a dancer’s life: .. the Gray area... is "let go" by any other name any easier?
“God, I’m a dancer. A dancer dances!” is a signature line from the 1st musical I ever saw, that inspired me to become a professional dancer. my own story starts: once upon a time, i had a “dream job”… and was let go.
yesterday, an article came out about the life-changing alterations soon to happen at the pennsylvania ballet because of a regime change. i was immediately brought back to all of my emotions and insecurities i had when, at 21, i had to re-plan my life.
long story short, my life was similar to the great 2000 dance film, center stage. i got accepted to the hard-to-get-in ballet boarding institution, made incredible friendships, got indelible training and…got into the company. (while the company is made of 95% of the school’s alumni, probably 1-2% of the graduating class gets an invitation to join the company on a yearly basis. ...the pressure is awesome let me tell you. **insert sarcastic emoji** ) nonetheless, i was happy and surprised at the invitation. i had an amazing time in the school and was enjoying my time in the company when suddenly, i was given my notice that my contract wouldn’t be renewed.
my company's firings were very public, but i never shed a tear. i’ve never been incredibly emotional, but to me, this wasn’t something to cry over, it was something to overcome. i was angry, confused, upset, baffled and even a bit embarrassed… there were moves being made with the company and my non-renewal was a result of that. i’m enormously grateful for it now, but that was a very gray time in my young life. luckily i work well with gray. that’s not the same for everyone.
the changes at the pennsylvania ballet are the result of a new captain of the ship. a change in artistic vision isn’t uncommon in concert dance and certainly not in this current year. (paris opera and washington ballet are also getting new directors. paris opera wasn't interested in the changes the new director was bringing in so quickly (i'm assuming). i'll be interested to see what happens with washington ballet.) but the 40% firing is very new. as the article states, some already found other jobs, some retired, a good portion will be living in the gray for a bit. my heart goes out to all of you. starting again is never easy.
when it happened to me, i was young with buckets of blind ambition to spare. i ended up dancing in the two other ballet companies that i loved, but i always had a taste for musical theater. it didn’t seem like that far of a departure, as it was my focus before i concentrated on a career in concert dance, but for others it’s ballet or bust and rightfully so.
being a dancer is hard. specifically in concert dance, more specifically in ballet, the career is short. often it's not as gratifying or as glamorous as we dreamed in our youth, the training is incredibly expensive and unfathomably mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting, and the pressure is immense. it’s a bit easier for boys because of sheer numbers, but on the whole, if you aim for a ballet career, the pressure is enormous. with major ballet schools and companies, you’re training and “competing” along side friends & peers you’ve known since age 12 and will know and measure your skill and art against your entire dance career, which could end as early as 28. (16-28 years old, i told you it was short.)
we use our whole physical selves to pour our souls and emotions into the visions of directors and choreographers and somehow are still at the bottom of the totem pole. it’s a rough life. but i’m sure like myself, my fellow dancers wouldn’t give it up for the world. bill t. jones calls dancers "superior beings", i urge my fellow dancers to remember that that is true.
to my newly freed dance artists there's a lot i could say, as the article is tinged with lots of political and "artistic" bull... but i will offer you this: it may seem gray, even black as night... but i promise you there is light at the end of the tunnel. you are talented and beautiful and brave. you have dedicated your life to this art form and if your body can stand it, don’t give it up. you have been freed from a place and situation that potentially could be unimaginably detrimental to your art and life. you will be better by simply not being where you aren't appreciated. please develop new interests and ways to view and experience dance. i beg you not to close your mind to new ways to move and express yourself physically and artistically. if nothing comes immediately, it may/will suck! ...possibly even be hard. don’t give up! you’ve been moving and working in a particular way for so long, it may take a bit for your brain and body to take in information differently. just remember you’re the cream of the crop. you’ve made it, you got in, you’re a dancer! my heart is with you in this transition. believe me, i've been there...
...and i hope you dance!