I didn’t expect to take a year off dancing. I knew I needed a break from it all but I didn’t know I would stay away for a full twelve months.
So, as I'm coming up on the anniversary since I took my last bow in Vegas! The Show it seems fitting to do a bit of reflection.
It’s pretty wild because I started dancing when I was three and, especially in my teenage years and while I danced professionally, any more than a few days off was odd. I've never gone a whole year without it for as long as I can remember.
I’ve learned a lot over the past year and I couldn't be more grateful for the insight. Here are some highlights.
I learned that I can survive without dance.
I had this weird notion that I would die without dance. I know - super dramatic but it's honestly how I felt a lot of the time. I felt like I would see myself as a failure if I “gave up” on dance or went in a different direction. Or like I would be totally lost without it.
I’m here to tell you... it’s not that serious.
The truth is, some people do probably think that I’ve settled for less or they’re feeling sorry for me because I could’ve had this great career and it was only getting started.
Well, there's no need for pity because, guess what - I did have a great career. I’m proud of what I achieved as a dancer. It’s the reason I am who I am. It’s also the reason I have what I have now.
It’s ok to change your mind or fall out of love with something if it's no longer working for you. Not in a way that’s frivolous or driven by “grass is greener” syndrome. Instead, it’s more about being aware of your values and knowing when change is needed.
I was so afraid of not loving dance in the way I used to that I ended up almost resenting it. Now, I can love it in a new, healthier way. In a way that resonates more with who I am now.
I really did need to learn that I can say no to dancing and that I can survive without it.
I learned that I’m more than a dancer.
Stepping out of the identity of a dancer is still a work in progress. I haven’t fully figured out “who I am” without dance. But for real - asking, “who am I?” is such a bogus question anyway.
There's no need to be caught up in that. I'm just me.
That doesn’t mean I should go around changing my identity whenever the wind blows. But it does mean that I should be identifying with my actions as a person more than with what I do for work or in my spare time.
The unsettling thing is that my identity was so firm as a dancer and I told myself that I could always rely on it. That dance would never “leave me”. Talk about a toxic thought process.
It's problematic because I’ve had various friends get really sick or really injured, forcing them out of dance. Dance did “leave” some of them and it can mess you up. Not only that, but if you decide you want to pursue other things, even if you're not sick or injured, it's this fearful thing that we'll miss it too much or that we've put too much into it at this point.
I feel that this notion really weakens our strength as people and gives way too much importance to something that can be so fleeting - it's a job and it's a passion, but it's not us.
There aren’t many other career paths that are so intertwined with our identities as they are in the entertainment industry. At least in my experience, I haven't yet found a real estate agent that loses their sense of self when the market changes and they're out of work.
Sure, change is hard for everyone, but they seem more able to be objective about the skills they have, make the best of it, and move on without a huge identity crisis at the same time.
Still, work/life balance is a tough one for many people and I found that, for a while there, doing something that I tied so closely to my identity as a job wasn't doing much for my mental health.
Let's just say, I'm glad to be well-aware that I'm a human before I'm a dancer and I feel a lot more balanced these days.
I learned the real reasons why I love dance.
I’ve always felt a little bit different to a lot of dancers. I never wanted to be the center of attention. I hated doing solos and loved big group numbers. I always danced in the way back on the carpet at conventions and never up front next to the stage. I don’t wear makeup much off-stage and I really had to put on a “watch me” persona at auditions in order to book jobs.
I don’t love dancing just so I can be on stage (although that can be really fun with the right people). At the end of the day, it's not enough for me when the other boxes aren't being ticked.
Basically, what many people think of as a stereotypical dancer - I didn't fit the mold.
As a kid, I was the one my teacher would ask to help count the music when it was tricky. I was making mix CDs ripped from Limewire in my spare time and suggesting new songs for competition dances.
Dance was about the music.
As a teenager, I was the one in five ballet classes a week not because I wanted to be a ballerina (at all!) but because I was so interested in the basics and the discipline of it all. I just wanted to get better. I didn’t want to win. I wasn't planning to do it professionally. I wanted to get better just because.
Dance was about being a better version of myself.
As a professional, I was the one listening to podcasts about Sammy Davis, Jr. because I didn’t know much about him and I was living in Vegas doing a show that featured him. I was also the one watching “All That Jazz” during rehearsals for my first ship contract to get the feel of “Bye Bye Love”. Granted, our choreographer suggested it, but I was SO down.
