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Ballet Talk for Dancers

To dance or not to dance

Guest Zarafa

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To dance or not to dance is not really a question for me - I feel that I have to dance - to be frank, during the four or so years I was forced to give it up as an impoverished student, I still pirouetted around the university library at any given opportunity. Not to mention plenty of ungiven opportunities!!!


But I had a work appraisal the other day that went along the lines "blah blah, you could be very successful, blah, blah, blah, CEO before you're 30, blah, blah, blah IF YOU GIVE UP EVERYTHING ELSE OUTSIDE OF WORK (i.e. work 7am to 10pm, 6 days a week from now until you retire)."


And my initial reaction to this was - well, frankly, I don't want to be successful that much.


But my considered reaction is more complex. I love to dance - but how long should I go on prioritising it over other things? At what point does that become detrimental to my life?


I know I do not consider certain job options, as I know they would leave me in countries/towns without dance studios, something I can't consider, or they will leave me without time to dance, equally not an option. The only time I am truly happy is when I am in a dance studio.


But I am NEVER GOING TO BE A DANCER. I am just lacking the right body, correct training early enough in my life etc etc etc. And I do want to be successful. Sadly, the one thing I love (dance) I am not talented enough to be successful in. And the things I could be successful in, because I am talented enough (business, academia), I do not love enough to make the sacrifices necessary to do so.


EEK. :)


Severely confused 23 year old. Any thoughts on this, from people who have made this choice, in dance or in other areas. Because I just can't get this straight in my head. :( Advice welcome, please help!

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Well, it is always nice to have a job that is so perfect for you that you don't want to do anything else, but few are lucky enough to have or find that type of job.


I personally cannot imagine having an all-work life with no time for anything else (hobbies, friends, family)--it just sounds horrific to me.


There is nothing wrong with choosing a career or life path that allows for outside interests and activities, even if you can't make a career from them (e.g., even if you can't become a professional dancer, there is nothing wrong with being a serious student or whatever.)


So... this isn't much of an answer, but there's nothing wrong with your instinct that an all-work life is not for you.

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I would just like to say that in my opinion...the price for being that sucessful in business is often not worth all that you will be missing in life. I'm just turning 30...I'm very sucessful in business, but now that I have hit an age where I am evaluating my life and what I do with my time...if I had the option I would not do it the way I did.

When I was right out of school (your age)...the most important thing to me was money, I do very well...and now I am acustomed to a particular standard of lifestyle that does not enable me to have much free time. I work from 8 in the morning until late in the eveing...I basically come home...have dinner, see my husband for an hour or so and go to sleep. The next thing you know...you are so use to what you do and the money you make, that it becomes very difficult to take a step back and take a lower paying job and to make the time to do the things you love to do.

My suggestions would be to find a job you like...don't be in any rush to "be the best of the best" and focus on the things that you love (be it ballet, friends, family). If you love to dance...DANCE. Once you get stuck working those 10 hr days...you may never have a chance to enjoy dancing again. Don't look back and regret it :(

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I don't know enough about your situation -- ie, number of hours you devote to ballet vs. to your job -- but I would say that in my case, even if I didn't dance I wouldn't necessarily spend those hours working. (I'd probably be reading, gardening, cooking, whatever. :) )


I quit dancing for about 10 years because of my job, but eventually I came back and I feel much happier about life in general. I also feel I'm as satisfied with how my career is going as I was when I wasn't dancing, but I must admit I have a little more job flexibility than someone in, say, the corporate world, and while I'm ambitious, I'm not totally career-driven. Still, as they say, no one ever said on his/her deathbed, "Gee, I wish I'd spent more time in the office!" :( Not much advice I'm afraid, but thank you for raising an issue I think a lot of us on this board deal with.

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I was thinking that your questions were too complicated and loaded to answer. But Koshka's right. It's pretty simple. You want to be successful, but really, how do you measure that success? Is success all about working like a dog at a job you're dispassionate about just to make money and get promotions? Or is success simply enjoying your life? I personally believe it's the latter.


Strange opportunities can arise when you follow a passion. I was talented in the visual arts, and was pushed toward that direction by all my teachers (even though I had always wanted to work in the sciences--but my math skills were horrible). I also had no self confidence in my ballet abilities, even though a really amazing teacher had offered to train me at a substantially low cost when I was 15. I turned the offer down because I never really believed I was talented enough. The more I've seen of various dancers over the years, the more I've come to realize that desire, VERY hard work, and VERY talented teachers can overcome a lot of limitations in the body. I know a dancer who had nothing--no exaggeration--parallel sous sus position, 45 degree turned in arabesque, arched back, no abdominal strength, who became one of the strongest dancers I've ever seen. Within a year of careful and persistant training, she was offered a contract at ALL professional ballet companies she auditioned for. She began her re-training at age 23. This woman outdances almost everyone in class, including dancers in major big-name companies. She may not have super long legs or 180 degree turnout, but she has perfect technique for her body and incredible strength.


