March 21, 2017
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My number one goal in life has always been to become a professional dancer. When I was little, I watched my favorite celebrities on Disney Channel and desperately wanted to lead my own dance show. I loved Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, That’s So Raven, and Wizards of Waverly Place. I looked up to the stars of the shows and wanted to be just like them. My friend introduced me to Hannah Montana and from then on I was hooked to the Disney Channel. I watched every single new episode of Disney shows for the next 8 years of my life. My dream was to become a breakout dancer on a huge new show with a headlining tour. Since I was just 6 years old, I have been making up scenarios in my head and even put some idea to paper, of my friends or celebrities who would “co-star” with me. I’ve made up titles for the shows, and ridiculous ones for sure, including “Home Sweet Bus” and “Vam Dancers” (also known as “Vampire Dancers”. My friends always told me how much money I would make if I were a star on a TV show, just like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, for example.
A picture of me as a young dancer with my mom and dad. (May 6, 2006)
Of course, dance always comes first for me. I have been dancing for 15 years now and I am determined to make it at least one of my jobs; but more on that later. At the age of 9, I started taking acting classes and joining theatre clubs because, to be on a TV show, I would of course need to have some acting experience. I soon realized acting wasn’t my favorite thing in the world. I still like it a lot, but it’s not my number one career goal. Ever since I was a little girl, I have been in awe of the Rockettes. Their high kicks and perfect synchronization always left me wonderstruck and still does today. Soon after I stopped taking acting classes, I knew I wanted to go into the professional field of dance somehow, whether it be becoming a Rockette or a ballerina.
The problem is, becoming a professional dancer has always had a bad reputation of not being able to make much of a living or not making enough money. One of my dance teachers always tells me, “You always have to have a backup plan, because you never know when your dance career could end.” And this is very true. Dancers are always susceptible to injury, no matter how hard they try to prevent it. They could be out for a week, three months, or for the rest of their life. It may be hard industry to stay in, but it’s an even harder industry to get into. Russian ballerinas must be a certain height, weight, torso size, length length and turnout even before being considered. If that, they may not be granted the job because the dancing quality always comes first. One girl may be more flexible than other, but the other may have better turnout and poise, so they get the job. There’s a burning question on whether dancers, or any person in the entertainment (athlete, actor, singer), get their jobs solely based on their talent or based on their previous credentials. For example, a student from Divine Child may get better opportunities for a job than a student from a run down school in Detroit because of their background. It may not even matter how talented they are, they just seem better qualified because they went to a better school. Another example occurs in Hollywood quite often. Britney Spears was cast in Crossroads in 2001 as an actor, not a singer. Now, of course, Britney Spears is not an Oscar Award winning actor, but of course she’s incredibly famous and draws in big bucks, therefore most likely landing her the role. This happens quite often in the dance world as well. I have seen many girls get turned down in auditions because of their less educative background than others. It’s not fair, but it’s just their system. They are looking for well-rounded students, in and out of the dance studio.
There is always pressure to be perfect at dance and it still continues when working. No matter what your age, you will still feel compared to other dancers in your school and you’ll always have room for improvement. In a professional ballet company, there is a job as the Principal Dancer, the most prestigious title. This dancer is usually a woman, and they perform solos, a duo with a male partner, and are featured in all of the numbers. It’s every ballerinas dream to one day become a Principal Dancer of a company. The average ballerina’s salary is as small as $15,080-$26,419 a year. A principal or soloist dancer’s salary can be up to $50,000-$58,000 a year. Misty Copeland is an example of a very famous Principal Dancer. She is also the first African-American Principal Dancer in American Ballet history. Misty’s body is very different than a svelte ballerina’s body, although. She is very muscular and strong, which I love. She broke that barrier of dancers having to be swan-like and long. She is comfortable in her own skin and is proud of her body. Misty’s salary is generally between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, near the top of the pay range of ballerinas these days. She also has a huge sponsorship with Under Armour, earning her more respect and popularity as a dancer.
