There’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve observed as of late. (Granted that I like to use the word “phenomenon” to mean anything from the latest clothing trends to actual, legitimate phenomena, like the discovery of a ninth planet, you’ll have to bear with me here.) Most of us are well-aware of the common images that a ballet dancer invokes: tutus, pointe shoes, the Sugar Plum Fairy. It’s all soft, and pretty, and that lovely misnomer: adorable.
When viewing these images from the other side, things tend to become less simple.
Erin Yarbrough-Powell & Joshua Reynolds. Photographer: Keith Sutter
Dancers are some of the hardest working people I know, but, it’s widely circulated that they’re somehow unlike the rest of society… in a distinctly negative way. I’ve been told that ballet, and dance in general, is somehow not a “real job.” As in: when are you going to get “a real job”? My goals and way of life were, and are, still questioned frequently. Many dancers are subjected to the cliché of being less intelligent than the rest of the “practically employed”(read: desk job) work force. I’ll be the first to admit to the self-deprecating cracks from time to time. When confronted by the engineers, financial analysts, and medical students of the world with the question: “What do you do?” I’ll frequently joke that “I work in the arts/I teach dance….I can count to eight!” Because, if I make that joke first, there’s no way you can use it against me.
So today, I wanted to take some time and share the traits that dancers possess that make them so unlike the rest of the world in an amazing way. Despite being strong, dancers, as a whole, are a sharp bunch. They’re systematically trained to be that way, really.
Dancers are expected to be able to pick up and retain complicated information in the form of many series of steps. Everything is taught at a remarkably fast pace, and dancers have to be able to execute these combinations backwards and forwards, at a moments notice. Let’s not forget that this is not an effortless art form, and that it requires years and years of physically molding one’s body into aesthetically pleasing shapes.
In a work environment, only intelligent and necessary questions are tolerated. Like many professions, once trained, there will be no one to hold your hand as you go about your daily responsibilities. If something isn’t working, it’s your job to figure it out. Once they’ve figured out their own choreography, it’s often expected of them to learn everyone else’s work as well.
Dancers are exceptionally perceptive. They must be fully aware of not only where their own body is in space, but exactly where everyone else is in the room as well. They must navigate these spaces gracefully, systematically, and with intention. I often take this for granted when walking down a street where people can’t seem to figure out which way to pass those walking in the opposite direction. I can only play so many games of chicken while simultaneously avoiding people who seem determined to run into me.
In addition to all this, dancers are incredibly resilient. It’s been said that it’s the only athletic endeavor in which you’re not allowed to show pain, or exactly how hard it is. Unfortunately, pain and discomfort are often unavoidable in ballet. I frequently tell my students that if ballet were easy, everyone would do it.
The resilience isn’t only physical, either. In fact, the majority of it is mental resilience. Critiques and corrections are to be accepted as gifts; there is never a moment when you stop attempting to make something better, jump higher, or turn faster. It’s hard work, 100% of the time, no matter what else might be going on i. And sometimes, you feel like you look like this:
When you’re expected to look something like this:
Dancers are very much aware that the potential for growth is limitless in their art form. It’s not for everyone, but those who do it love it in an exceptional way. In my humble opinion, anyone who makes their life their passion is incredibly smart and brave for pursuing it, for sticking with it when other people might look at them sideways. I’m very proud to consider myself a part of the dance community, and, yes, I can make a living counting to eight. It’s amazing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
That is all.