Want to be in the Arts? Watch Centerstage

Yesterday I was completely exhausted so I spent a much of the afternoon and evening in bed watching TV. When looking through the movie options on HBO GO I saw they had Centerstage. According to many sources (including NY Post, Vulture, Hollywood Reporter) this is considered one of the best dance movies of all time. I had not seen it in a long time, and I love dance movies, so I thought I would give it a watch. I am so glad I did.

Choosing a career in the arts is hard. Centerstage addresses some of the key challenges. I would like to cover a few of them because they are all ones I have wrestled with . FYI: SPOILER ALERT! This film came out in 2000, so you’ve probably seen it. But if you have not, and you want to truly watch it for the first time, read this afterwards!

Many of us have our creative start in our youth. By the time you are in college or really starting to “make it” sometimes it is hard to remember whether this path was actually your choice. You start to ask yourself “do I really want this?” And there is no right answer to that question, it depends on you. I was pursuing a career as a vocal performer and before that a violinist and neither of those paths were right for me. It was so hard because I had dedicated a lot of my life, time and money to those goals and realizing I didn’t want it was rough. I felt guilty. I felt obligated.

This is the challenge covered by the character Maureen, with the added complication of a parent vicariously living through your blossoming career. I loved the ending: she doesn’t dance the final concert (sending a very clear “I quit” signal”) and when her friends ask her afterwards if she’s OK she says “No. But I will be.” She was miserable and moreover very unhealthy in her dancing pursuits. Change was necessary. But giving up on something you have put everything into for so long is not easy. In fact it is brutal. You may immediately feel relief but generally it does not feel fantastic. However, you will be OK, eventually.

I think some people in the arts don’t even realize quitting it is an option. I have met fellow creatives who feel burnt out, bitter, angry and depressed.  When I hear them speak of what they do there is no joy. I wonder if they feel they have walked so far down this path that taking a detour, or moving to another road altogether, is not an option. It is. We only have one life to live, people. Live it with joy and fulfillment, not obligation and unrealistic goals. BTW if this is something you are wrestling with, read The Dip: A little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick with it). 

Sometimes we know exactly what we want. We love it, more than anything. But the very artistic community where we feel we belong does not feel we are the right fit. Meet Jody. She is a fantastic dancer, really good. However, her turn out is not good enough. She doesn’t have the right feet for professional ballet. The constant criticism in class starts eroding her passion for dance. But thanks to friends and to her drive to dance she looks to other venues. A salsa bar and then a dance class outside of the classical ballet world. She finds where she fits but it wasn’t where she initially expected. Her gift was unorthodox and she had to embrace that reality, instead of fighting against it. We have preconceived notions of where we want to go, heroes paths we want to follow. Openness to the path our talent takes us on is hard but well worth the work if fulfillment is what you want. Being a successful creative is an entrepreneurial endeavour. It often requires you creating a new trail.

The last example I found particularly interesting and that is Eva, played by the fantastic Zoe Saldana. She has IT, exactly what it takes to be a prima ballerina. But there is one issue: her attitude. The viewer is not given a lot of insight into why she has the attitude but I think I understand:

When you are a talented creative, and your giftings come easily to you resulting in a great run in your youth – being the best, being constantly acknowledged for your abilities and told how great you are – it is hard to take on rules and regulations along going from being a big fish in a small pond to a very opposite situation. Eva has to submit to the dress code, to the harsh way they teach and give criticism, to the very stringent boundaries that comes with the classical ballet world. She isn’t the best and has to work hard to keep up. At first she fights it and, as a result, misses out on opportunities. Her arrogance and insecurities let her down. But she eventually finds a balance between being who she truly is (remaining a strong, outspoken, risk-taking individual) while also embracing this new creative world and the requirements and culture that comes with it. Could this balancing act be more challenging? No. It is hard to be you and also surrender. However, I believe there is a way. This push and pull will remain a theme in our creative lives and takes on many different forms, so learning to handle it early on is very beneficial.

Is Centerstage the best movie ever? Hardly. It is a bit melodramatic and cheesy at times. But I saw myself in the story and I think it is a great way to examine our own creative journeys. Where are you at right now? Which character are you identifying with? Do you need a detour or maybe an attitude adjustment? Also the dancing is phenomenal and the soundtrack has a lot of good moments including Jamiroquai, Michael Jackson and (my favorite) Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no. 2. Happy Viewing!


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