One of my favorite dance-teacher phrases is “That’s the work.”
I’ve heard many teachers say it, always with a look of deep satisfaction. I can tell they love that “Aha!” moment when teacher and student together figure out what an exercise or step is really all about.
When you finally feel those inner thigh muscles quivering in a deep slow plié, or every part of the sole of your foot stroking the floor in tendus en croix—and the step is suddenly so much harder than before that you forget to breathe—you realize that feeling is what you need to strive for every time. You experience a moment of mind–body insight. That’s the work.
Former President Barack Obama often uses similar words about public service. In 2015 he told photographer Brandon Stanton (humansofnewyork.com) about a tough time in his early career: “The thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’—then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”
Recently I heard the phrase from a non-dance educator. I was telling my son’s preschool teacher about resolving a sibling conflict. Satisfied but exhausted, I said, “My job is such hard work right now!” She took my hand, her eyes bright with teacherly enthusiasm. “Yes, that’s the work!” she exclaimed. “And the work is so worth it, isn’t it?”
She’s right. For teachers, dancers, public servants, and parents—among others—the work is hard and never done. But if you love the work? Then the work is so worth it. —Tamsin Nutter
DSL associate editor Tamsin Nutter lives in Berkeley, California. A former MoMA marketing writer, she trained at Vassar College and The Ailey School and danced in NYC with Regina Nejman & Company and others.