wennerstrand, CSW, DTR
Copyright Anne Wennerstrand

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Gabriella Barnstone writes:

"I was talking to my friend on the phone the other day, a working girl who used to be a theater director and still has a hand in the arts, and she asked me how I was. When I responded that I was so busy I couldn't see straight and barely felt like I had time to breathe, she responded with a somewhat gentler version of, 'that's why I left the arts.' I am 29 years old and have been doing the job-on-the-side/ dance-on-the-side thing here in New York since I was 25. (Before, I was working in the "real world," and totally miserable.) I wanted to talk about the issue of TIME. Even though my jobs are pretty much part-time (and as a result I live hand to mouth) I still feel as though I am insanely busy and barely have time for a social life (which I somehow manage to fit in). But I never really feel like I have time to relax, do the things normal people do when they come home from work. I am currently choreographing and self-producing my own work, so when I come home from 'work,' my real work is only just starting. I barely feel like I have time to be writing this. I do manage to take care of myself, but I feel as though I'm constantly one screw away from losing it. I don't want to leave the arts for a 'real job,' but I also don't want to be this busy for the rest of my life."

This dancer expresses a frustration to which I'm sure many grown-up dancers can relate. In this age of restricted opportunities, funding, and space, and ofsoaring costs of living, dancers not only have to be superb in their art but must be veritable Zen masters in terms of how they relate to time and money. The reality in dance is that there never seems to be enough time or money, yet dancers are the most creative people I know in terms of managing both. It can be very helpful to take the time and really deconstruct what is making us feel so "busy." Be conscious of how much we communicate "being busy" to others as our natural state of being. Notice how many people respond to the question of "How are you?" with "I'm so busy." There may be a few of us who feel that if we're not insanely busy, we're not trying as hard as we can to succeed in our art form. Or, we may have an unexamined belief that being "busy" means being in demand or successful. Unfortunately, if we have these beliefs we are actually undermining our ability to be healthy, whole and productive beings in dance.

We all need to accept that finding balance in this area of life takes work and requires taking inventory of just what our expectations are for ourselves. Even if we feel "taking an inventory" is the last thing we have time for, it is essential in creating a more fulfilling dance life. We may need to re-prioritize what we do, who we do it with and how much money and time we are WILLING to spend on things we care about. Looking at what it is we are really trying to accomplish, we may also need to come to terms with the facts that there are limits to what we can do and that our personal resources are not inexhaustible. Taking inventory of our true wants and needs, we may find that we can simplify our lives in small ways that make a tremendous difference. Taking an inventory means thinking carefully about what kind of quality of life we have, what we want to do and have to do, and perhaps consciously choosing to give up certain things. This does not mean having to leave dance to get a "real job" unless that is what you consciously choose to do. (See Advice for Grown-Up Dancers, "When Are You Going to Get a Real Job.") It can also be helpful to shift your frame and think about your whole life as your "real job" instead of compartmentalizing dance as something less "real" than other livelihoods.

Prioritizing Wants Versus Needs

You may think that this all sounds good in theory and STILL feel as though time has control over you versus your being in charge of it. I suggest that the first step in curing "time stress" is creating a sense of personal agency by declaring to yourself that you are in fact CHOOSING to do things the current way in which you feel so busy you can barely breathe. Once you understand that you have chosen something, you can than work to make changes or make better choices. It is often said that "time is money," so a discussion of time management must include questions regarding your relationship with money.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself in thinking about a better relationship to time: (Try to be as specific as possible in thinking about these questions for yourself.)

Do you value time that feels hectic and rushed or would you prefer to feel like you have more time?

What would it feel like not to tell people how busy you are?

Exactly how much money per year do you need to make?

What kind of living situation do you need to be in?

How much time and money do you need to develop artistically (taking class, see performances, etc.)?

What kinds of people do you need in your life and how much time do you need to cultivate relationships?

How much time do you need for your basic human needs?

What are they?

How much time do you need for resting and recharging your creativity and imagination?

Do you find yourself resentful of people or things in your life that demand your time?

Which people or things can you learn to say no to?

Are you being chronically underpaid in your non-dance job?

Do you need to gain some skills so you can be paid better for the precious time you do have?

I often work with people in creating time journals of their typical day. Dancers are sometimes shocked when they realize EXACTLY how they are spending their time. Keeping a time journal in which you enter each activity you do and the amount of time you spend doing it is a worthwhile investment of your time! You may find out that you spend more time than you realize doing things which you could choose to limit.


Anne Wennerstrand has a private psychotherapy practice in New York City and is available for individual, group and organizational consultation. To read more about Anne, please visit the "Contact Us" page.


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