Mikhail Baryshnikov's Wise Advice to USC Kaufman's First Graduating Class
Updated: May 13
On Friday, May 10, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance graduated its first class. Thirty-three dancers were pioneers of the dance-conservatory program that took on the motto of "The New Movement." It was the first new school at USC in almost four decades, thanks to a generous gift from philanthropist Glorya Kaufman. Her long-standing ties to the dance community as a benefactor took on new meaning as she helped mold the next generation of artists and creators. Topping off the commencement program was one of the greatest male dancers in modern history, Mikhail Baryshnikov. His short, but impactful, speech made an impression on the entire audience by focusing on generosity as an artist.
"There is an even more important kind of generosity, the generosity to one's self. As young creative artists, and really as human beings, you have to be open to failure," Baryshnikov advised. "You have to open yourself up to take a risk and fail. Failure is a part of learning. As Samuel Beckett wrote, 'Try again, fail again, fail better.' " Baryshnikov gave the wisdom of a dancer who has seen every theatre wing and dressing room. He also gave the advice as someone who has seen their success rise beyond the ballet barre. He knows success at a level higher than most ballet dancers and shared how important authenticity is in movement. "As a very old dancer, I have had many, many opportunities to fail. S**t happens. Projects collapse, knees blowout, money dries up, but as artists and as young people discovering what you care about, you must be generous to that spark inside yourself that made you love dance in the first place," he revealed. "It isn't a commercial pursuit. It isn't the fame or money or glamour. Of course, those things are nice, but dance is an honest attempt to communicate with movement." Baryshnikov also cut right to the heart of what sometimes ails the commercial dance industry. His lasting words should be posted in every dance studio because this is what makes art breathtaking. "Sometimes there's an obsession with technique that can kill your best interests," Baryshnikov wisely summed up. "Communicating with an art form means being vulnerable, it means being imperfect. Most of the time, this is much more interesting. Trust me."
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