The life of a professional dancer comes with an array of challenges. Whether you are in a company or have set out on your own, this career is about 20 percent reward and 80 percent challenge. Of course, the rewards, although less frequent, can be so extremely exciting that they usually outweigh the hardships and disappointments. Nonetheless, we dancers tend to take in the stress of challenges without any great processing beyond feeling upset or let down. Dancers ingest a great deal of bad in hope that with hard work and good timing things will turn around and they will be put on the cover of Pointe Magazine, be promoted to principal, and/or get asked to guest in galas around the world. Unfortunately, this is the trajectory of less than 1% of the professional dance population. The build up and quiet burying of these feelings can really wear on a dancer's emotional state. Without taking steps to ensure fulfillment and happiness beyond the worth placed on a dancer in their current situation, dancers can easily become depressed, jaded, and bitter towards something they are actually quite passionate about.
|Living in the "PNB Bubble" - Costume archive photo for Jerome Robbins' The Concert|
In the freelance world, things can work in a similar fashion to that of a "bubble." But for the most part, it is completely different. Because freelancers don't often work within the same community from job to job, their emotional state can be greatly affected by whether they are working or not, the quality of their dance work, and what they are doing to make ends meet beyond rehearsals and performances. Sometimes, dancers will take on work that they feel is sub-par or uninspiring just to get a paycheck. At other times, dancers will take on multiple jobs, from waiting tables to office work, in order to make ends meet. If a dancer doesn't have current rewards from their dance jobs, it can make much of what one is doing, inside and outside of dance, feel wasteful and demoralizing since it isn't helping push the artist to the next level.
|On tour at the Joyce Theater|
Going back to the discussion of my yoga practice, I took a challenging class this evening with the studio owner, Mark Nelson. One quality that determines the difference between a good yoga teacher and a great one is their ability to inspire emotional well-being while also providing a well-structured practice. At the end of each class, Mark offers a quote or statement to make his yogis think and grow as human beings. Today, we were gifted this little gem at the culmination of our practice."Take what you love and take what you need. And do it." That statement is a short way of stating the exercise that Lynne had given me nearly a year prior. This perfect advice seems to keep thrusting itself into the forefront of my awareness. For dancers, this seems so appropriate because at one point in our training, we did exactly that and it made us happy. It can be easy to forget. Once we become professionals, we have the added stress of achievement, survival, and expectation (personal and social). There is an emotional transition of attitude once dance goes from hobby to job. If a dancer finds that work is becoming overly stressful or unfulfilling, it is important to find things that crossover on both the "things I enjoy" and "things I'm good at" lists and start to cultivate those interests. I have seen more dancers quit/retire far too early due to what I call "emotional injuries." Emotional survival is actually the key to having a long and successful dance career. Namaste!