|A local Philly sculpture - "Freedom" by Zenos Frudakis|
What it comes down to is that a career in dance is the ultimate sacrifice. It is the sacrifice of one's body, mind, will, and lifestyle. A dancer may come off as selfish in their full-out ambition to have a stage career. But the truth is that a dance career can't be selfish, as it is submitting oneself over fully to the art form. Perhaps, the art should instead be deemed selfish. And all of the stepping stones to get a dancer to the point of performance in a professional setting prove that they are willing to submit themselves, even if they aren't aware of it.
One of my biggest challenges as an educator in dance involves getting through to parents, children, pre-professional students, and open class students that I am not coming into the studio with any intention but to prepare them for a lifestyle in dance. Whether that means you are striving to have a career or you only intend to take open classes for health, fun, and fitness, I will enter the classroom to impart my knowledge and share our art form to better you along whatever path you wish to take. Initially, I have found this is often met with resistance and confusion. A few examples of this include an open class student telling me they come to class to have fun and I make them think too much. Or a young student taking my contemporary class once and her mother pulling her from subsequent classes because of my approach to instruction, only to return 3 months later because the other student's parents who gave me a chance had so much positive to say about my teaching methods. The struggle as an educator is real. And it is especially difficult in our field because young dancers don't understand that there are many challenges a dancer must face in order to know whether they can be one of the few who can sacrifice certain aspects of their lives to be a dancer. A life in dance is a life of sacrifice. And these sacrifices aren't common or comfortable.
There are many points in a dancer's education that can be considered stepping stones towards testing out the waters of a career. Your first recital. The first time you feel the pain of pointe. That point when you realize more of your friends have quit dance than remained. The first time your teacher is unusually critical of your dancing. The days you have too much homework, but you still refuse to miss class. The time when you choose to move away from your family before you are even your own legal guardian. The first time you get that rejection at an audition. The first time your company doesn't cast you in a ballet. The first time you suffer a career-threatening injury. The first time somebody mentions your weight. The first time your friend is unkind to you because they are jealous of your casting. The first time you don't want to wake up to take class because you are so exhausted. The first time you consider your life without dance. Most dancers don't get past point three in this paragraph. But those who do are commonly accepting each subsequent sacrifice as a necessary step towards living out their dreams to become one of us rare human super-humans called a professional dancer.
|Nicholas Rio, Ali Block, & dancers of Columbia Ballet Collaborative sacrificing their Sunday night to dance my new work|
With all of these different ideas colliding into one, what most dancers are forced to reconcile, but rarely see, is that dance never owed them anything. Just because you walk into a studio and work every ounce of your being off doesn't mean you deserve to step on a stage and enjoy the bliss of performance. And most people don't ever recognize that, even after their career is over. Dance is always a gift and rarely a straightforward response to all of the effort you put into it. Due to the lack of open dialogue about this harsh reality of the life of a dancer, there is an epidemic of bitter, jaded dancers expressing how dance victimizes its participants and leaves them broken with little to show for it. This is often an inner dialogue of their perceived failure of expectation. An expectation that dance promises no one. This reality isn't talked about enough during the training stages of a dance career.
|Shira Lanyi & Allen Abrams in my work, Distinct Perceptions (Photo: Dave Friedman)|
This is a lot of information to take in here. But what it comes down to is that we all fell in love with dance for a reason. Whether it was fascination with the super-human aspect of it, getting out of the house during your parent's dirty divorce, the only place you felt you fit in, or some other situation, dance doesn't owe you anything. It can offer you some otherworldly experiences. It can introduce you to the most diverse cast of friends. It can keep you fit, disciplined, and eager to enjoy a lifetime of progress and growth. But it doesn't owe you that Odette/Odile. It doesn't owe you a body that can withstand the wear-and-tear of near-contortionism. It doesn't owe you that meteoric rise to Principal. It doesn't owe you that final curtain call with audience members yelling bravo and tossing roses at your feet.
Many people look up to dance artists because they feel that they are ethereal creatures. Dancers look at their careers the same way. Infinite progress is the ethereal creature they seek to capture. But at a certain point, nearly all of us will hit our peak, as infinite is unattainable. And instead of looking up at the next tallest mountain with bitterness and disdain for its unattainable height, we should instead look down from the impressive heights we have climbed and enjoy the breathtaking view that lay before us.
|Looking over Lake Eklutna in Anchorage, AK|