Maybe you started at the age of 3, maybe you started at the age of 10. Maybe you started at the age of 15, but it doesn't really matter when you started dancing. It only matters that you are here, now, reading this article. The fact that you're here means that you've taken a degree of interest in dancing and are now faced with a difficult decision as high school graduation approaches. To be a dance major, or not be a dance major. That is the question. Though I don't have an answer for you, know that this article is for you, to provide an inside scoop and help make easier your decision. It is certainly not an easy choice to make, but plenty of us have made it. To dance majors everywhere, and those who doubt them, this is for you too.
1. You will explain yourself on a regular basis, although there's no need.
Who here likes holiday parties?!?! I know I sure do, but picture this. You're finally home from college, sitting by the fire as you drink a hot cocoa and snuggle your pets. All is swell until along comes an old family friend. As a Senior in high school, he asked a single question: "Where are you going to college?" Now, no matter your year in college, the inquiry from this family friend and most everyone you see will be: "What are you majoring in?" Unfortunately, the answers that receive the most praise tend to be "Engineering" and "Biology", while artistic majors are subject to exasperated sighs and the impulse to respond. Let me remind you that in these scenarios, you can either keep it short, sweet and to the point, or you can defend the department you worked so hard to get in to. It is a sad truth that the public makes but two associations with dancing: So You Think You Can Dance, and Julliard/Joffrey. Therefore, they often show a great degree of confusion regarding the other opportunities that exist. Unless you elaborate upon the amazing education you have received, the work you've done, how much you've learned and what you plan to do, they might think your tuition payment is circling down the drain, simply because the image of the "broke dancer" is so prominent in today's society. Yes, dancing professions do not produce as much money as others, but to accept this is proof of their absolute fulfillment. If their utmost concern was finances, they would be sitting behind a desk to deposit a hefty paycheck, but instead, they are in the studio, being paid to do what they love EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. After you explain this, there will still be some who express concern, and that shows their loss, not yours. Perhaps their worries are more a frustration at having neglected their own dreams, but this particular dream is not theirs. It is yours. Reach for the stars. If you miss, you'll land on the moon.
2. You will know true exhaustion.
"Dance is not a sport". How many times have you heard that line? Probably more than you can count on two hands. Unfortunately, the misinformed notion that dancing is easy because we "twinkle our toes" carries long into your college education. Having watched you perform for a lifetime, those around you might find it unrealistic to allocate your tuition to artistic improvement when so many other career options are available. Here's what they don't know. Becoming a dance major is a full-time preparation for your prospective career, same as any other, but in this case, you are training to become a professional dancer. You must combat the mental exhaustion felt by all college students while you battle the highly rigorous techniques of a prestigious dance department. Still a full-time student, you will complete hours of homework in a body ready for sleep and a brain incapacitated after learning three minutes of choreography in a single hour. After eating and showering, you may be looking at four hours of sleep in preparation for your 8:00 am Ballet class the next morning. There will be days when you find yourself too sore to climb the stairs; days when you simply fall asleep everywhere. It truly redefines your understanding of the terms "discipline" and "endurance". Under these conditions, it is your perseverance and your love of dance alone that will keep you going, so the next time someone questions your work ethic, ask them what they do for exercise. Then ask them if they would be willing to complete said exercise for nine hours, only to return home and write a philosophy paper on four hours of sleep.
3. Auditioning will become a regular habit.
AUDITIONS. In it's big, black, bold lettering, it's one of the most terrifying and exhilarating words that a dancer can see. Unfortunately, it's through these long and brutal evaluations of technique that dancers fight for yet another opportunity to do what they love. Here's the secret: if you can make it past this ONE audition with the most at stake, your department will have you attending countless others with excitement, rather than fear. Much like the classic saying, it's not that auditions become easier, it's that you get better, both technically and in your mindset regarding them. Each audition is a lesson in picking up choreography faster than you can imagine, presenting your work ethic to superiors and finding the fine line between self-doubt and modesty; confidence and ego. Eventually, you'll find that in the absence of mind-boggling fear, your response to "got weekend plans?" will be a simple smile and a single word: AUDITIONING.
