Break, Shake, Rock, & Twist Your Path

My various worlds are often colliding in interesting ways.  Sometimes they run parallel, sometime perpendicular, and sometimes they resemble overlapping EKG patterns.

I just finished producing the 5th Waking Persephone Festival here in Seattle.  It’s a bellydance event with the subtitle of “a different kind of dance experience” and features three dozen workshops over 3 days, 3 shows, vendors, and much more.  There are a lot of things that make it different from the standard bellydance event, but one of the key things is the majority of our teaching staff apply to be a part of the event.  Those chosen range from seasoned professionals and legends of the dance to “rising stars” – folks who may be virtually unknown outside of their local communities. What qualifies the ones chosen each year is their demonstrating a strong interest in community, enthusiasm for both learning and teaching, and a proposal to bring different ideas to the table.

The Lady of Shalott by William Holman Hunt
The Lady of Shalott by William Holman Hunt

For as long as we’ve done it, there’s been sideline snark about our lack of “big names” – mainly from people who haven’t bothered to cross our doorway and whose definition of “big name” is rather limited.  (Which is fine, they’re entitled to their opinion, as I am to mine.) But I’m not interested in the “name draw” at a time where most events are still recycling the same dozen or so names again and again for years. The dance community is severely suffering from a lack of grassroots innovation because of it, contributing to a downward spiral of anti-growth.

My goal has been to expose dancers to new ideas, to innovation, and different ways of seeing and thinking about their own journeys.  As well as giving established names a chance to explore material they’re not normally asked to give, but it’s something they are personally passionate about.   The result? Consistent feedback year after year that the attendees feel this is the most inclusive event they’ve ever attended, that they learn the most from the workshops offered, thoroughly enjoyed the strength and diversity of the shows, and felt so much at home because of how we build community for the event.

So why am I talking about how and why I design my dance festival on a blog about witchcraft? Well, this past week, the decline letters from PantheaCon programming went out, and there were a lot of disappointed folks. (The acceptance letters went out much earlier, but presenters are requested to keep quiet about it for many good reasons).  While it’s definitely normal and expected to be disappointed that your submission (or your favorite presenter) didn’t get chosen, I saw quite a few people posting “well if my 1/2/3 favorite speakers aren’t going to be there then I’m not going to go.”

This may have been my face...
This may have been my face…

Let’s back up a minute. PantheaCon has over 200 events (lectures, workshops, rituals, concerts, etc) scheduled over 4 days.  Most folks presenting are involved in just 1-2 events.  They received over 600 submissions, which means more than half of the submissions had to be declined.  They have a team of people that has to read ALL of them, factoring in so many things including: which topics fit the theme, fan favorites, bringing in new blood, switching things up, not overlapping too much, and trying to provide programming for an incredibly diverse population.  It’s a task of titanic proportions.  (For our event this year, we had to sort through 100+ submissions for 36 spots; suddenly our job looks a lot easier…).

Logistics of trying to put together such a huge schedule aside, with that many choices, it boggles my mind that without even seeing the final schedule, people would make such a declaration.  What about all of the other presenters and topics you don’t even know about yet? Sure, I have my favorite folks I like to listen to and do stuff with, but what’s so exciting about such a large and diverse schedule is the opportunity to learn something NEW from someone I don’t know or haven’t heard of yet.  Heck, I’ve found the same to be true at events with smaller schedules when I’m not familiar with who is presenting.

Why? Because different ideas shake up my brain.  They break boundaries I didn’t know I had.  They rock my foundations and suggest new patterns.  They add new twists to an already crooked path, making my journey that much more interesting.  Sure there’s the occasional presentation that’s meh, but even those got me thinking about how I do it differently or why I think this or that way is better.  And best of all? I often get to add new and awesome people to my life.

Many of us came to P-wordism because we were tired of being presented with “the one true way.”  So why would you limit your influences to just a couple of people? Why would you straighten your path? Also, hearing different ideas and perspectives doesn’t require you to change your own.  Instead, they can help deepen your own practice, understand it more, strengthen it, and reveal it to you in new ways.

Furthermore, as a frequent presenter myself (in dance, art, and witchcraft), there have been times when I have said to an event that I’ve taught at, year after year – “It’s time to take a break.” Because people can get a bit too familiar and take your presence for granted. Absence in the schedule does indeed make the heart grow fonder – and can also mean that the year off gives you a new perspective on the event. More time to check out other programming and expand your path since you aren’t committed to certain time-slots. More time to be a student, observer, and be social.  Last year all of my submissions got turned down for a certain event, but I went anyway.  And it was the best thing ever because I could actually just attend the event, and soak up the other presentations.  I got to spend quality time with one of my dearest friends, and I met some really fantastic people who I now consider excellent friends and inspirations in my life.  It was exactly what I needed when I needed it.

So don’t hitch your path to any one or small handful of stars.  Explore the possibilities and learn new things.  Get curvy, twisty, weave it, rip it, and shake it up. No one ever said, “Wow, I really regret learning that new thing that made me think.”

 

 

 

 

 

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