Marta Becket - Death Valley dancer

Would you write your novel if no-one would read it? Would you paint a picture that would never be seen? Would you dance even if no-one is watching? Creative actionista Yang-May Ooi discusses what we can learn from The Death Valley Ballerinas about being creative for yourself whether or not you have an audience.

Dance even when no-one is watching

Marta Becket danced alone for years in an abandoned opera house in Death Valley with no audience and for no other reason than she loved to dance. Now, a young ballerina Jenna McClintock, has taken over after Marta’s death to keep her desert legacy alive.

You can watch her story on this Youtube video:

There is something beautiful, haunting and courageous in Marta’s story, especially in a social media driven world that is hyper-focused on self-promotion.

Writers are told by their publishers to get on Twitter and Facebook to raise their profile among readers. Some would-be writers are even promoting themselves before their books are written in order to offer a more attractive package when they submit their manuscripts to the publishing world. It’s not much different for other artists and creatives – we must all attend to our web presence in one way or another.

Marta Becket - Death Valley dancer

Marta Becket – Death Valley dancer

So to imagine ourselves in Marta’s story – staring out into the empty desert, refurbishing and decorating the Amargosa Opera House by herself, making preparations backstage alone and stepping out onto the stage with no-one to watch her but the silent walls…. It gives me goosebumps, this magnificent, sublime devotion to the creative act regardless of who else is there or ever will be there.

To write, dance, paint, create regardless of an audience, whether a formal group or even just anyone else we might collar to read, watch, see our work.  To be creative just for our own subjective experience of doing the work. To create simply to honour the creative spirit within us. What freedom that gives us. And what power.

I have to confess that I am not as courageous or strong or self-defined as Marta, or Jenna. I want my writing to be read, my stage performance to be watched, my podcasts and videos to be absorbed. My one big fear during the 3 week run of my solo show Bound Feet Blues was that I would be playing to a handful of people – and that those would be my long-suffering friends seeing it for the umpteenth time out of pity for me. That never happened, of course, but the fear made me smaller than I could have been.

I’d like to think that Marta’s story will inspire all of us – including me – to be bolder in embracing creative work simply because it inspires or fascinates or intrigues us, regardless of the outcome.



Photo: David Kamada from (comm)



Author: Yang-May Ooi

Yang-May Ooi is a writer & podcaster. Her creative work includes The Flame Tree and Mindgame (novels), Bound Feet Blues (theatre & family memoir), The Anxiety Advantage and Creative Conversations (podcasts). ¦

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