The life of a dancer is fulfilling, colourful, unconventional and consistently challenging. There are many elements that constitute the professional dancer. These elements can vary from person to person but the one common thread sewn within all dancers is passion. An aspiring dancer will never be successful without sufficient passion for their work. Like any other creative path, if you do not love it enough, the choice to walk this road less travelled simply won’t be worth it.
The amount of work, dedication and labour that dancers execute in their profession, is more often than not unreflected in their bank balances. The reason we dance is simple. We are all in it for the love of it. For the joy and evolution it brings us. What keeps our fire burning is the way in which we are emotionally and spiritually fulfilled from doing the work that we do. With so many jobs offering ‘exposure’ or ‘experience’ as payment it has become a top priority for dancers to invest in themselves, know their professional value, and use discernment when accepting jobs. This is key to building a long-standing, fruitful career.
Within an ever growing industry, there is a lot of pressure to be versatile and adaptable. This has led me to a question I find myself consistently asking. How do you discover who you are in an industry that requires you to be everyone else’s blank canvas? Do we make the decision to train in as many styles of dance as physically possible so we can maximise the number of auditions that we book? Or do we hone in on particular areas of the industry and those styles and cultures of dance that cause us to recognise something in ourselves? I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer. For me, my answer is one of balance. A balance of functionality and purpose.
I firmly believe in the motto “always a student”, both inside and outside the dance studio. As an individual and as an artist we should constantly strive for growth. I believe dancers should continuously push their boundaries and expand their potential. Building a strong, diverse skill set is imperative for any artist. It is also my belief that finding who you are artistically is just as important. In an industry that provokes us to compare ourselves to others in so many ways every single day, I cannot stress the importance of finding yourself, your individuality and trusting in what you have to offer. We all have something valuable to say. This has been crucial in my own journey as a dancer. And I’m still not there yet. I am still finding my way as an artist and I don’t believe it is a journey that necessarily has a final destination. It is an endless evolution.
How does this translate to a dancer’s day to day life? For me it looks like this… I attend classes that are outside of my niches. When auditioning, I listen intently to the purpose and aim of the choreographer, I take on notes, adapt to their personal style and apply myself to the utmost of my potential. I do not hold myself back because something is out of my comfort zone nor do I stand in my own way. I take risks in the choice of auditions I attend and make the decision to believe in myself if only for the few seconds that we perform the choreography. I allow myself to be that blank canvas and to see if this opportunity is the right fit. Sometimes things that I never would have believed have turned out to be a perfect fit.
On the other hand, I attend classes that are right in the middle of my niche. I audition for roles that I know hands down are right for me. I train and refine the styles of dance that have spoken to me. That have resonated so greatly with me that they have become part of my core identity as an artist, as a woman and as an individual. In those few seconds that I am given at auditions to freestyle, I show the choreographers exactly who I am. I work daily on balancing both discovering and building myself and trusting that, as has been my experience, with continual effort and commitment the correct jobs will increasingly appear on my path.
Expand your skill set and refine your identity. You are your business in this industry. You are your brand. It is important to know what that brand stands for just as it’s important to make sure it’s a brand of quality and competence. As my teacher, waacking & vogue extraordinaire Archie Burnett, says “you have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything!”