8 Gifts My Career has Given Me

Channukah is a bit early this year, beginning on December 6th. It always feels odd when it is this early, considering that American holiday culture climaxes between December 24th and January 1st. I always love to do list posts as we enter the final month of the year. I’m sitting on a Bolt Bus after a few days in New York City, so I have a few hours to write. So, why not create a list post in honor of my people’s holiday.

Chanukkah is called the Festival of Lights, which was birthed as a celebration over oil which burned much longer than it ever should have. In fact, it burnt for 8 whole days and nights. And why it may not be the most important holiday in the Jewish faith, it is marketed as such to compete with Christmas. Essentially, it is done to avoid conversations like this.

Mother: “Chanukkah isn’t really an important holiday, so I’m not gonna buy you any gifts?”
Daughter: “You aren’t gonna buy me gifts?”
Mother: “No”
Daughter: “Fine! Then I’m gonna convert to Christianity to celebrate Christmas and get thousands of gifts!"

Secular Chanukkah Bush
I’m so secular its ridiculous. And I’ve never heard this conversation. I'm looking forward to lighting the candles over the next week or so. And maybe I'll get one or two gifts. But don't worry, I'm gonna give you a gift for every single night of the holiday. I present to you 8 gifts my career as a professional dancer has given me over the years. And go!

1. A Sculptured Body:

Photo: Shalem Photography
I mean, let’s be serious. Who doesn’t want a dancer’s body? We work out almost every day, all day. We hold our legs in the air until they shake because it looks cool. Taking a break for a few days or a week actually means that we are probably still going to the gym every day. As I enter my 30’s, it gets a little harder to maintain. But THANK YOU ballet for giving me a hot bod throughout my 20’s (and hopefully forever)!

2. Discipline:

How often do you see children working quietly, giving 1000%, and repeating physical activities daily until they are almost perfect? In our culture of freedom and expectation of recognition (and not always recognition that derives from hard work), it can be a challenge to find young dedicated children who are focused and driven towards excellency. But you can walk into a proper ballet studio and find groups of children attending class daily, stretching prior to class, moving their young bodies daily through intensely difficult physical feats, and finding joy in the rewards of their efforts. Dance has given me a work ethic that could likely compete with the CEO of any major company.

3. Pretending That I’m Rich:

Baby Barry wearing Prada
These days media loves to pull back the curtains, show the gritty side of our world, and prove that we aren’t all glamourous divas bourre-ing or jete-ing across the stage. But to be completely honest, I’ve had some really glamorous experiences as a dancer and choreographer. I’ve partied in mansions over lakes with live harps playing at the base of winding stairs. I’ve clinked champagne glasses during toasts at gala dinners where a table of 8-10 people goes for thousands of dollars. I’ve sported a $3,000 prada suit for a fashion show. A donor for a company became a great friend and insisted we eat the finest of foods every time we went out for a friendly dinner. And while I currently waver back and forth from comfortable to starving artist, I still get tastes of living in the upper class. The best part of all of this is that my lifestyle with these sips of glamour keep me grounded, grateful, and hungry to achieve more.

4. Travel:

There are many types of dance artists. Company Dancers. Freelance Artists. Those who only perform concert dance, commercial dance, musical theatre, and more. As a kid, I dreamed of joining a major company, partially because I thought it would show me the world. But as the economic climate changed, larger companies ditched a great deal of their tours to protect their indefinite budgets. Once I started freelancing, I never imagined that I would be paid to travel all across the country (still waiting to go somewhere international) without being attached to a company. I am very grateful that dance has given me opportunities to see our great country.

5. Sense of Humor:

Abby playing w/my donkey head from A Midsummers Night Dream
Rarely have I met a dancer without a sense of humor. And when I do, I just can’t imagine how they maintain any passion for our career. Dance is hard. Very hard! And for those that can’t laugh off a fumble onstage, an awkward partnering moment, or a colleague poking fun, I feel sad for their extreme sensitivity. Most dancers I know have an incredible gift for laughing at themselves and finding light in even the most daunting situations. What would I have done if I didn’t look forward to being in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s end of the year blooper reel if something went ridiculously wrong onstage? 

6. Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Skills:

I recently read this amazing article by John Michael Schert, former Executive Director and dancer with the Trey Mcintyre Project. It perfectly explains a(n) unique quality of dancers that is rarely spoken about. Stellar communication abilities. While dancers need to have quality verbal communication skills to work in the majorly collaborative atmosphere that is a dance studio, their study of expressing oneself without words makes them excellent with non-verbal communication, too. Often, I can take a look at somebody I am having a conversation with and alter how I am interacting based on my perception of their body language. Beyond this, I can use my own body language to add more emphasis to a point that I am trying to make in a conversation.

7. Friends:

It is almost impossible to work in any dance environment without becoming close to your peers and colleagues. Essentially, we are given a mission and asked to work together to solve that mission the best we can. At times, there may be disagreements. But there is a sense of camaraderie, respect, and accomplishment that comes out of working together in a group to achieve a high level of success. All friendships are essentially borne from camaraderie and respect. It is practically impossible not to connect with those sharing this situation with you.

Outstanding Choreographer Award - Youth America Grand Prix
8. Accomplishment:

There is nothing more gratifying in this life then setting your mind to achieve something, doing everything in your power to make it happen, and reaping the benefits of your hard work. A dance career consists of many series of efforts, failures, and successes. It is practically impossible not to have accomplishments in a dance career. And some of them might even be major. But even at the most basic level, every day that you go to class you will accomplish something. It’s that simple.

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