How often over the last few years have students asked about what it takes to build a successful dance career? I’ve honestly lost track of that question. Students want the clear answer of course. They want a simple road map. In dance, like most any career worth building though, there isn’t a singular, straightforward answer. Yes, you have to have talent, but there’s more to it than that. You have to have a body-mind-spirit that is open and capable of a) doing a range of work, and b) working in a range of ways. And, you have to have a work ethic. If you don’t have that work ethic, you won’t work long no matter how much talent you have. But, back to points a) and b):
The range of work in the dance world today is staggering—meaning that the ideas about what dance is and can be are fairly limitless in the current context. The emphasis on fusion that has been growing since the 1930s has slowly led us to a place where a good deal of concert dance now defies any semblance of clear genre categorization. In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, we talked about the importance of well-trained dancers being versatile, which meant being able to move from ballet to modern and jazz across the work of various choreographers and companies (or across various musicals). Now, a dancer may encounter all of that in a single piece of choreography. That means dancers must train across multiple genres of dance, in a variety of styles so that their body can simultaneously speak many movement languages.
Concurrently, choreographic practice now happens through a variety of processes. While many dancemakers still work from a singular vision, others have long-embraced a variety of collaborative processes, and groups of artists enjoy even more democratic approaches. To be a working dancer today, you have to be fluid in terms of working in the way(s) a choreographer or company embraces. As a choreographer, my own dancemaking spans numerous genres and styles. I also work in a variety of ways depending on the idea for a new dance—some ideas require a singular perspective, while others are perfect for collaborative practices. Dancers who work with me have to be able to handle both a wide range of movement ideas, and ways of working.
There are certainly other things required of dancers. You have to have integrity and patience. You have to be someone that others can trust and respect. You have to invest yourself and fulfill every movement. Audiences don’t want to pay to watch stingy dancers. Now, there’s more to it, but, that’s a start. I’ll say more about this in future posts.