During the first round of The Whole Dancer Program, New York City Ballet Soloist, Lauren King (one of my first ballet friends) shared an inspiring story. Lauren said:
At the age of 10 I wrote a school paper about what I hoped my fifteen minutes of fame would entail. Having achieved this dream, I can now share with you what 10 years as a professional dancer has taught me.
“If I had fifteen minutes of fame, I would be doing a beautiful ballet. It would be an extremely hard dance. I’d be doing some of the hardest steps in the world. I’d be doing pirouettes and turn around four or five times.”
Dance is hard! There are always steps that seem impossible and require endless hours of practice. They will rarely be perfect.
For a career with longevity, it is important to appreciate the imperfection; it allows room to grow and improve as you continue to challenge yourself.
A strong work ethic is important to overcome the technical requirements of dance, but getting caught up in the perfectness of the steps inhibits artistic interpretation and personal growth.
Relish the imperfections, they are what give you the ability to grow and learn things about yourself that you didn’t know before.
“I’d be in New York City on a beautiful stage with very comfortable seats in the audience. Everyone would be silent when I dance. No one would make a peep.”
Many dancers aspire to perform with a renowned company in a magnificent theater for a captivated audience. While this sounds ideal, it is so important to find a company that is the right fit for your goals, and one where you can thrive.
Large companies often have the benefit of more performing opportunities and a massive repertory to pull from. On the downside, more dancers results in increased competition for featured roles, and long performing seasons can cause extreme fatigue and even burnout.
Smaller companies are beneficial for being able to provide more personalized attention, a manageable workload, and a more intimate connection with the audience members
“I’d be in the spotlight the whole time.”
Performing principal roles is something almost all dancers aspire to. As a professional dancer, a lot of time is spent in the corps de ballet before moving up to more featured roles. Watching peers get better roles can be so frustrating.
Rather than allowing jealousy and exasperation to become bitterness and spite, it is important to find creative ways to stay inspired and continue working on yourself instead of focusing on other people.
Looking back, my times in the corps de ballet were some of my best; I was able to perform difficult dances but in the company of my friends and peers.
This group energy is something you can thrive on. The sense of community and togetherness that comes from dancing in unison with others can be even more rewarding than tackling a difficult solo alone.
“I will feel very nervous and excited.”
Having a lead role in a ballet is otherworldly; you alone are the focus of the entire audience. This can be both exhilarating and intimidating, and the need to live up to expectations can be overwhelming.
Nerves can be some of the hardest things to overcome, and an extreme self-‐confidence must be cultivated to vanquish feelings of unworthiness.
It can sometimes seem as though the world is against you; peers can be overcome with jealousy, directors can treat you as though you are not capable enough for the role, reviewers call out your incompetent technique or dislike your artistic interpretation of a role.
You must be your biggest supporter, and never stop believing in yourself.
“I might feel a little happy after its over.”
This is the most important thing I have learned, and it is always enjoyable to watch someone who truly loves what they are doing. A dance career can be extremely fulfilling and satisfying despite the pitfalls that hinder some dancers along the way.