A performance career is not for everyone, no matter how long you’ve planned for it.
But after you’ve come to this conclusion, what happens next? Jessica Shoop Williams has been there… and back again and, in today’s guest post, shares her advice with you.
Most great journeys begin with a goal in mind. For many young dancers that goal is the same, simply “I want to be a ballerina.”
As they age and dance, exploring the art form, this dream becomes clearer and more specialized, and goals are created to help them attain this vision. Whether it is “I want to be on Broadway”, “I want to dance in music videos”, or “I want to be part of a ballet company”, as they continue their dance training many dancers decide that a dance career is ahead of them.
In preparation for that dance career there are an unlimited number of paths you can take, but almost all of them involve intensive training and great commitments of time, energy, and emotion. As the training stage comes closer to a “real dance career”, the vision of what it actually takes to make it in the dance world becomes clearer.
For many dancers this makes their career choice that much more real and exciting, but for others the clarity can be jarring.
Along with the amazing and personally fulfilling qualities a dance career may offer, there are certain negatives, too. Even if you grew up loving dance and fantasizing about the idea of a career in the field, things can change when you really start to process what this career would mean to you.
Such was my clarity of vision.
Like many serious dancers, by the time I was 11 years old I was dancing 5 nights a week and dutifully attending hours of rehearsals on the weekends. My dance friends and I all had the same goal and that’s why we trained the way we did at the best studio in our area.
I became an accomplished young dancer, scoring well in competition, surviving mock auditions just fine, and I believe that I could have had a mediocre dance career at the least. However, before that career began two major aspects of dancing professionally affected my direction on the path I’d pursued for 14 years: the rejection and the uncertainty.
In preparation for my career as a dancer I was fully warned of the nature of the audition and casting process; I never did get fully comfortable with the idea of being shot down 99 out of 100 times. Along with evidence of my controlling nature becoming obvious in my late teenage years, I decided that the uncertainty of a dance career would lead to an anxiety-filled life that wasn’t going to work for me.
That was my personal situation, but the point is:
Whatever the reason, it is possible that many happy years of dance training, dance classes every night and rehearsals, competitions and performances every weekend, deeply bonded friendships, amazing dance mentors, and the blood, sweat, and tears may NOT add up to the dance career you thought it would.
And that is OKAY.
It can be hard to realize everything you had planned for isn’t what your life is going to be, but here are some valuable lessons-learned that can be helpful when it becomes clear your path is about to change.
1. Embrace a Change of Direction
The most valuable piece of advice I have ever gotten was from my own mother. She told me “The ONLY way to ruin your life is to think you can’t change direction.”
Don’t be afraid to alter your own course, no matter how long you’ve been on that route, path, or journey.
2. Don’t Play the Blame Game
Creating a new plan is not a bad thing.
You don’t need to justify it by deciding that dance has done something to you. Resist the urge to write off dance altogether. You can still LOVE to dance and not have it as your career. It doesn’t make you any less of a real dancer.
3. Be Proud of Yourself
Nobody is disappointed in you because you’ve changed your future plans.
You may feel that your parents or dance teachers have something invested in you, but ultimately these are people that love you and, first and foremost, they want your happiness.
You should be proud that you have decided to find happiness in a career, instead of following a path that no longer feels right in your gut.
4. Go to College
College is a great place for you to find yourself.
Many dancers spend our grade school years so immersed in dance that we forget to find out what else we think is interesting about the world.
It also helps as we transition away from intensive dance training to find friends who are not dancers and have different views on the world.
[Editor’s note: college is also a place where many dancers find career alternatives to performing — more on the college conversation here.]
5. Keep Dancing
On occasion, a break from dancing may be needed. But remember, it was no mistake that you danced happily throughout your childhood.
Find what it was about dancing that filled your heart and make your dancing about that again.
I made the mistake of completely stopping dance for the several years after I stopped dreaming of a dance career.
After a little bit of time I found myself dancing again, recreationally, and building new dance relationships that have ultimately led to my opening a dance studio (only 8 years later).
I encourage dancers on the verge of a dance career to really step back and think about what will make you happy. Life is precious, and you have to make sure you spend it doing what makes you happiest, even if that isn’t what you always thought it was.
Jessica Shoop Williams is the Owner and Artistic Director of One For All Dance Academy, located in Columbia, MD. Throughout her life, Jessica has studied all types of dance at many studios around Maryland and Washington D.C. and has been fortunate enough to also travel around the country and study with distinguished instructors including faculty from the Kirov Academy of Ballet and the National Tap Ensemble. Jessica’s love for teaching and sharing dance with all ages began twelve years ago and since then she has won four regional choreography awards, and choreographed several shows for local theater companies. Outside of the dance world, Jessica holds a Masters degree in Marine Science and works full-time as a project coordinator/technical writer. For more information about One For All Dance Academy, Jessica’s newest dance adventure, visit www.oneforalldance.com and “Like” One For All Dance Academy on Facebook!
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