For me, I quit dancing to pursue a career as a gallery artist in New York. I was accepted into a very pretigious Master's program, spent two and a half years working on my artwork, and realized (really all-along) that this was not something I was passionate about doing. An artist should NEED to make work. I didn't.


Lucky for me, my first job after school was perfect at the time. I work as a graphic designer in a small production group which blends art with cutting-edge science. I work independently on projects and my schedule is flexible enough to allow for tons of ballet classes, which I started taking about ten months ago. It would, of course, be nice to have just one thing that I can do amazingly, feel passionate about, and make lots of money doing. But you know, having a few interests makes you a more interesting person. You'll meet a variety of different people, have some breathing room in your life, and a lot of options. The interests could always somehow come together in a strange way. You never know.

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I was in your situation at your age, and I was never happy. Four years later I finally decided to get some seriously proper training, and I did so. Now I have two careers, one of them is as a dancer. I am always having to make the kinds of trade-offs you mention.


I pursued a professional dance career because I believed (and still believe) it would enable me to dance as best as I am able. And I have far surpassed my expectations in that regard; actually I am surprised I made it into a professional ballet company, I just knew I had to try figuring I'd probably not get that far. But a professional career does not in and of itself justify the decision to dance --- not with so many other good options in life. It's not enough to say "I want a professional career so it's OK to make all those other sacrifices." It may look more "normal" on the outside, but it does little on the inside. EVERY dancer, amateur or professional, must go through the process of self-examination and sacrifice you're encountering. Just about every professional dancer I know contiuously re-evaluates the decision to dance, or whether to move on to something else at the end of the current season.


Lastly, you must examine what your employer is telling you, irrespective of dance. To me, your 20's are a time of trying to find your place in life. It is a painful process. People will come to you all the time and say "you've got what it takes to succeed at X", where X is whatever those people are into. If you're bright and talented, you'll have many people saying that to you; I know I did. But you cannot be flattered and jump at the first person who says you'd be good at what they do. You have to decide what holds YOUR interest in a way that you could do it for a decade or more. You have to be so interested in it that you could imagine being a manager, a mentor to others in it. If you don't feel that strongly about an occupation, you will never shine in it, and you might not even last very long.


Where do you envision yourself at the age of 30? What do you really wish to do in your heart but are afraid to try, or never get around to? Could you imagine dedicating your life to the occupation being pursued by your current company? If not, then you need to engage in additional sole searching, dance or no dance.

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Anyone who would tell you that it's an either-or situation has a hidden agenda. It's simply not the truth.


When I was 24, I was a reporter for a newspaper that had never had a female editor in 113 years. I did , in fact, work 'round the clock because the job necessitated it, and because I loved the whole business of putting a small town paper together from scratch -- everything from covering common council and school board meetings to writing a column to covering sports to developing film, etc., etc. That's a good age to be that involved because you'll never have that kind of energy again.


At the same time, although I was no longer performing, I was very much interested in taking ballet class if it were available. Around that time, a new branch of an esteemed school opened about 45 minutes away from my town.


I somehow SQUEEZED the time into making evening and Saturday classes several times a week. It became absolutely vital to me.


I did not advertise what I was up to in my 'spare' time, as the newspaper business was even more prejudiced against women then, than it is now. My publisher found out, and he asked me if I was going to choose between dance and writing. This from a guy who insisted on spending his free time in a Dixieland band and jogging.


I did NOT choose between the two, and when the editor-in-chief left the paper and the spot was ready to be filled and they were not considering me, I said that if I were not hired, I would leave. I got the job, becoming the first lady ed in 113 years, won best columnist in the state that year (at 25), and continued taking ballet class.


Telling people they can't have a life outside of work is nonsense. It certainly doesn't do anything for productivity or creativity either.


BTW, I recently read somewhere that music undergrads make excellent medical students for reasons that include their having an excellent outlet for stress.


Sounds like you need another job rather than another career.

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Okay, time for the real cynic to chime in. I am a lawyer by trade, and the only reason I mention this is because I think it's pretty well known how many hours we're asked to devote to our jobs. And all we do is make money for other people!!! Am I supposed to give up my life for this? I don't think so. I also think a lot of employers will tell you wonderful things to make you work harder, but then strangely there's never any light at the end of the tunnel.


Just last night I was thinking how wonderful it is that there's this other dimension to my life besides what I do for a living - my interest in music and dance. I feel very sorry for people who don't have that. And as others have said, if you were to give up that other side of yourself, you'd really regret it down the line. I recently read that "rejection is better than regret" and also remember my father saying "everyone must have a vocation and an avocation."


The bit about you never becoming a professional dancer is, as we lawyers say, irrelevant. If you love it, do it. In time, life and experience will teach you how to balance both your passion and your livelihood. And THAT is real success!