4. Your movement might feel "weird" at first.
Quite often, the transition from studio life to a more contemporary education is a shell-shock. Your technique classes will grow to discuss the abstract notions of "flocking", body-connectivity and "listening" to one another to establish unison. Imagery is one effective mechanism that many professors use to inspire a particular quality of movement. In some cases, their metaphoric detail will be so precise as to turn you away from the mirror and eliminate the concern for how you appear. It is when you feel most ridiculous that you must extinguish all sense of ego. These methods are being taught by professionals of the utmost regard to release the tension in your body; expand your artistic mindset. When you complete the exercise, you will find yourself far more fearless than before, for if you can feel completely ridiculous with 100% confidence, you can do anything.
5. You HAVE to LOVE dancing like none other.
It was on my very first day of Freshman year that a rather wise upperclassman said something that will stick with me forever. He said: "If you are questioning yourself, this means that you've worked incredibly hard, but also that you are doubting your decision...Don't. Nothing good worth having was ever made easy". This is nothing but the absolute truth. It requires an incredible amplification of passion to pay for advanced dance education knowing that your GPA rides upon your technical improvement, daily presence and ability to absorb an overwhelming amount of corrections. You have to LOVE dancing, not like it, not consider it a hobby...You have to love it enough to persevere through the burning sensation as your legs go numb, the pain of pulled muscles and injury and the inability to catch your breath. You quite literally must love dancing with EVERY FIBER OF YOUR BEING.
6. You will have yourself a family.
In the artistic world, there exists a common belief that dancers can recognize each other from nearly a mile away. Though this may appear as an exaggeration to the public eye, the attention is in the details of how they walk, how they stand, how they respond to their superiors...It is this same uncanny understanding of one another that will form deep bonds with your fellow dance majors. From silly handshake games on the first week of classes, to contact improvisation, partnering, and unison in the weeks that follow, you will be comfortable together in the blink of an eye. But then again, how could you not? These are the beautiful and talented human beings with whom you will spend countless hours of every day. These people will make mistakes with you, laugh with you, grow overtired with you, move an audience with you, trust you with their safety and see you at your worst. You will be a team, so you best believe that when college gets you down, this family of yours will forever be there to lift you up, and yes, the pun is intended :)
7. You will meet the person you were meant to be.
They say that people change. I'm not quite sure how I feel about that statement, but I do believe that you can always become a better version of yourself, as this has been my exact experience. Within just one week of dancing in college, I found myself in the best shape of my life, eating healthier than ever before and truly taking care of my body. My mind felt so open as my professors provided new mechanisms to choreograph and approach my own movement. At the same time I felt humbled by the talent around me, my uplifting peers helped me discover new confidence and the amazing practice of being fearless. I was no longer afraid to try new things; no longer concerned how I would look as I tried them. There was a beautiful recognition that we all dance differently, and therefore, we don't need to be better than each other. We need only be a better version of who we were the day before.
8. You will be comfortable.
Prior to auditioning for a place as a dance major, it was my full intention to dress nicely for college every single day. Two days in however, I forgot about the outfit possibilities within my wardrobe. On a daily basis, my route around campus was common to the studio, academic classes, the gym and rehearsal. Therefore, my time was better spent sleeping in than being fashionable, and my days were made comfortable in athletic jackets, leggings and Bloch booties. It is indeed a cozier lifestyle than most.
9. Your career is YOUR choice, and your choice alone.
Too often, the term "professional dancer" is thought to imply a singular career as a company member. However, as my wise Ballet professor loves to explain, this term is incredibly broad-based, for you will become a professional in the dance world. This education will be a foundation for you to teach inside a studio, choreograph anywhere you like...the possibilities are truly endless, and under this guise, you WILL dance for the rest of your life in some capacity.
10. It was the best decision I've ever made.