AGMAzine Spotlight: Dancer and AGMA Governor Sarah Cecilia Bukowski on Balancing Through Life

Published June 17, 2024   |  By Musical Artists  |  Post in All Areas

The Spring 2024 AGMAzine theme was “balance.”  Today, AGMA shares this essay from Dancer and AGMA Governor Sarah Cecilia Bukowski as part of the Union’s AGMAzine Spotlight Series.

Sarah describes balance as a dynamic and fleeting state she continually seeks as a dancer. She extends this pursuit of balance to her life, managing multiple roles as a freelance dancer, writer, union leader, and student. Despite the challenges, she passionately engages in each role, using intentional time management to maintain her balance. Sarah doesn’t aim for perfection but understands that finding balance and doing her best means adapting to her current situation with patience and self-awareness.

Balancing Through Life
By Sarah Cecilia Bukowski, Dancer and AGMA Governor

Ah, balance: that elusive state of momentary freedom. As a dancer, I’m always chasing balance; seeking it, finding it, losing it, recovering it, teetering on its edge. Balance is fleeting, but the moment I find it, I know. And while balance may look like stillness, it’s really a dynamic state of suspended movement. From the inside, a good balance is a feeling quite unlike any other: solid but floating, grounded yet gravity-defying. And on stage, a poignant balance can be breathtaking to witness: an instant of vertiginous empathy for our shared physicality.

The constant play of balance runs through my lifetime in dance, and as I grow and change, my approach to balance continues to shape itself in new ways. Finding balance in a busy life, finding balance with my physical and mental health, finding balance in my branching and blooming careers—they’re all part of the same dynamic negotiation and learning process that attunes me to myself and guides me through the world.

My life, like that of many artists, is a real balancing act, although sometimes “juggling” feels like the more apt metaphor. New York is an ideal stage for this act—it always has more balls to toss in the air and more surprises to test my equilibrium. I’ve got a few spheres of action going at the moment. As a freelance dancer, I perform with The Metropolitan Opera and pick up gigs when I can. As a freelance writer, I contribute performance criticism to The Dance Enthusiast, among other publications. As a labor activist, I serve on the AGMA Board of Governors, the Board’s Membership and Member Relations Committee, and the Met-AGMA Negotiating Committee. And on top of all this, I’m completing my undergraduate degree part-time at Columbia University School of General Studies—a journey I began over twenty years ago!

Needless to say, this is a lot to balance every day (I truly wouldn’t survive without Google Calendar). Gratefully, each of these spheres represents a part of my life that I am passionate about. I am humbled to say that I love everything I do and that each piece is a part of a path I’m charting through my life with no small measure of support from others and no shortage of challenges. This means that even when I’m tired or struggling, I have my loves to lean on—dancing, writing, learning, raising hell—and the communities that continue to grow up around each of them.

Sometimes people ask me how I do it all, or how I make it look so easy (pure illusion!), and the answer is: balance. I work hard to intentionally balance my time and energy so I can show up fully in every space I occupy. I would never call myself an overachiever—I long ago canceled my subscription to that mentality—but I sure am determined to contribute my best efforts to everything I do. This requires a dynamic approach to life as an organism constantly seeking balance. And while this means that life can be slippery and unstable at times, it also makes life generously flexible and capacious. And when I find that balance, I can really feel it.

Lately, one of my biggest lessons has been that doing my best and finding balance sometimes means saying “no.” I’m no longer looking to dance full-time (been there, done that) because I’ve recognized how dancing can overwhelm my physical and mental capacities. I’m not trying to write full-time, mostly because I am absolutely not built to sit at a desk all day (neither is any human being, but that’s a topic for another time). While labor activism is always my guiding ethos, the work I currently do in that sphere is a labor of love (like every volunteer member of the AGMA Board, Committees, and workplace negotiating units). And I’m not going to school full-time, because I find school to be enormously more engaging when I can, well, balance it with “real life” so my learning has something to resonate against. So what if I don’t get every gig? So what if I’m not writing a book (yet)? So what if it takes me seven years to graduate? Giving soft “no’s” to each of my loves allows me to say “yes” enthusiastically to the balance they can create together.

Another lesson I’ve learned is that my “best” doesn’t always mean “perfect,” whether we’re talking about pirouettes, syntax, contract negotiations, or GPAs. My “best” is a dynamically situated and learned thing that will grow and change with my circumstances; “perfect” is nothing but a mirage. And, of course, I wouldn’t be human if I said I didn’t sometimes fall short of my own values, even as I expound on them here. And just like being off-balance when I’m dancing, being off-balance in my life is disorienting and, in extreme cases, can be dangerous. I’m grateful that my body has ways of telling me to check my balance!

Most of all, balance is about patience and attunement to myself and my surroundings. It’s a sense of presence that encompasses where I’ve been, where I am, and where I might be headed—a balance practiced day by day and stretched across a lifetime.