5 Things I Learned In The Dance Industry in My 20s
1. Speak Up
Ok, I can't tell you how long I spent working as a performer feeling like I had to pretend like everything was ok all the time. I felt like if I spoke up, I'd be fired and easily replaced. Speaking up for me has a lot to do with honoring my worth and being ok with walking away from situations, gigs and set ups that don't work for me. If you are articulating frustration, do so calmly. Remember that no one is a mind reader. When bumps in the road come up, try to understand first where the other person is coming from. When you don't understand something, ask clarifying questions. If something is important to you, say so.
2. Compare and Despair
Energy spent on comparing your "success" to others feels like a curse both to myself and to the other artist. Let go of comparison and redirect your focus to your heart. The more you let go of comparison, the more you will be able to genuinely wish others success. My dance training was very competitive and "old school" in the sense that the teachers only paid attention to the best students in class. As young dancers, we were taught only the best make it and that if you weren't emotionally strong enough you'd be weeded out naturally. This mode of thinking created a sense of scarcity for me and I felt competitive with my peers in my early 20s trying to make it as a professional dancer. I now realize the best thing to do is befriend your peers and wish them the best. We are all in this together. Trust in abundance and notice if you are in scarcity mode.
3. Invest in People and Relationships
More inspiration and growth has grown out of my friendships in the performance world than anything else. When a dancer writes me an email "I want to work with you" yet I don't know them at all, my best response is "Thank you so much." If the same person invited me out to coffee to connect, I'd naturally have that person on my radar. If you are genuinely interested in connecting with someone, make sure it's not ultimately transactional (as in you want something from them). Connect with people who you are really, really interested in without needing anything in return. True relationships naturally lead to growth.
4. Be On Contract For Everything
As I write this, I want to be 100% honest that I am still unable to ask to be on contract sometimes. Dear me-- put a contract into place when setting up the exchange. If you send a contract over and never hear back, keep following up and don't do work on the project before it is signed. A contract can be informal and terms can be negotiated before you sign it. If what the person/organization hiring you asks for doesn't work for you, let them know what you'd prefer. Both parties need to sign and date the contract. Both parties need to agree to the terms and this needs to be stated explicitly in the contract. Come up with an agreement about how things will shake down if change needs to happen--for example, "both parties will give at least 1 month notice for any change to these terms." Don't sign it unless you agree to it.
5. Get Off Track
Trying new things opens you up to the unknown and can shift your course in a new direction. Sometimes we have to follow our passion to find our purpose. If you stay within the dominant paradigm of "the track" (for dance--10am morning classes many times a week, summer intensives, auditions, etc) you may not discover what makes you truly unique. I recently discovered that dance is medicine to me and that is why I do it. "The dance track" however does not make me feel well. I started to listen to myself more to define my own track. I started thinking about how my work serves other people. I got honest with myself--what are my true gifts and how can I use those gifts to help others?