December 15 will mark 3 months since I started my first season as a performing apprentice with a dance company in Chicago. Baptized by fire would be the understatement of the century. My learning curve has been pretty steep, but I am thankful for the lessons I learned as a student at my home dance studio and as a dance minor in college that I’ve tried my best to carry over into this new experience. For my first official DanceTopia blog post, I wanted to share a few of the new takeaways from my first quarter of a year as a professional dancer –the good, the bad and the sickled (haha).
It is much easier to be seen (for better or for worse)
Dancing with a company means that you train and rehearse with the same people constantly–that includes your choreographers and teachers. Rather than being a student in a school of 20 plus students and a staff of teachers, you are one of 30 or fewer (unless your company is unusually huge) dancers who train and rehearse under the same artistic director. Rather than just seeing you one week and noting that your turns are cleaner, your artistic director actually gets to know you as a dancer and as a person. If you have weaknesses, they will become apparent much more quickly and be much more likely to inform the AD’s decisions. Conversely, if you have particular strengths, those have the same likelihood of being noticed and taken advantage of. So whether you’re a supremely quick learner, or always 5 minutes late to class without fail, it will be noticed, even if it isn’t brought to your attention right away. Your days of getting away with skipping ballet because you think the teacher won’t notice are OVER! They see everything…👀
You’re still not going to always want to go to class
Dancing with a professional company has been a dream of mine since I can remember. But laziness knows no bounds. There are still days when I groan as I trudge my way to the train to go to class or rehearsal. I realize now that it says nothing about me other than that I’m a human being who sometimes has a little trouble finding their motivation. As long as you leave your exhaustion at the door and muster up enough enthusiasm to give your all during class, rehearsal and performances those moments of tiredness will give way to limitless fierceness on and off the stage. So splash some cold water on your face and get to class!
Your insecurities/weaknesses don’t go away just because you’re in a company
If anything, they get worse. The things that happened when you were young as a dancer, the things you were teased or constantly corrected about will still be there and you’ll still feel as bad (if not worse) about them now as you did back then. You’ll still get nervous before shows, you’ll still have really bad class days. But the good news is…
Everyone has weaknesses and everyone struggles with something
The beautiful thing about dance is that there is always room for improvement. When you join a company you aren’t walking into a room full of completely flawless dancers. If you hang around long enough, you’ll see people fall, get injured, cry and completely space on choreography and you know what? It’s okay.
There’s a difference between dancing with people and being a company
A correction I and my fellow dancers have been getting quite a bit recently as we move towards our first show of the season is to dance with each other as a company and stop thinking about ourselves. At first I was confused as to what this note meant. We were together, we were dancing, and we were all doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. How much more together could we be? Over time I have learned that the next level from general overall cleanliness is to actually connect with the dancers– matching breathing patterns, eye contact, dynamics. Those are all things that make a company a company. That’s why when you watch companies like Alvin Ailey, the Joffrey and ABT, even though they are all different individual people, they look like carbon copies of the same dancer. While I haven’t quite mastered this skill, I definitely feel that knowing this has helped me mature as a dancer.
But most importantly, I’ve learned…
To NEVER give up
If someone had told me 10, or even 5 years ago that I would be apprenticing with a true professional company and preparing for my first performance in said company (yes, I’m in an actual piece). I would have thought they were being funny, delusional or incredibly cruel. I was the girl who didn’t get chosen for pieces. I sat out of 3 hour rehearsals because the choreographer didn’t want to use me. I didn’t have all of the gifts–my feet are flat, I’m not super flexible and I’m tall. But I kept going to class anyway. Every day I got up and decided that my life as a dancer wasn’t over, that I still had more to give, and it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve made. Auditioning for a professional company was a total leap of faith and I can’t wait to see what this opportunity, and the dance world, have in store for me. If you’re beginning to doubt yourself or wonder if you’ll make it, keep going. Someone will love all that you have to offer and want to see more– take it from someone who never thought she’d make it.