By Steven Pressfield | Published: May 29, 2013
I was reading an article about Twlya Tharp, the renowned dancer and choreographer of Push Comes to Shove and many more—and the author of The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life.
The article said that every morning Twyla emerges at six A.M. from her New York apartment building (my apologies to Ms. Tharp if I get any of these details wrong) and catches a cab to her dance studio, where she starts her day’s work.
Here’s what I immediately thought:
I’d love to set up a video camera across the street from Ms. Tharp’s building, pointing directly at her front door. We could mount the camera on, say, the third or fourth floor of the opposite building, so it had a nice wide down-angle of the sidewalk and the street. We’d program the camera to turn itself on every morning just before Ms. Tharp emerges from her building and to stay on till she had successfully flagged down a taxi and driven off.
We’d do this every day for a year, then edit the footage together in sequence. In other words, we’d create a video record of one full year of an artist getting up early every morning and, come hell or high water, heading off to her place of work.
Think about it. We’d have days with blizzards. We’d have sweltering summer mornings. We’d have gorgeous, crisp days in Fall. We’d have rainy days when it was impossible to find a cab. On those mornings we’d see Ms. Tharp trundling off for the subway or bus, or shouldering her umbrella and heading for the studio on foot.
Let’s say each morning’s video snippet, after editing, lasted thirty seconds. Twyla comes out of her building, Twyla hails a cab, Twyla gets aboard, the taxi zips off. Suppose she does this 300 days a year (we’ll have to give her a few weeks off, not to mention out-of-town travel days). At thirty seconds per, our little video document would be 150 minutes long. Two and a half hours.
What’s great about any work of art is what it implies. This Twyla Tharp video implies a lot. It implies habit—powerful, positive, professional habit. It implies will, dedication, love, devotion, commitment. It implies slaying the dragon of Resistance every morning. It implies an entire philosophy of life and art.
Do we want every person in New York City to come out of their buildings at six A.M. every morning, ready to do their artistic or entrepreneurial thing? Probably not. There aren’t enough cabs anyway. But I for one love to think of Twyla Tharp grabbing her coffee and her iPhone and catching a cab to her studio, year-round at the crack of dawn, ready to put her butt where her heart wants to be.
So the next time you and I take a seat in a concert hall and watch another wonderful Twyla Tharp ballet or modern dance and we ask ourselves, “How in the world does she do it?”, we’ll know where to go for our answer.
We’ll go to those three hundred days of videotape.
That’s how she does it.