Keeping Your Identity as an Out-of-work Performer
It can be frustrating talking to people about what you do when you're between performing jobs. Dancer Lizzie Perman explains why self-worth does not directly correlate with professional success.
By Lizzie Perman
Not being professionally successful all the time doesn’t make you any less of an artist or indeed a person. This realisation freed me and actually allowed me to enjoy dancing again.
I’ve been introducing myself first and foremost as a dancer my whole life. Coming closely behind my age (26) and star sign (Libra), it’s one of the core aspects of my identity. It’s the explanation behind my impressive downward dog in yoga, the absent-minded tap-step-heel down the supermarket aisle as I pick up some penne, and why I will forever count in 8s. Any performer will agree: our passion is woven tightly to our personality. It needs to be, as it drives us to succeed in what is an infamously challenging industry.
In my experience, the most challenging part of being in said industry is when you feel firmly out of it. Lack of auditions or call-backs, frustrating ‘muggle’ jobs and not enough time spent honing your craft can sometimes leave you disconnected and disheartened. It’s easy to feel detached from your creative self when you’re not performing eight shows a week, and the added uncertainty of COVID is enough to leave even the most confident of artists questioning themselves.
As someone who seemed to spend most of their performance career doing exactly that, here are a few remedies to help reconnect with that sense of self - even if you’re currently dying a quiet death at the checkout for £8.41p/h….
Water the Grass
Don’t panic, I’m not about to give you some gardening tips. I’m referring to the old adage that when you tend to the areas you wish to see improvement in, they’ll grow. Your identity is no different. The best way to water your grass could be:
- Getting into class - either in person or distanced (COVID dependent)
- Reading books or plays that inspire you
- Watching films and documentaries
- Taking advantage of all the other great creative content that is currently available online.
Admittedly you might not be able to practice your directing skills from home (unless you’ve got some willing nieces and nephews running about that you’re able to bribe) but instead, perhaps spend some time reflecting and watching back some previous work if you can. We’re told so often to live in the present, not the past but sometimes reliving your own achievements and successes can be a great reminder of who you are and what you’re capable of.
Talk to People in the Know
Amanda might be your favourite co-worker to have a moan with by the office vending machine, but unless she’s seen you performing, she won’t fully understand that part of you. Speak to those that know you as an artist and a person. These people see every side of you and will give you reassurance when you need it most. If they’re also in the industry, chances are they’ve experienced their own career highs and lows - sharing in these will confirm it’s normal to have doubts, and that doing so doesn’t undermine your love for your craft.
Recognise it Doesn’t Define You
This one is tough. Whether you’re out of work for a few months, or you’ve decided to take a planned step back, you might find yourself questioning what else you have to offer. Having faith in yourself as a performer is crucial but attaching all your self-worth to just that one part of your identity is not healthy or helpful.
Yes, be passionate. Yes, have goals that you’re working towards but also recognise that other aspects of your personality are valid and valuable too. Not being professionally successful all the time doesn’t make you any less of an artist or indeed a person. This realisation freed me and actually allowed me to enjoy dancing again.
When you play, never mind who listens to you.
Robert Schumann’s quote "when you play, never mind who listens to you" is definitely the 19th-century version of 'dance like no one is watching'. Whilst he may have been encouraging a loosening of inhibitions, this also perfectly sums up that you don’t always need an audience to be a performer. It’s part of your identity whether you’re on stage every night or if you’re five years old and perfecting your first plié. Nurture it, celebrate it, and be thankful it’s something that can never be taken from you. That being said - I hope you’re #bookedandblessed very, very soon.
Lizzie is a dancer who has performed previously on cruise ships and more recently into her bedroom mirror. She is well-versed in being an ‘out of work’ performer but firm in the belief her experiences will make for a rib-cracking autobiography in the not-too-distant future. Now pursuing work as a freelance writer, she will probably be found on the dance floors of East London as soon as is legally allowed.
Headshot by Franklin and Bailey.
Main image by Nadim Merrikh via Unsplash.