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Yet another chime in for balance and satisfaction rather than a 60hour week and a less meaningful life. Can I share a bit of experience: I'm in my mid-40s and have my own consulting practice -- I made the decision because I wanted to have the time to pick my son up from school, to drive field trips, to dance . . . The peers I encounter professionally work 60hour weeks, make more money than I do, (although I'm hardly starving) and spend it on things because they don't have enough time for experiences. And for many of them it's enough and its satisfying. It's a personal decision that everyone must make.


I think that balance is important, and one of the other things I say quite consistently when I talk with young men and women in their early 20s -- where is it written that you have to know what you want to do with the rest of your life before you're 25. What is important is constructing a life that gives you meaning, purpose and pleasure.


One final word -- nothing is irrevocable. Hope it helps

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i, too, was a seriously confused 23-year-old with a degree in business and no aptitude for it, not to mention no luck in finding a permanent job which would give me medical benefits. at one of the lowest point of my job-hunt, i decided to do the one thing which had crossed my mind a million times over the years, but which i had never thought i would actually do.


i went for an audition at a full-time art school. and i got accepted. :angry:


i had friends who thought i was insane for choosing to become a student again for 3 years (and for a diploma, no less!) after getting my degree, but i've had more friends who said they envied me for having the courage to pursue my dreams.


i won't say it has been a piece of cake so far. my family thinks i should go back to work, and i started ballet at age 21 with bad feet and bad turnout, so it's especially difficult for me, but at this present moment, my dream of becoming a full-time ballet teacher is still very much alive. i may never be able to dance on stage for an audience, but one day, maybe one of my students might. who knows? :(

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As a yet another "me too" - about the age of 23 I was completely lost with myself, thinking that if I had chosen a career and was pretty ok at it, it would be impossible to change that, and that it would be "wasting" if I didn't use what I had learned so far, and really work to be a success in that one thing.


A few years later I found out that it's not true. It's quite ok to sacrifice everything (well, almost everything) else to be one of the best in something - but it's only ok if you really want to do it. I doubt you even can make such sacrifices without really wanting it, and I definitely think that even if you could it would be wrong to do so.


I was lucky to find work that I really love doing, though I am not as good at it as I might have been in some other career options I've had in my life. But a fact is that most of us will never find something they both really love doing and have the capacity to do really well.


For most people, wanting to be a dancer is not enough to be a dancer, not even if you had the natural ability. In addition to loving dance, you will have to love practicing it. I know it's the same with science, and I suppose it's the same with business too. But, on the other hand, if you enjoy the practice and it makes you happy on itself, it won't be a waste of time even if you don't make it pro - while practice against your heart definitely would be.


So, I say, if you don't want to do whatever is suggested to you, don't do it. Working life is not everything in life - for some people it's the least important bit. You will have to think of supporting yourself, of course, but there are many ways open to that. Maybe do something else, or something less, in your field - you'll not end up CEO before 30, but maybe CEO at 35 or 50. Or maybe never, but you can still be good at what you do, and that's what I call success. Or if this doesn't appeal to you, you can do something else completely - you are so young that you can change careers half a dozen times in your life, still. Maybe you could be a successful dance teacher, or change to a different subject field completely?


I don't know about which options you would like. It might be that even you don't know it at this point. But the important thing is: choose yourself. Don't let other people scare, coax or lure you into putting all your time into a thing you don't really want.

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Guest melanie42



I'm 23 and a primary school teacher. It would be very easy for me to spend all my time working. As it is, I'm usually the last out of the building. But I'm trying to force myself to leave early at least once a week to go to a ballet class. It's not easy though - there's always things that I should be doing and things I could be doing in the evening.


Last year (before I started ballet) I worked 7.30 a.m. till 6.00 p.m. every weekday and did at least five hours work at the weekend (usually a lot more). In the evenings I was always exhausted and just flopped in front of the TV.


Now that I've started doing ballet on Saturday mornings I enjoy my weekends a lot more because ballet makes me forget about work and all the things I have to do. If I manage to go to a class in the evening I feel much more refreshed the next day, because I have switched off from work for a while.


I think what I'm trying to say is that you can fit in work and dance if you're really determined. You may not make it to CEO by 30 doing it that way, but you'll be much happier. I don't think quality of life is measured by how many times you have been promoted. If you're happy not being CEO, then don't feel pressurised into working every evening.


I hope you manage to work things out.

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Let me just add my whole-hearted agreement to something FunnyFace said....any employer who tells you you must work 60 hours a week and give up everything in your life except work is simply using a time worn method to get the most work out of his/her employees without offering any real compensation in return. It is a win-win scenario for the business-- if you fall for it, they get endless hours of your time, enormous effort, whatever original ideas you may come up with in your job. If you do well and really are management material, they get a fresh face in management. But if you do not work out (for whatever reason), they are under no obligation to you whatsoever. At that point you have now devoted a number of years and many sacrifices only to discover there is no big payoff in the end. Either way, the company made out like a bandit while you probably made no more than you would have had you taken a job with more reasonable requirements. But how many memories, fun times, and opportunities would you have missed out on?


