Both dancers and writers we possess an all-encompassing kind of artistic perfectionism, the kind that plants seeds of devilish obsession, doubt and fear in our self-critical minds. The gothic heart of Black Swan pumps the blood of overblown ballet stereotypes along with unfortunate truths about the dance world to sustain film's chilling plot. But beyond sprouting wings and attempting to murder fellow company members, dancers have to struggle daily against their own worst fears- that they aren't enough, that they won't make it, that they will fail.
My own crippling fear of failure nearly destroyed me--as a person and a dancer--several times. I can't pretend I've found the perfect method of dealing with incessant perfectionism or self-doubt, but a quote from this interview with the incredible Jenifer Ringer made me take pause. Ms. Ringer, a principal with the New York City Ballet, made headlines last December when New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay noted that Ringer "looked as thought she'd eaten one sugar plum too many" in his review of City Ballet's "Nutcracker." Macaulay's remark caused an uproar in media and on dance blogs everywhere. Ringer remains open about her past struggles with eating disorders and responded to the critic gracefully both on the Today Show and Oprah:
"My first thought was, 'It's happened. My worst nightmare. Somebody has called me heavy in the press and lots of people are going to read about it.' But then my next thought was, 'It's happened and I'm okay and I'm fine the way I am and I have survived it.' I think it's just because I had gone through my eating disorders, I had gone through depression, I had lost dance for a while because of my eating disorders."
-Jenifer Ringer (From Oprah.com, emphasis mine)
Jeni faced her "worst nightmare." And she's okay. What if spending our lives suppressing our fears, we were able to face them, acknowledge them, and move on? If our worst nightmares came true, could we even use them as a launching pad? In J.K. Rowling's 2008 Harvard commencement speech (Do I quote this too much? Maybe.) she discusses the fringe benefits of failure, how rock bottom was a place of new beginnings for her. Both Rowling and Ringer (when she first left NYCB and after Macaulay's comments) found themselves in nightmarish situations. Others might have wallowed in self-pity, used failure as an excuse to quit trying, to forget about their dreams. Instead, these women found power in failure. They faced their fear, acknowledged their nightmares, and kept making art.
Will you do the same?