A Mirror on Creativity
The Huffington Post headline caught my eye: “18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently.” Wouldn’t you know, I fit almost all of the descriptors, from “they daydream” to “they people-watch” to “they ask the big questions.”
It was only after I saw that hundreds of readers commented that this story was a mirror into their minds that I began to question: am I a creative person, or is it just flattering to believe so? Many people are undeniably creative—Paul Taylor, for example. Sonya Tayeh, certainly; Christopher Gattelli, Nappytabs, whoever works with Jabbawockeez. But me? Let’s use this list and see.
“They observe everything.” As a choreographer, I took this to mean hear everything, as in “Wow, wouldn’t that song make a great number!” Unfortunately, the list doesn’t say creative people remember everything. If I only knew all the great ideas I’ve forgotten.
“They work the hours that work for them.” Yes! My best choreography happens between 7 and 10am. If life intervenes and I’m forced to choreograph at say, 3pm, I will dutifully pump out something that, the next day in rehearsal, will be frantically re-choreographed in my head and taught with a lot of uhs and ums.
“They turn life’s obstacles around.” This was written by someone—like me—who knows that her students will never, ever get that tricky sequence of steps right and has convinced herself that the replacement—a chassé in a circle—is better anyway.
“They lose track of the time.” Here’s a typical conversation in my house. Husband: “How much longer will you be doing that?” Me: “I have four more counts of 8, so not long.” Husband (after hours of an Ink Master marathon): “I’m going to bed.”
“They follow their true passions.” I choreographed my first dance at age 9—“Marzipan” from Nutcracker. I was the ballerina, and I made my younger sister do the danseur part—24 one-legged front-attitude hops, arms crossed Russian-style. To this day, I’ve never seen that particular move in any other dance piece. What can I say? Pure creativity. —Karen White, Associate Editor
It Girl walks into the studio and the floor seems to tilt; all the attention in the room slides toward her. The other girls’ glances, antennae, the pitch of their bodies are drawn to this talented, self-assured 17-year-old. She exudes an aura of sullen superiority.
“I don’t want to go to rehearsal,” It Girl says, tossing her head. “What’s she going to do? Kick me out?” Her acolytes’ eyes widen; a collective shiver of awe and excitement goes around the room.
She rolls her eyes when the ballet teacher asks her why she’s not wearing pink tights, and tells her modern teacher she doesn’t want to go to college because college dance departments suck, except for, like, Juilliard.
I know that girl all too well.
I was dedicated to dance, wanted to make it my life, and didn’t doubt that the rest of the world had been notified. It wasn’t going to be that hard. I could skip almost every loser modern-dance class in college without missing anything. Composition class was a waste of time.
Once I’d dropped out of that godforsaken college and moved to New York City, a now-well-known choreographer asked me to work with him. Naturally. Of course everyone was going to want me. When rehearsals were hard I threw tantrums. Once I kicked the wall. The concerts went well, though, and I was pleased with my performances.
It wasn’t until later, after months of working in a restaurant, that it occurred to me: that choreographer hadn’t called back. He wasn’t going to. My attitude was damaging my career and myself.
Seized by shame and panic, I vowed to work hard and take nothing for granted.
I recently saw It Girl in ballet class. Something had changed—she was taking corrections and working diligently. Her dancing was courageous and generous. Decades-old regret heightened my hope that she’d learned the lesson I had absorbed so late: that ambition isn’t enough, and that every opportunity to learn is a gift to be cherished and taken full advantage of. That there is no It without the work. —Lisa Okuhn, Associate Editor