A Positive Look at My Recent Failure

As I sit here at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport patiently waiting for my delayed first flight home to Philadelphia, I can't help but think about my failure in winning the Visions Choreographic Competition at Ballet Arkansas. Five talented choreographers from Boston, Chicago, Oklahoma City, and San Francisco (oh yeah...and me from Philly) convened for a week in the southern state of Arkansas to create a teaser work to present onstage in 11 achingly short hours. We all took this risk in hopes of receiving positive critiques from the judges (amongst them Glenn Edgerton) and to potentially receive a commission with Ballet Arkansas. After a week of planning, creativity, and great effort, my dancers threw themselves into my work and gave a glimmer of what could potentially be a much larger scale piece. Alas, another deserving choreographer won that commission, and I sit here at my gate sipping my Starbucks coffee and writing about my failure. But this failure isn't a bad thing.

The dance world is and has always been obsessed with success. "Wow! She is only 15 years old and she just got hired by New York City Ballet!""He choreographed his first ballet and all of a sudden companies everywhere are seeking him out for new commissions!" "They filled in for a dancer who got injured with only a few hours notice and were almost immediately promoted!" These are not irregular conversation pieces I have come across throughout my dance career. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, these statements have never been said about me. And the reason for this is because those meteoric success stories are so rare that they are unlikely to happen to about 99 percent of us.

So many of us in the dance world dream of rising to the top with an ease of effort and the least amount of failure. But that just doesn't happen as often as we think. Give or take a few, five artists per dance-generation can proclaim these momentous stories all the way to the front page of Dance Magazine or Pointe. So, where does that leave the rest of us? If one wants to move forward, it forces the rest of us to suffer both small and great failures as we pass from success to success.

So, let's take a look at my very recent failure. I really began choreographing back in 2008 at Pacific Northwest Ballet's Choreographers Showcase. Since that first work, I have choreographed for the National Choreographers Initiative, Seattle's Men in Dance festival, the Philly Fringe Festival, Alaska Dance Theatre, multiple other PNB showcases, and won an award from Youth America Grand Prix. Nearly 6 months ago, I decided to apply for Ballet Arkansas' Visions Choreographic Competition. I was drawn to this experience for multiple reasons. First off, any chance to create on professionals is a success. Beyond this, my work would have the opportunity to be seen by a new community, a renowned figure in the international dance community, and some of my national colleagues. In fact, to be chosen out of 31 candidates to be a finalist for this venture was a great success. Do you see where I'm going with this?

When all 5 of the finalist's short works were presented yesterday evening, each of us had already achieved success by making it to the performance stage of this competition. As of 7 PM last night, none of us had failed in our risk of entering to choreograph. But by the end of the night, one choreographer would become more successful at this event than the rest of us. If none of us had actually had the aplomb to put ours work on the line, we wouldn't have had the chance to be successes or failures. At the end of the night, I was a failure. But it was neither a bad thing to fail, nor a negative part of my growth as a dance maker. It was an opportunity to work. It was an opportunity to be seen. It was an opportunity to fail. It was an opportunity to succeed. And without all of these opportunities, I wouldn't learn, improve, refine, and cultivate my art.

With success comes failure and with failure comes success. We, especially in the U.S., suffer from the negative connotation that arrives with the word failure. But interestingly enough, most of those of us who experience the most failure also experience the most success. The two go hand in hand and are quite reciprocal. My success in the Visions Choreographic Competition also allowed for my failure. And in the end, I created a new work, added more experience to my queue, expanded my creative network, and much more. I guess I could say that I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to fail. And with this new experience, perhaps, the next time I will succeed more greatly!


  1. I'm glad to have found your blog, Barry. I was (am) a big fan of your choreography and miss you in Seattle.
    Glenna Lynch

    1. Thanks Glenna! I'm glad you found me. Who knows, maybe you'll get a chance to see some of my choreography in Seattle in the next few years ;-)