I want to talk about the reality of being a dancer. I hear up and coming dancers talk about “making it”. I have asked a few about what they think that means. Some heard it in a movie and assume that when it happens, they will just know. Some tell me it is when they get their first pay cheque for dancing. Some just do not know.
I do not know if I have really felt like I have made it. I know that I am known. I know that I am talented. I know that I am a good performer. I know that I get paid for the work I do. I know that people enjoy the art I create. Do I feel like I have made it? Not really.
I think acknowledging that I have made it would be an acknowledgement that I can let up. That I do not have to try so hard. That I can be a little less hard on myself. The reality is that if I did anything like that, someone younger and better looking would jump in my place. Maybe the day that I retire, I will look back and say, “yes, I made it.” At that point, I will be able to do all of the above. However, until that day, I don’t think feeling like I have made it will be beneficial.
The truth about a dance career – and this blog is meant to be about honesty and truth – is that dancing is hard. Throughout history, it has been hard. Today, it is hard. Everyday, it will be hard. I will always be in competition with myself and others. I will always have the threat of being eliminated by someone younger, more talented, more dedicated, more alluring. I will always be looking for the next project. I will always be trying to stay in shape. I will always be training. I will always be working towards being a better version of me than the day before. That will not and cannot change.
The upcoming generation of dancers and workers are in a different mind set than mine overall. I am not saying there are not exceptions, but there is a shift in the collective mindset. There is a sense of entitlement across all fields of work. There is a sense that the company owes them something for working – yes, you showed up to work and you got paid, that is what was owed and that debt is settled. In every field, you need to put in your dues, especially in dancing. The rare occasion of a virtuoso, he or she may get around some of the ladder climbing and due paying, but the majority will need to jump through hoops. You will need to prove your worth – just showing up is not going to be good enough.
Dance is a difficult career. I have to be mentally tough all the time. The minute I doubt myself, my dancing suffers as it changes my body. The moment I worry about the competition, I shrink in my physique. The instance I get offended from a correction, my ability to grow and develop shuts down. There is a toughness that I and all dancers who have survived in the dance field have to develop. I have to work hard physically and mentally every day. I cannot take my eye off the prize of being better than I was a day, week, month, year, or decade ago. I have to constantly strive for betterment otherwise I will be left in the dust. If you want to be a professional dancer, you need to dig deep and find that drive for yourself. Talent will get you so far. Hard work will get you a career.