More Advice For Grown-Up Dancers
FOR GROWN-UP DANCERS
Wennerstrand, CSW, DTR
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Dancers have been pretty quiet these past few weeks. I don't know
if it has to do with the aftermath of the holidays, the Arts Presenters
conference, or the provocative title of the last column: "Toxic
Envy: Two-Stepping With the Green Monster" (or perhaps
some other force in the Universe). I did, however, receive a really
compelling "yeah, but" e-mail from a Grown-Up Dancer and "yeah,
but" is what Advice For Grown-Up Dancers is all about. The dancer
writes: "You suggest that we think of different ways of defining
success as a dancer. Specifically you say we should stop judging
ourselves based on our ability or inability to get into fill-in-the-blank,
choreographer-of-the-moment's company. But a dancer's self-esteem
really is based on what company he/she can get into and sometimes
there really is that one artist who you want to dance with who would
help you develop as a dancer and with whom you could build a future
raises an important point, one I was trying to put into words in
the "envy" column but just couldn't cover in terms of time, space
and my own uncharted neural territory. The fact is that most dancers
do identify a choreographer that they would want to work with early
in their careers. Because these affiliations are often formed during
training, these choices may more accurately reflect intense needs
for validation versus a true aesthetic, artistic choice. Other dancers
will feel a strong, soul connection to the work. They then set their
sights on that one choreographer, feeling sure that person would
help them express themselves artistically and aesthetically. They
try to get into the company by auditioning, workshoping, hanging
around, taking class, identifying themselves, going to "the school,"
etc. If after all that investment of sweat and soul they get invited
into the company, great. The dancer derives a significant amount
of self-esteem from actualizing what she thinks she has always wanted.
The problem is the sheer numbers of dancers there are and the relative
lack of dance company opportunities coupled with the fact that choreographers
do not choose dancers in a democratic fashion. Especially as the
trend continues to move towards choreographers hiring dancers on
a per-project basis, the dance company paradigm as we've all known
it is becoming a rarer thing. This is reflective of a federal and
corporate funding environment which is moving more towards supporting
artists' specific, image-driven projects versus supporting the development
of an artist's body of work over the long haul. Add to that the
soaring costs of living in major cities with a dance presence. In
places like New York and San Francisco, dancers must support themselves
with other skills besides performance, making it harder to commit
to choreographers who can't pay.
At a certain
point, most serious dancers are more or less technically capable
of doing the work. The problem is choreographers choose dancers
for their companies based on too many factors beyond skill and talent.
More often hiring comes down to things beyond the dancer's control.
These realities can be harshly disappointing, even devastating.
Yet, looking at all these circumstances, some dancers still persist
in viewing themselves as defective when they are not "picked." The
feeling of being "less than" gets inside and sets the scene for
problem as residing within the self and not outside in the world
around you serves as a powerful psychological defense. It protects
us from feeling completely helpless in the pursuit of our desires.
I've often felt the universities could do more in terms of preparing
serious dance students for these realities. For instance, I think
it borders on abusive for teachers to tell students that they didn't
"make it" because they "don't want it badly enough." There need
to be alternative paradigms in order for dancers to feel they have
had successful experiences, especially in this ever-shifting dance
landscape. Dancers could form collectives and commission choreographers
to work for them. If more emphasis were placed on these paradigms
as well as on grant-writing, courses examining funding trends for
dance, and encouragement to attend conferences such as Arts Presenters,
perhaps dancers would feel more in control of their careers upon
graduating from university dance programs. The non-university dance
schools could be doing the same. The universities and dance educators
are doing a disservice to dancers who graduate thinking that their
only means of success resides in their ability to be "picked" for
a dance company.
you, Grown-Up Dancer? Are there ways in which we can see not just
the problem, but the solution, as residing within ourselves? Ways
artists who depend on being selected by others for their livelihoods
can find validation within themselves? Alternative models for "doing
the dance"? E-mail me your ideas at email@example.com.
has a private psychotherapy practice in New York City and is available
for individual, group and organizational consultation. To read more
about Anne, please visit the "Contact Us"
More Advice For Grown-Up Dancers