Much has been published in recent months and years about the inevitable departure from New York City by young artists. The recent wave reliably cites Didion, whose famous 1967 piece, Goodbye To All That, nullified the need for any subsequent attempt at a love letter. Nonetheless, add the increasing inviability of living in NYC to the inescapable romance of the topic itself, and you have just about every artist waxing poetic on the city they love to hate the most. Personally, I always loved hating it and hated loving it, except for that one Spring weekend when everyone is in Sheep’s Meadow and no one can possibly hate anything–the magic of which usually catches up with you by Monday morning’s sardine-packed commute. A friend used to tell me, “It’s the best city to leave, and the best city to come back to.” This stuck: I recited his little phrase to myself every time I got in a plane or a train going either direction.
I left New York and managed not to write a letter to Gotham, or to its residents, proclaiming the West Coast the best coast. Although I loved my newfound weather situation and plastered my friends’ Facebook feeds with pictures of palm trees, the grit and pace of New York kept nagging at me. Then, this past January–the worst month to return–I came back for a month to take on a choreographic residency. I slept in seven apartments (four beds, three couches) in four boroughs and commuted to Jersey City daily. I bought an unlimited Metrocard which cost at least 30% more than my first unlimited, circa 2009. I spent altogether too much money eating and transporting myself and my two suitcases and drinking coffee–probably 60 cups total in my 28 days. I babysat for two humans and two dogs. Suffering negative degree weather thanks to who knows how many polar vortices, I borrowed coats and scarves, having sold or donated mine before leaving for 80 degree winters. I got my boots resoled on my second day, finding I could stick my fingers through the bottoms after a day in sludge and salt. I’d wondered why my feet were getting so wet and cold.
But this still isn’t the letter proclaiming that it’s time to leave New York. No, I thoroughly recommend returning to New York (perhaps in May or September if you have a choice) because even if you’ve moved on, the city will always be there. It is there. Isn’t that what you told yourself when you left? So go to it. Go to its young women who are you, five years ago: bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and full of promise. Go to its jaded baristas and bartenders who are you had you stayed, possibly. Let them make you a drink with their smooth drink-making choreography as they fire at you the kind of cultural wisdom with which you have become gradually unaccustomed. Observe the speed at which things happen. Go into used bookstores and smell the pages a million hungry hands have touched, turned, and smudged. Spend everything you’ve got on a perfect dress. A stupendous meal. Strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. Go to the city where you grew up–where you were educated, in every sense of the word–and learn who your friends still are.
To the dancers who don’t know whether to stay or go: stay, if you can’t live without dancing and you can’t dance in a city other than New York. If either of this conditionals proves false, then go; there are fewer jobs than people who fill that criteria. And to the dancemakers who want to stay, but feel crowded in a world that’s saturated by others saying close to the same thing in close to the same way: go. The rest of the world needs you. But do go back often to soak up the city’s uniquely talented thinkers and movers. You are cut from the same cloth. Use the incredible dancers at the city’s regrettable disposal and discover as much as you can. Then again, who cares what I say about where you should end up? Take comfort in the thought that New York has a place for you, whoever you are, for however long you are there. It really doesn’t give a shit.
Some in New York will respect you for having endured its battened hatches for as long as you did–five, ten years? The longer the better in their eyes, or at least the more legit. You deserved to move on, maybe, or maybe it was your loss–the playing field has changed since you left, and now some of its heavier hitters are acquaintances you once considered peers. You wonder if you should have given it another shot. Perhaps you still can.
But don’t regret. The longer I’ve been away, the more I’ve realized: New York is a place you must be crazy enough to move to, but also crazy enough to stay in, and eventually, crazy enough to leave. It’s absolute madness, and that can be either a very good or very bad thing. I do believe that as a center for dance, it has resources that no other city in the country has, and for seekers of excellent dance, for people who desire a community that continuously challenges our notion of what dance is and who it is for and how it can be experienced, there’s no place like New York. So whether you go for a little while or the long haul, do go.