Dallas — “People don’t realize how hard it is to be a dancer.”
I hear this all the time and I’ve even uttered the same words when I’ve had long weeks in rehearsal, the stress of an upcoming performance is looming, and every little thing seems like the world’s biggest problem.
“They just don’t realize how much I’ve given up to pursue our dream.”
“They don’t how many times I’ve danced with a broken toe or a torn hamstring.”
“They don’t know many birthdays, dinners, and holidays I’ve missed because of a show.”
“They don’t know many assignments and responsibilities are pushed back for a rehearsal.”
Or maybe they do, because when you get down to it, we’re all just human, and we all make sacrifices to pursue our goals. Persevering through difficulties is something that we all must face, but what we can learn from the dance world is an inner strength that can be applied to all aspects of our personal lives. Dance, like many art forms, takes a level of focus that not a lot of other pursuits require. To be a dancer is a full time commitment and one that you make from a young age. Once dance gets under your skin, it’s hard to shake. They say you get bit by the acting bug, and while that might be true, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of us get bit by the jitterbug, the dancing bug.
When you decide to go down the rabbit hole and dedicate yourself to the craft of developing your body and nonverbal skills, you’re dedicating yourself to a time-consuming art that inevitably will change you. Every day becomes a day to dance. When you’re not performing, you’re strengthening and stretching your limbs in preparation for your next show. You’re constantly training, or at least, trying your best to get into as many classes as you possibly can, and it all starts to take a toll on your body. Bruised feet, aching arches, broken toes and ankles, torn tendons, overstretched and extended muscles, and sprained backs. The list goes on. But you do it because you love it. Because you can’t live without that elated feeling that comes when the curtain rises, the lights go on, and muscle memory takes over. All that matters now is that feeling of weightlessness and the ease of moving. Dancing feels like flying. It’s as close to being invincible as you can get.
Yet, dancers are always at risk of hurting themselves, and of being hurt—and I don’t just mean being physically injured. The emotional pain and stress of being a dancer might actually weigh more heavily than the risk of an injury. I would even wager to say that the level of mental perseverance that a dancer must build within himself or herself is a topic that we should also include in the discussion about the sacrifices a dancer makes.
Dancers have to mentally prepare themselves to face the fact that they might not have the career they’ve dreamed about since they were children. The dance industry is one of the hardest performance industries to break into. It is extremely competitive, and the scene has grown thanks to the rise of interest in dance, promoted by the media coverage of the secret life of dance studios (Dance Moms) to the thrill of being on TV (So You Think You Can Dance) and to the rediscovery of ballroom dance (Dancing With The Stars). You might be one of the best technical dancers on the scene, you might have gone to the best studio in your hometown, to the best college to study dance, and have worked with some of the best choreographers in the world, but that doesn’t guarantee success. You might do everything right, follow all the rules, but at the end of the day, if you aren’t what an artistic director is looking for, you won’t get the job. Nothing is guaranteed.
That is something that everyone can understand. Hardships, obstacles, and failure: we all have to find ways to confront those issues and move past them. Dancers make things look easy; it’s our job, but we’re not robots. Yes, we might make every little step we take seem easy, effortless, that gravity is not an obstacle, that we can handle a variety of levels of pain, but when you get down it, dancers are just everyone else. We feel the pain, we feel the hurt, we enjoy the joy of life, and when we’re faced with the loss of a loved one, we have to find a way to get through each day as best as we can.
But what is different is that we don’t have the luxury to just check out when we are facing a performance. The show must go on, right? That’s the rule that we performers have instilled in us from the first time we enter a rehearsal. No matter what, the show must go on. Yet, how do you do that when you suffer a great loss?
You dig deep, you remember the beauty in life and in the work that you are creating, and, in the purest form, you persevere.
“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.” – Rumi
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
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