Self-perception with Martha Graham

Yesterday I found myself in the pits of the internet following the life of Martha Graham. Born May 11, 1894 and died April 1, 1991, Martha Graham was an American modern dancer and choreographer who danced and taught for over 70 years.

The repetitive themes I identified with while engaging her words and thoughts about herself as an innovative dancer in the world took aback me.

I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable

“No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time. It is just that the others are behind the time.”

“You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.”

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique. They are great because of their passion.”

“What people in the world think of you is really none of your business”

A contradictory self-perception

The most intriguing thing for me diving into Martha Graham’s life was the ongoing awareness she had of herself as well as the world she danced for. She was aware of her position as a dedicated dancer and internalized the different views a dancer and a non-dancer hold. She knew that the meaning the creator intends to conclude may not be the same as the meaning a receiver takes.

“I feel that the essence of dance is the expression of man—the landscape of his soul. I hope that every dance I do reveals something of myself or some wonderful thing a human can be.”

– Blood Memory, 1991

Dive after dive, I reflected upon her view of the world, especially where her talent is concerned. I questioned my understanding of inadequacy when alone and when with company.

My self-perception

I have always known that I am amazing. Even through my age of immaturity, when I was a long way from self-actualization, I believed in myself and a ‘thing’ about me. But I also expected the distance between where I was and where my wildest dreams lay. I have never been out of touch with what it takes to get to the top.

As it was, I wasn’t born into much. I was born into blandness and ordinary. And yet, nothing about me has ever been bland and ordinary.

Even in spaces where people’s hearts beat to non-fluctuating frequency as they dance to the same old songs, I always want to dare sing a distinct note. I believe with all of me that in some parts of the world; I am yet to find existing melodies that blend perfectly with my notes.

There’s a sense of a mocking echo to a heart that bears what it can’t define. As something that falls for perceptions it creates and engages, a heart can be caught in a cycle of madness. As for my heart, it has always been strong-willed. A believer of possibilities and my potential.

Knowingly living with potential in a not so nurturing place for it to diffuse, you eventually become aware of how fickle potential is. A little further in the right direction and it becomes what is, and a little to the opposite and it becomes what was.

I highly believe that my self-perception and confidence set me up to expect a lot from myself. And I love that about myself. It just so happens that growing up comes in full circle. Suddenly, realism impedes your dreamy mind. You have to fight for your boundless imagination. If you’re lucky, you at least get to keep the optimism.

But here’s what I have learned about optimism. A mental attitude is what it is. It minds the steps you take to get to your set goal. It takes guts to want to be extraordinaire. To be a fan of yourself while holding an understanding that you might not amount to the expectations set for you.

There’s two roads for a self-perceiving person. There’s the road to understanding what your unique strengths mean. Followed by deciding what to use your strengths on. Do you just become content or do you contribute to the world? Do you do it for recognition or for it to be a simple reflection of yourself despite the number of people you make a difference to?

What does the journey of getting recognition look like? What happens to the perception you hold about yourself if people don’t receive you how you see yourself?

Does my self-perception about my capabilities mean nothing if it is not endorsed?

What measures my worth?

Martha Graham

Along with these questions, I’d like to leave you with Martha Graham’s words to De Mille in 1943. These words were uttered after De Mille choreographed an overnight sensation play that ran for 2,212 performances. Instead of celebrating, De Mille felt disheartened by how the public well received work she considered just okay but turned a blind eye to some of her greatest work; according to her.

I confessed I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.
Martha said to me, very quietly:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

“But then there is no satisfaction?”

“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

As for me, these words conclude a lot of questions.

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