Perspective. This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, and wanted to share my own thoughts (and perspective...pun intended) on. The opportunity and ability to gain perspective is a crucial part of one’s development. Perspectives can come from acquiring knowledge from another source, but I believe the most impactful perspective stems from first hand experience. This is something I have had the great privilege of having access to, especially over the past few months. This summer, I travelled to Montreal and Banff, and this past month, I moved to Amsterdam! I have met people from across Canada, the United States, and all over Europe and Asia. Hearing the life stories and their unique histories of these artists is so inspiring. It has opened my eyes to the different pasts and trajectories of people.
I don’t believe perspectives are a means of judging or comparing yourself with others, but instead a way to globalize your understanding of the world and where you fit in the larger picture. It is a way of getting a greater understanding of yourself as an individual and formulating what you “like” and “do not like.”
In art, perspective is giving a 3-dimensional effect to a flat image. This is a good way to visualize how perspective can open up a world of possibilities. Think about a world where you are completely isolated - you only know your family and maybe a few friends. You do not “people watch” and you stay within your city and have minimal access to knowledge of the “outside world.” Do not get me wrong, there is a great value in getting very intimate and familiar with your environment, but lately, I have been realizing and discovering so much just by experiencing other cities, cultures and people. The varying degrees different cities and countries support the arts and how different dancers train depends on if they are in Canada, USA, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands, or England! I have also come to realize first hand how much of the academic culture in North America revolves around money making and clout, while in Europe, there is a larger focus on getting students to reach their highest potential in a highly supportive and nurturing environment.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and for me, a large part of gaining perspective is about opening my eyes, my mind and my heart, acknowledging how little I know, and absorbing new environments with minimal initial judgement. It is incredibly humbling entering new settings, especially when you know very few people. This opportunity to rediscover and question yourself and values is priceless. You get the additional benefit of discovering what speaks to you from these places and cities as well as new ways of thinking and moving. In this exploration process we may even realize what does not work for us.
Perspective is an important tool not only in life but also in dance. If we train solely in one style and at one studio, we can become very good at what it is you do. But it is important to get a sense of the broader dance scene as well. This is one incredible benefit of studios participating in festivals and competitions! You gain exposure to what others at your level and age are doing and can become inspired by them. Maybe you have mastered your quadruple pirouette, but a competitor did an illusion into an aerial. Maybe your quality of choice is gooey and fluid while someone else loves to move with sharp accents.
I have experienced three post-secondary institutions: one in New York City, one in Vancouver, and one in Amsterdam. It has been so eye-opening how different organizations run depending on where they are located and how much funding they receive. More interestingly, as a result of these things, it’s fascinating to see how this impacts their mottos, values and beliefs. New York City is a very fast-paced city, filled with dreamers and hustlers. Everybody is on the move, and not many would dare start a conversation with a “stranger.” Dance jobs are either big-named companies or small project-based works. Everything is expensive and food portions are hefty. In Vancouver, the arts are not heavily supported, but there are a fair number of companies, both big and small, as well as numerous project-based opportunities. Again, living is very expensive, but space and nature are abundant. Everybody knows everybody in the dance community, and you are highly likely to run into someone you know at your next drop-in class. Coming home to Vancouver after spending two years in New York also gave me an additional perspective on the city I had lived in my whole life! It made me realize everything I took for granted, from my parents, to a car, to space of my own, to mountains! Now, in Amsterdam, I am experiencing another large culture shock - where art is everywhere, where there is a square solely with museums, where it is twice as quick to get somewhere by bike than by car, and where artistic grants are everywhere.
Even if your funds do not allow you to travel far, there are many ways you can gain perspectives and experiences. Branch outside of your everyday community! Find ways of meeting new people; those who you know share similar interests to you, but also those who maybe don’t! Meet people of different ethnicities and ages. Share and listen to each others’ stories! (It is often shocking how little you know about even those who are closest to you.) Become curious about as many different things as possible. Know that it is okay to not know things. And through all of this, you can rediscover and reshape your own perspective on yourself and the world around you!