This morning, I took a dance fitness class before work (which kicked my BUTT, by the way – check out 305fitness.com if you’re looking for something that’s like part Zumba, part P90X, and part rave. Yeah, it’s amazing!).
Afterwards, I was chatting with the instructor about the class and she asked what I was doing in the city. I told her that I moved here to dance, but alas, the need to pay bills came quicker than audition season, so hence – another office manager position. She commented that most of her other instructors are professional dancers, and that it’s so fascinating hearing them talk about their world and how narrow their frame of reference is. I asked her to elaborate.
“All these amazingly talented dancers literally feel guilty for taking a job that provides some semblance of security to them. It is the strangest thing! I want to tell them, ‘Guys, a job that you can count on a paycheck from is N-O-R-M-A-L; a job like yours, where you work 4 jobs and never sleep or eat…is not. Ask any of my finance and business friends! And, misery loves company, so they all just complain about it and don’t accept their options for stability.”
I just shook my head. She’s completely right, you know.
The most fascinating phenomenon exists in the world of dance – which, by the way, if you’re a dancer, isn’t a phenomenon at all, but rather a way of life. I’m telling you, though, it isn’t normal to everyone else.
Somehow, we – some of the most talented, hard-working, and successful (by all the wrong definitions of the word) individuals around – downplay our worth and our talent, because the underpaid art world says that’s how it should be. We accept the pay we think we deserve…despite the fact that no normal, working human being in our society today would accept $1.00/hour or less for something they spent 14+ years in school for, would they? Hmm, somehow I think not. It’s a vicious and never-ending cycle: the arts community, though they may long for greater pay, says that doesn’t exist so don’t expect it; we choose not to expect it; and thereby continue the cycle on endlessly.
Why is this the case?
Why does that have to be a truth for dancers and performers alike?
Why must we feel guilty about choosing something that provides us stability? Not all of us are cut out to live on $28,000/year in NYC and dance until 11 PM every night. Just like not all dancers have developed skills outside of the studio through internships and other experiences that allow them to assimilate dance and art and culture into the business/financial/you-name-it fields.
It’s almost like we as performers look down on those who choose not to martyr themselves for the art – because, you know, REAL DANCERS would do anything for their art, 100% of the time, including but not limited to: starvation, debt, zero vacations EVER, or a schedule that is absolutely unhealthy in every way possible. REAL DANCERS are waitresses and dog walkers and work in retail. I’m ranting at this moment, and for that I apologize, but I am struggling to understand why I continue to have these thoughts of “I’m not a REAL DANCER” because I choose not to do those things. Why do I feel so guilty, so outcast, so unworthy to carry the title of a dancer? I hate waitressing, I could never work retail, and I love dogs but I couldn’t even remember to walk mine, much less someone else’s.
Why do we look down upon those who have managed to be professional dancers, and yet have also figured out how to successfully support themselves? It’s been wracking my brain all day. I’m not saying that I have made it as a professional dancer, I’m just saying that it blows my mind that the stereotype of being a dancer is so engrained, not only in dance culture but in society in general, that we can’t escape from it. Literally, the number of times I’ve been asked since moving to NYC if I was going to waitress or nanny to make ends meet is mind-blowing. What if I’m good at other things? It is just so weird if you separate yourself from the dance world “bubble” and put the thinking that ‘financial stability must mean you’re doing something wrong’ into normal social context…right?
Does anyone have any thoughts on this self-perpetuated, seemingly never-ending cycle of judgement in this world of martyr…I mean, dancers, who seem to shun you as being legitimate if you choose to balance your life? Someday, I would love to make a living by dancing full time, but moving to NYC and starting life virtually over is not the time for me to do it. How did you do it, dancers?
I guess this post is really just one big question. Why?