Dance was about history and culture and community.
Listen to the Hug Heard Round the World podcast on Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History channel for some interesting history on Sammy Davis, Jr.
I’m definitely not the only dancer who does things like this, but being good at those things aren't necessary to be a professional dancer.
For a job, I don’t want to take a video of myself in class, I don’t want to bleach my hair every four months to stay bookable, and I don’t want to do gigs in between contracts where you’re just standing there looking pretty.
That’s not what dance is about for me. And I've learned that that's ok.
Now, the fun is building my life around what I actually love about dance. It makes sense that now I’m writing about dance, researching its history, and going to see shows instead of chasing barely-paid gigs or worrying about my weight.
I learned to take more control of my life.
Feeling more in control of my life could be a byproduct of going freelance or it could be a byproduct of getting out of the entertainment industry. Most likely, it’s a bit of both.
When I was dancing, my life constantly felt like it was in other people’s hands. When it nears the end of a ship contract, dancers are left wondering what's next. A few weeks after auditions we refresh our emails, waiting to see who was cast. If a show closed, dancers are left scrambling and anxious.
Sure, this happens in other jobs, but with such a limited number of dance jobs available in the first place, it’s an even bigger stressor.
Now, I choose when I wake up. I choose what work I take on. I choose how I spend my downtime. I choose what color hair to have. I choose how tan I am. The list goes on...
That's not to say that it's easy. In fact, in a lot of ways my life is way harder than when I was dancing full-time. Let's just say that when my alarm goes off at 7:30, I'm the only one relying on me to get going. I definitely took for granted how motivating a call time can be.
I might’ve had a better time in the dance world (not saying that I had a bad time at all!) if I would’ve taken more responsibility for my situations. Instead, I often felt bitter and confused.
Instead of asking, why did she get booked for Grinchmas over me? I could’ve said, she probably sings way better than me so let’s invest in some singing lessons.
Or instead of getting pissed off that most jobs are more about looks than about technique, I could’ve accepted that fact and focused on what I could control, and nothing more. I probably would have been less worried that I wasn’t skinny enough or pretty enough and stopped being such a warrior for “real dancing”. It's something that's never going to change.
Again, in some ways, life is easier when you don’t take responsibility for anything and blame “the industry” or some other external factor for your unhappiness. But I'm willing to take the more difficult route since I've learned that it’s far more rewarding to take responsibility for your life than to point the finger.
For some reason, it took really removing myself from the dance world to see that I was the one driving myself crazy.
I learned that I have FOMO, but not for long.
FOMO: Fear of Missing Out
I was incredibly lucky that in my dance career I was able to experience a variety of lifestyles.
For a long time, I had a full-time contract and led a "normal" life. I was also a sub while finishing my degree. I did gigs here and there. I danced on cruise ships. I was a showgirl in Vegas. I've been a dance captain. I've had various survival jobs while auditioning... you get the idea.
I booked two of my dream jobs (even if I had to turn one down to do the other) and I made it far enough in major auditions that I felt confident in my skills. But you better believe I've also been rejected from so many auditions that I wouldn't even be able to keep track if I tried.
What I'm trying to say is, I'm lucky to have gotten the full dancer experience in many different ways.
Still, I do miss performing. I still see friends in photos on stage in fun costumes and it was truly a blast when that was my life. But, I don’t miss the rest of it. And it only takes thinking about for 10 minutes to remember all the downsides. At this point in my life, the cons outweigh the pros.
So, as much I’ve experienced some FOMO since leaving dance, I don’t have anything left to prove. Plus, I know that even the most “prestigious” jobs usually aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I lived my dream, it was amazing, and now I'm ready for the other aspects of life that are important to me.
Am I done with dance forever? Of course not! I still do my best to be involved by writing about dance, reading about dance, and going to see live performances when I can. I even plan to take classes soon and I'm not opposed to taking a dance opportunity if the right job presents itself.
I also always encourage young dancers to go for it professionally. Pursuing dance was easily the most significant achievement of my life thus far. I don't regret dancing professionally for a second!
With that being said, if you've been in the industry for a while and you're yearning for a change, you're not alone. It's totally fine to fall out of love with dance (or have a distaste for some aspects of the lifestyle it requires) and the nice thing is, you can come back to it anytime.
Maybe give it a try and see what happens.