Despite being ranked the most physically demanding job in the United States last year, many Americans don’t see dance as a “real job”. Even the part of society that does acknowledge dance as an honorable profession has likely been subject to a slew of pop culture treatments of dance, which at best only shows part of the story and at worst paints an actively false picture of the life of professional dancers. It is our job as members of the dance community to replace these myths with the truth about our field, one step at a time.
Here, we speak with a few Só Dança Ambassadors about what it takes to be a professional dancer, and how we might work to debunk the myths surrounding our industry. We must first show just how much actually goes into being, or training to be, a professional dancer.
So Dancer Kenzie Thomas shares that she dances at least 40 hours a week. From training six to seven days a week for four to eight hours a day as a pre-professional, she now splits her time more evenly between studio and stage. “For Nutcracker alone, my company does 26-30 shows each year,” she explains.
After four to five hours of intense training every morning, So Dancer Brady Farrar still has to finish his school work and repeat the whole process the next day. “When I get home super tired and sore, I still have to get up the next day and do the same thing again,” he says. “If I worked super hard one day, I can be very sore for up to a week after that.”
In chasing her dreams to become a professional ballerina, So Dancer Tia Wenkman has not only put in 40 hours a week plus private lessons but also moved first across the country and then across an ocean. “I started ballet when I was five, and at 13, I convinced my parents to move across the country from a small town in Wisconsin to Phoenix, Arizona, where I started training at Master Ballet Academy,” she reveals. “After three years of blood, sweat and tears, my hard work paid off, and I moved to London to train at The Royal Ballet School.”
It’s easy to see how dance earned its title as the most physically demanding job in the country. If that’s not enough to classify it as a “real job”, here’s a bit more evidence. Kenzie claims that the hardest thing about being a ballerina is making difficult moves look effortless. “Performing long ballets in pointe shoes and executing difficult steps is quite the challenge,” she says, “yet, we are expected to perform our roles with ease. That alone proves that dance is not only a real job but also one of the hardest.”
Tia sees a slow, wide-spread increase in respect for the artistic community at large, and believes that social media is one way to further connect with audiences by showing them not only the hard work that goes into the profession but also the fun side of things. Like Tia, Brady believes that the best way to combat the frustrating dismissal of dance as a profession is to show people what actually goes into dance. He also lightheartedly reminds us that “technically speaking, if you really love something, you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Unfortunately, the beauty in Brady’s statement has often been capitalized on in harmful ways. There have been countless arguments against the necessity of paying artists because they are paid in enjoyment, fulfillment or worse…exposure. We can only hope that once people understand what it takes to reach the top of an artistic profession, they will realize that there aren’t enough hours in the day to both pursue artistic excellence and hold a job outside the arts to support oneself.
Another major issue in the dance world is a lack of engagement from “non-dance” audiences, a lack which is not all that difficult to account for. First off, there is little if any education about dance and few opportunities to dance recreationally in grade school (in contrast to music which has the outlet of band, drama, which has school plays, and visual art, which is nearly always offered as a class). There is also an air of inaccessibility surrounding the art form, which is often classified with the likes of operas and Elizabethan plays. Not only are these art forms regarded as fancy and expensive, but comparing the field of dance as a whole to these specific genres of music and theater inaccurately narrows the range of experiences that dance has to offer.