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Compromising Your Art: Morphing To Fit Someone Else’s Vision

As dancers and performers, we spend a large portion of our lives prior to entering the professional world developing our art. We not only train, but we dig deep to recognize our own very special qualities. We discover what we have to say through dance. We must, right?

Without soul and our unique personal journey, dance may just be a series of exercises. Semi-painful moments while we assess our lives and tell ourselves we are better for it if we fight through and finish that plank…those battements…and oh, and take it all on relevé. Once we learn who we are, what we love about dance or what we have to say, we are lifers. We know that our lives are not complete without dance in some capacity.

Then comes that chapter post-high school or college when it is time to make our mark on the world as a professional in some capacity. We know that if we want to dance professionally, it is a good idea to start ASAP, as the level of physicality required for most pro dance gigs only lasts for…let’s say ideally 15 years; some a little more, most less. We can at any time decide to teach, choreograph, stay in academia, and join dance-related fields. But we do need to strike while the professional dancer iron is hot. Well, we hope it’s hot.

After developing our dance identities and training hard we attend countless auditions, most of the time getting no feedback. After time in the “business,” we learn through word of mouth or experience that the best dancer does not always get the gig.

We learn that knowing people, being the right look, size, gender, and ethnic background mixes in results. Why? Because dancers need to fit into someone else’s vision. Whose vision? Those of directors, choreographers, and producers. We hope that at some point we will be exactly what someone is looking for. Let’s be honest, it can get old when you are sacrificing so much to live the life of a professional artist and entertainer. But we know this is the time to make it happen. We forge ahead. But how can we not take it personally?

Decision time. How much of ourselves can we, and do we want to, “compromise?” Are you personally less valuable if you “sell out” and change yourself to fit the norm, the fad, or the visions of others? Obviously, the answer is different for everyone and personal. Some people, and I include myself in this group at various times of my life, get hooked on their own “shortcomings.” I quote shortcomings because there are moments when these qualities can actually be what makes us unique and professionally valuable.

But voices in our heads sound off. Too fat, too edgy, too plain and boring, too skinny, too short, too tall, too technical. You get it. One thing is clear, if you change your hair color, decide to get in the best shape of your life and try a few new outfits, you are still the same you.

If you are a ballet or contemporary dancer and decide to hit up a few commercial auditions for the coin, you are not less of a dancer. You may just have a few more dollars and more experience in your bag of tricks.

You may feel like a fish out of water, but risk-taking is part of what sets dancer apart from the rest of the population. Dancers are hardworking, disciplined, and daring.

If you envision yourself in the shoes of those casting and get out of your own head, you may start to see that those casting are also under a tremendous amount of pressure as well. Choreographers often have to answer to directors, directors to producers, so on and so forth. Often, depending on who is putting up the money for the show, there is a specific type of talent needed. If a professional choreographer has sole control and doesn’t have to collaborate with a recording artist, director, artistic director or producer, and dancers are getting paid well, it is a dream scenario.

Still, the dancer has to fit the vision of the choreographer. In essence, the vision of a creative project in the entertainment world, in particular, is nearly complete before dance auditions are even held. Rejected dancers are not rejected because they are not appreciated, they just don’t fit that particular, often already established, vision.

How many auditions will it take before you are the vision? That depends on you. All working and auditioning professionals know that you commit to the business and the industry, and that includes as many auditions as it takes. If you can’t take it anymore, you will make a change. But if you are in it, be all in.

Changing yourself to fit job descriptions does not mean you can not go back to where you have been. There are no signs that say “No U-turns.” As a former young dance snob, I look at all of the opportunities I could have grasped at a much younger age to dance even more gigs, make more connections, and especially travel the world on someone else’s dime. I was so hooked on integrity as I saw it, my art, what I thought dance was, who I wanted to be seen as, and who I wanted to be. I had no idea that the stepping stones never look like we think they do as an aspiring dancer. I finally got it, but really could have gotten it sooner. What do I preach?

Do everything you can and do it now. Make whatever changes you want or need to make. Try to do everything you possibly can. Try every style, every gig, everywhere, while you can.

“Adulting” comes quickly. Be proud of what you do and what you try. You are not a lesser person from trying something new or different. I promise it is worth it.

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