Life of a Working Dance Artist
Photo by Barbara Smith
In the public eye, some people just see “the dancer.” I wanted to share some facts behind the dancer, behind the makeup, the costuming, the big voluminous hair, behind the glitter. My heart has been very heavy and mind has been shooting a million words a minute. I will tell you, I am naturally a very creative person, and I air my feelings through writing and dance. I have been frustrated lately, and dance alone has not helped me relieve this frustration. So I turn to writing, which I hope may help. This year has challenged me a lot to evaluate my business and my he(art.) This may or may not connect with every dancer, but I feel it may connect to most. I think it will relate especially during times when we get exhausted/burnt out.
For some, when you first begin to dance as a student, it hits you - the music, the emotion, the liberation from the movement. The first classes I took I was young, a teenager, and I couldn’t remember ever feeling blessed to be a woman, or feeling like a woman. I remember when I first started to see professional dancers, I was completely breathless how beautiful, emotive, happy, and free they were. I saw and felt/heard the story they told. I was so connected and felt… I wanted to bring this connection to others too. What I did not see were the financial commitments, heartbreaks, the fighting, the betrayals, the gossip, and the disrespect.
If you are doing it right - by the time you are a working, professional dancer – you have paid your financial dues. You have spent thousands on your dance educations, costumes, props, makeup, music, Ipods, sound systems, etc. If you are also doing it right, it does not stop. We are constantly updating our music, learning, traveling abroad to study, buying new costumes, paying for full song translations, paying for website fees/videos/business cards, marketing… it is a business, after all. You learn to become your own manager.
There is also the heavy amount of “time” put in to dance. The multiple days & hours needs to actually dance, the time needed at the gym to maintain strength, editing music, making flyers, the time we spend overthinking what music to play at each event/gig, the time we spend away from our families and friends so we can focus on our work and our art. We need the time to also plan our meals and feed ourselves (I am guilty of forgetting to take care of myself). We also have the time talking to clients about their private events. Most dancers have a second job to make ends meet, so this can challenge to fit all this. I have found the art of time management is another beast of it’s own.
Finally but not lastly or least, there is the fight. The fighting never ends. There is the fight to dance. Can you believe it - the fight to exist as a dance artist after all that hard work and money you put in. There are stigmas and stereotypes, mind games, emotional roller coasters, the stalkers, the fight to protect our privacy, the multiple harassing messages online from men, text messaging, catfishing, and gossip within the community. I mentioned recently that if I quit every time I was hit on – I would be out of business and not be around today. You need strength to say no and be professional and stand up in a man’s world. Your fuse will get short and you may become uptight. The fight to break down doors and get gigs starting is also there. Also, within all cultures, there can be little respect of dancers. We can be seen very little of, *easy*, cheap, a joke, stupid, and also, within communities, we can be a subject of gossip – for no reason. You have to pick your battles. You have to be able to deal with issues and dance on, or you won’t ever be a working dancer. You have to learn to not take it personally, either.
There is also the fight within yourself. Some of us fight our fear to put ourselves and our heart on stage. We can fear judgment, whether it be from others or inside ourselves. It takes guts as any artist to share their world, their heart, to others. We have to fight our doubts.
To be a dance artist you have to let the fears go.
Why do we do all this? We all have very different reasons
I will tell you mine –
Human connection. Human feeling.
It is real and intangible. It is unworldly, maybe spiritual. It is loving. It is happy, sad, anger, frustration, the fun, singularly or all at once. It is the ability connect with others through dance, and to have them feel a minute of the moment, of what you are sayig and who you are. Even if it is just for “fun,” it is still a special moment.
We move so much in our day to day busy lives. To dance is the opportunity to stop, breathe, and dance for the moment - to bring others into the “present” is something very special that music and dance can do. It is invisible. Intangible. It is magic.
Most dancers do it for the reason to make others enjoy and “to feel.” (Whatever that feeling may be). This can be selfless, and also self fulfilling, which maybe can be “selfish” because you enjoy the feelings as well.
The reasons for myself is to also build the community and elevate the art. Not just the dance community, but the MEHNAT community. This very community that has touched my heart in more ways than one, and I try to give back more than what has been given to me.
This can be a dancer’s dream. To dance his/her he(art.)
So what is the purpose of this article –
I am no where near quitting, maybe I am worn out. I have had some exhausting moments the past year. I find strength and peace in writing, and I hope this helps me and others to hang in there.
We totally deserve to dance.
We really deserve to be here.
We really deserve respect.
So work hard for it, and keep it moving!