Good or Bad? : The struggle with comparison

I recently attended workshop with one of my favorite teachers. Afterward, I said something about how much I enjoy watching her move, in spite of knowing that I will never be as good. Another attendee took this to be a self-disparaging remark and immediately told me, “Don’t compare yourself to others. You’re a beautiful dancer!” There is so much of our art form loaded into both of these statements, I thought it was worth a deeper look.

Let’s start with the statement of my fellow student: “Don’t compare yourself to others.” What did she mean by this? I interpreted her remarks to be encouraging. She felt that I was putting down my abilities as a dancer. Generally speaking, belly dance is not a competitive sport. There is definitely a negative side to constantly comparing yourself to others. This runs counter to the feelings of sisterhood, support, and comraderie that many of us prefer to foster in the community. As comparison generally partners with negative self-talk or imposter syndrome, I understood exactly why she said these things. Dancers of all levels can create beautiful art. As an observer, I can appreciate a broad variety of performances. There is no “best in show”.

I’ve had those thoughts though. I have felt the angst of feeling that I’m not enough. I have gotten frustrated because I wasn’t what I felt was “the best” performance in a show. And none of those thoughts were good for anyone. They can lead to pettiness and jealousy. “Why is she getting more attention than me?” And most of all, for me it led to unhappiness. It took this thing that I love and made it personally toxic. For a time.

But more recently, I’ve found a healthier side of comparison. What my fellow student missed in my statement that I will never be as good as our teacher is a recognision of professionalism. I will never be as good as our teacher because  I don’t put in the work and I have chosen a different life path. Her technique and artistry will always be better because she works hard at them. I work 40+ hours every week in a rather demanding, sedentary day job. I continue to choose to pursue additional interests outside of that job and dance: knitting, researching the history of the dance, Tarot, time with beloved people and animals, gardening, etc. I find all of these things wonderful and fulfilling, but they generally do not contribute to the technique of my dance and dance artistry. I will never be as good as my teacher because I have chosen to prioritize a broad range of other interests that also bring me happiness. That and there are only so many hours in a day. And that realization has been liberating. It has allowed me, the recovering perfectionist, to once again enjoy my art.