Monday, July 12, 2010

So I still Think I can Dance

This to say that I take Ballet classes in a small studio in Manhattan, five times a week in the evenings. I am not a good dancer, and I am not being humble. Whoever has gone out with me and got dragged to a dance floor, knows how terrible of a dancer I am. But I attend these classes because Ballet makes me happy. I don’t know how to explain it but it just does. So Ballet is meaningful to me, despite the fact that I'm a bad dancer and will never get extremely far in this discipline. To top it off, I recently read an article on the New York Times Magazine about how my generation has been raised by parents and teachers who have always motivated us to "follow our dreams" and do "what makes us happy." Yet somehow there has to be something missing in this model where human motivation is guided by self-interest. That is, I have plenty of friends who are paying the consequences of naively "following their dreams" in their early twenties, and now being in tons of debt, unemployed, undecided about their career etc. This was also the point of the New York Times article.

So speaking about following my dreams, last week, I found out that a girl in my Ballet group is also a composer at Julliard. She showed her work to my Russian teacher, and he decided to organize a performance. This means that my group will get to dance on stage in the fall, with a real orchestra playing. This also presented me with an unexpected philosophical issue which I formulated with this question: Is taking Ballet because it makes me happy a good justification for making this a priority, even if I'm not (objectively) a good dancer?

Here I am making a decision between committing to something I am not good at, but that I love doing ( Ballet) and committing to something else which I am potentially good at (philosophy) but am not very positive about doing. For example, to be in the performance, I will probably have to take less graduate school classes because rehearsals take time. So I will spend less time in my philosophy department, and more time with my Ballet group. This might bring consequences in the long run (for example, it will take me longer to graduate).

I read Susan Wolf's Tanner Lectures last night, about meaningfulness in life. In a very simple manner, her proposal is that meaning arises from "loving objects worthy of love, and engaging with them in a positive way." The category of value she defends involves objective and subjective elements, inextricably linked. So Wolf's view is an interesting combination of egoism, or self-interested motivation models (do what makes you happy as long as it is meaningful to you. Find your inner passion. Go for it.) and the idea that we should also be involved in something larger than ourselves (which might not always be what we want to do.)

Drawing from her proposal, can I justify my decision by arguing that I am also involved in something larger than myself? Hopefully yes.

Most of the people in my group are in their twenties and thirties, some of them used to be professional dancers too. We are all facebook friends by now. We exchange youtube videos of Ballet variations through facebook, and on Saturday evenings, after Ballet class, we go out Salsa Dancing at Lincoln Center. Next weekend I am attending a film screening with another Ballet friend, of the movie "Only when I Dance." I've never been in better shape in my life. I am surrounded by artists and eccentric people. But fundamentally, we have a common goal to work on. So not only do I get the personal satisfaction of being happy when I dance, I also get to be around a community of other people who dance because this makes them happy and for the common goal of rehearsing a good performance.

So here we have a community: One of the few things that actually helps us humans be involved in something we love, that can also be larger than ourselves once we set a common goal.

Does my defense work? Probably not. Am I still seriously thinking about being in the Dance performance this Fall and skipping on a philosophy course? Hell yeah.

(Note on the side: Whatever dumb thing I decide to do to "follow my passions" is still justified nowadays because I have a job. So another argument would be: as long as I keep my job, I can do whatever makes me happy. But this sounds like an easy way out.)