I just lost a good friend of mine at a fairly young age, and very unexpectedly. She was not sick, took care of her health, excercised, watched what she ate, and then just died in her sleep from an undiagnosed heart ailment. Life can be too short and full of unpredictable twists and turns. By all means, try to find a job you enjoy and that interests you, but don't give up everything else that you love. And remember that ANYTHING and ANYONE who tries to tell you to devote all your time and effort to one area to the absolute exclusion of all else, does not have your best interest and well being at heart.

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I wish this were the kind of world where every single person died only of old age, after a happy, productive life. But is not often the case. None of us knows what lies in wait, so it behooves us to make the most of each day, and if you love dance, then your days must include dance as well. One of my favorite quotes, "Life may not be the party we hoped for, but as long as we're here, we might as well dance."


I'm also reminded of that old adage about how when people die, they never say in their final moments, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office."


Finally, as Dr. Phil says, 'You teach people how to treat you." Meaning: if you allow yourself to be sucked into that philosophy thrust upon you by parasitic supervisors, they will spot you as easy prey and demand more and more, until you won't even know who you are anymore.


You go ahead and take your dance classes, and when you're at the barre, starting to feel a little of that guilt and fear, that is the moment you should envision your boss in tights and a leotard trying to do what you're doing. That should bring a (wicked) smile to your face. :(

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To cut a long story short, unless you find work that you love as much as you love ballet, it will be detrimental to your life not to prioritise ballet over all else. The notion that your potential in your career - which you don't love - is greater than your potential to dance - which you do love - is meaningless, because human potential is ultimately about achieving happiness.


To echo others, my advice would be that you look into other careers. I don't say this lightly - I know that it takes huge courage to give up something that provides a comfortable lifestyle, in search of something better. But a person of your abilities can do virtually any job, and given time I'm sure you'd find something that brings you the happiness that you find in dance class.


If you don't, though, it doesn't really matter. If you love dance above all else, then find a career that allows you to dance as much as possible. It means nothing that you probably won't ever become professional, because the only requirement of being a dancer is that you dance! And besides, being a dancer isn't the only way to be a professional in dance.


To throw some personal light on your situation, I'm one of the lucky ones when it comes to work - I actually found a job that I love and that I'm capable of doing extremely well. Time-wise, it dominates my life - holidays are non-existant, weekends-off extremely rare, and days-off mostly spent chiselling away at my sleep debt. I don't have a social life, and during the busy months of the year (roughly nine of them!) it's rare to get much time at home.


The other great passion in my life - the one that eats up whatever spare time I have - is ballet. Most of the time I can get to one class a week, or at least devote a couple of hours one evening to practicing at home. When things are quieter at work - like now - I can make it to three or four classes with a bit of effort. That's at the expense of everything else, though.


Both in work and ballet, then, there would appear to be a huge amount of sacrifice involved. But I don't see it that way... With work, it can be a very stressful way-of-life - a great proportion of the time I'm not particularly interested in, or inspired by, what I'm doing, and this is tough. But at other times, I feel in my heart that I'm where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to be doing, and that makes it all worthwhile.


It's not always been like this, though. I've been doing my job for ten years (I'm 31 now), and it's only in the last year-or-two that the good times have started to significantly outweigh the bad. So there's definitely been sacrifice along the way! But I got here by basically not listening to anyone, and just following my heart. I let a great amount of 'potential' go down the drain, but in doing so realised my true potential...


There are times when I hate the fact the work has prevented me from pursuing ballet, though. But this tends to be short-term frustration that I've missed another class because I've had to work, rather than deeper regret, so I'm generally happy to prioritise work over ballet. If I had the ability to pay the bills through dancing then this might be different, as it would be if I didn't love work as much as ballet. Fortunately I don't have to deal with either situation!


So my final word would be that if you have to ask yourself whether you should sacrifice ballet for work, then don't do it! Listen to your heart, because if that sacrifice is worth making then it will tell you so. Don't worry for a second about 'potential' going to waste, because you have that sort of potential in so many avenues that you can never pursue them all. So why worry about this particular avenue? There's plenty more out there!


At the end of the day (or the end of your days, for that matter) the only potential that counts is your potential to be a happy, fulfilled human being, and in ballet you've found something that allows you to achieve this. Never give it up!




PS - Are you in London on Tuesday, Maria? A meet-up's been organised for the evening (details over on the Adult Buddy Board), so it'd be a good chance to meet others who've probably been in the situation you're in. Hope you can make it!

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