Real Talk time, everyone.
I have a story, and it’s my story. It’s not scandalous, or click-baity, but I’m having some existential angst need to talk about it.
I want to be a professional dancer.
There. I said it. Believe it or not, that’s a phrase I’ve danced (ha) around saying outright for near on a decade, even downright denying it when asked.
“It’s too much pressure.”
“Hard to make money.”
“I’m not good enough.”
As I’m fond of saying, “just because you want something doesn’t make it so,” and as thus a lot of the time I have a hard time admitting to myself that I want a thing, because that then invites disappointment.
When I was a child and a teen, I did ballet. Yes, there was school, and band, and homework–but above all else there was ballet. I was a member of the Vermont Ballet Theater company from the time I was 12 until I graduated high school. People always smile and nod when I explain this–so let me give you all a little more context.
People rarely left the Company by graduating high school. They either quit, or they went to join a professional company. ABT. Miami City. Jose Mateo. Rock School. North Carolina School of the Arts. Kansas City. Kirov. Richmond Ballet. Ballet West. The list goes on and on.
As a kid, in the middle of all that, all these phenomenal dancers getting plucked from rural Vermont to live the dream in the wide world, it was hard not to feel overlooked, unimportant. The students who would go on to professional careers were easy to spot, and I was never spotted.
Not that this is the fault of our teachers, mind you. I was–and am–a headstrong, spirited youngster, but I lacked the perspective to really ‘get’ dancing beyond ‘this thing I did every day.’ I loved choreography and music, but my technique didn’t start to improve
measurably until I was 16. I got some lead roles as a senior in high school, but I never shook the feeling that it was because I was the only one leaving.
So I capitulated to my science interests, walked away from ballet, and went to college for bioengineering.
The first semester I didn’t dance at all, and it was some of the worst 4 months of my life.
The following semester I joined the ballroom club and started the journey on which I find myself today. I won’t re-cap the past 5-6 years of dance adventures since, go read the rest of the blog for that. But I will explain this:
When I was in college, there came a point every semester, where, staring down the gauntlet of exams and projects, I would wonder to myself what the point was. Sure, I would ace the tests and finish the projects, but all I really wanted to do was dance. I never missed practice due to school work, and I made the time to work off-site with competition partners.
The feelings of pointlessness grew worse every semester–though it’s still worth pausing to remind myself and everyone following along at home that I do *genuinely* like bioengineering. I just don’t love it.
Now that I’ve graduated and my evenings and weekends are my own, I’ve been able to dedicate massive amounts of time to dancing. I dance 7 days a week, something like 20 hours a week. I’m in the best shape of my life, I’m perfecting and exploring the possibilities of three styles–ballet, Standard Ballroom, and West Coast Swing. I compete, and I win things. I teach. I choreograph. I perform–and a couple times I’ve even been paid to do so, though it’s nothing to write home about.
Where is the line? What gives me the right to call myself a professional dancer?
Is it being a contracted member of a dance company? I have a hard time letting myself think that’s going to happen–I’m 24 and my experience is all over the place.
Is it having won a bunch of national competitions? In my mind that’s such a crap-shoot, and so expensive.
Is it when people recognize you as “that really good dancer” out and about in public, and ask you if you have a studio?
All this is coming to mind because I have one year to make a really big decision. By this time next year, I need to know what to do. My ‘plan’ originally had been to work as an engineer for a couple years and then go to grad school, hopefully funded by a company.
Well, spoilers, things don’t work out as planned, because I *really* don’t want to go to grad school for the field I’m in currently, and it’s made me start to question whether or not I want to go to grad school at all for engineering.
Can I get a MS in Biomechanics with a project on dancing that includes original choreography? Is that a thing? If not, can I survive another couple years of more limited dancing time?
….could I get an MFA in Dance? …even if I don’t have a BA in Dance? And if so, where? Is an MFA actually worth it, both monetarily and as a jumping-off-point to a professional career? The funny thing is, what excites me most about an MFA are the choreography opportunities–I’m less interested in being a virtuoso dancer than a director and creator.
The idea of working as a free-lance dancer scares me TO DEATH. I’m well aware that I’m only able to do all the dance things I can now because I have a cushy corporate job to pay for them. But by the same token, there really is something to be said about base-jumping off the cliff into your dreams.
And the idea of not trying to make my goals happen as a dancer scares me even more.
So I don’t know, readers. I have no pat conclusions or inspirational quotes with which to leave you. All I know is that I want to be a dancer way more than I want to be an engineer, and I’m going to spend the next year piecing together what to do about with knowledge.