21st June 2021
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The Reality of Pursuing your Dreams in the Arts

Pursuing your dreams
By Crystal Nicholls

Sometimes we are so relentless in the pursuit of our dreams that we become inflexible to life’s twists and turns. It is healthy to have ambitions because they give us focus and purpose, but we need to remember that life doesn’t always present itself in the way we expect. The reality of pursuing your dreams in the arts is that if we stubbornly refuse to be open to what life is offering, we miss the beauty of possibility.

The realisation

Back in 2018 I guest-hosted a Q&A session at a performing arts school in my home country, Barbados. I was excited to share my experience as a professional dancer with these kids, and hoped to inspire them to pursue their dreams of making it in the performing arts.

One boy approached me after the session and said that he wanted to be a professional actor. He knew what university he wanted to attend, what company he should work for, and even what he intended to do after retiring from acting – he had a detailed blueprint for his life.

I saw so much of myself in this kid. I used to think that to succeed, I needed to plan an exact route to my dreams. I gave him the advice I wish someone had given to me at his age:

“Your life will probably not turn out the way you imagined, and that is a good thing.”

He was stunned. He had expected me to praise him for his diligent goal planning. I explained that although I am all for vision boards and getting things down on paper, my life turned out so differently to the one I had planned, and I am really happy that it did.

At his age, I had wanted to attend a dance programme at a university in New York. Why? Because New York is the place every artist needs to be – it is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of! Frank Sinatra told me that if I could make it there, I’d make it anywhere.

I figured that after graduating, I’d join a modern dance company where I would gain experience, then I’d break into Broadway, go on tour with Beyonce, and then when I was ready to hang up my dancing shoes I would return to Barbados and open my dance studio.

Life had other plans

I hurt my knee just when I was about to fly to New York for auditions. I missed all the submission deadlines for the schools I was interested in and ended up auditioning for Canadian schools instead.

I attended Ryerson University in Toronto, where I made some of my closest friends. Here, I was allowed to refine my dance technique in a safe and less competitive environment, I realised newfound confidence in singing and acting, skills I never thought I would attain.

After graduation, I travelled the world as a main stage dancer on a cruise ship and visiting places I never dreamed of seeing. While on a break between contracts, I auditioned for a world famous production and ended up in London performing in the West End.

None of these were on my list of goals – not one. But I could not have dreamed up a better life for myself if I had tried.

Reality is what you make it

I learned that life is not a progression of check lists that you can manipulate at will, and that sheer force and determination will not get you what you want. We need to set our goals, but let go of what we think the outcome should be.

Sometimes our dreams aren’t our own, and we are influenced more than we realise by the media, friends and relatives. Looking back I realised that I wanted to be in New York because everyone said that it was where I needed to be. The problem with dreaming is that sometimes we dream too small, when in reality there is no limit to what we can achieve.

Also on TheatreArtLife:

Perfectionism: A Dancing Crisis

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