The richest ballerina, at least right now, is Mikhail Baryshnikov, a New York City Ballet dancer, earning roughly $45 million. He has branched out since then becoming a choroegrapher and an actor. Mikhail is proof that dancers can become big and earn money to make a living.
One of my favorite professional ballet dancers is Mary Helen Bowers, who has turned her ballet job into a profitable company, called Ballet Beautiful. Ballet Beautiful is a very elegant, but rigorous ballet workout anyone can try. Bowers makes this extremely tough workout look easy. I’ve tried it, and it’s almost impossible, and I’m a ballet dancer. Water is essential since catching your breath will be a common occurrence. She wanted to create a workout that would help non-dancers transform their bodies instead of teaching actual ballet classes. This routine targets ballet muscles that dancers use, such as your inner thighs, the back of the leg, and your core to name a few. Training Natalie Portman for Black Swan definitely gave Bowers the most press for her career. Portman trained 6 hours a day, 6 days per week with Bowers to get a lithe, ballerina body and also trained to understand ballet terms and placement. She started at 5 in the morning swimming a mile every single day. She trained to be en pointe in only 6 months, which is crazy to say the least. It took me 5 years! Mary Helen Bowers is a prime example of how a dancer can become successful and make a living. She now has a daughter, lives in New York City and is fulfilling her dream.
Svetlana Zakharova is known as one of the greatest ballerinas to ever live. She started ballet at age of 10, very late to be starting ballet. Svetlana was invited to the Vaganova Ballet Academy and was asked to go to the graduating class which has only happened in this case in the history of the Vaganova. At the age of 17, she graduated from the Vaganova Academy and was accepted in the Marrinsky Theatre ballet company after performing “Don Quixote”. Svetlana has since then performed in many ballets, including “Giselle”, as Giselle, “The Sleeping Beauty”, “Swan Lake”, and “Don Quixote”. She is currently the prima ballerina at the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia, a tremendous role to have. The Bolshoi Theatre of Russia is a prestigious dance school and one of the most rigorous ballet schools in the world.
One of my many goals as a dancer is to have a successful dance career like Svetlana or Mary. Although I may not have a “ballet body” like them, I would still love to become a dancer in some form. If that does not work out, owning my own dance company would be a dream come true. I currently am an apprentice as a marketing assistant at a business company, so delving into the business world while keeping up with the dance aspect of it all sounds amazing. If not that, I would love to become a Rockette or even a dancer on Broadway. The average Rockette makes about $1500 a week, earning them an average of $36000 a year. The Rockettes can have up to five shows on one day. They rehearse 8 hours a day for 6 days in a row. Sleep is for the weak. They are known as the “hardest-working women in show business”. But since they only work the holiday season, this salary could be less than if they performed all year long. Their famous kick lines have always put me in awe. Being a part of their famous dances has always been my dream since the age of 3. I would have to get another job off of the holiday season. Jobs that have always interested me are either the business aspect, journalism or hospitality. Dancers have to have a back up plan, because you never know when it could end, because of injury or trauma. I have always been interested in hotel management and hospitality since I love working with others and helping people. This goes hand in hand with business as well; helping clients and prospects when needed. Also, journalism and writing could be an option. Writing comes very naturally to me, and I would love to write a children’s book. Making kids happy is something I love to do.
Now acting has never been my number one career goal, but if dance doesn’t work out for some reason, acting is my second choice for a career. Disney Channel and Nickelodeon stars inspired me back in the day to pursue acting. I adored Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez and had posters of them all over my room. I have been to several acting camps and classes and I loved it. I was even given a monologue from Charlie Brown when I was in 5th grade acting camp. Of course, I would also work in business or hospitality as well to make a living and feed my children. I want to be able to sustain a good life for my family, and to do so I am going to have to have more than one job if it involves acting or dancing. Beginners earn about $35000 per year. Only 10% of talented performers earn $100,000 per year.
Speaking of caring for children; it’s not easy to juggle nurturing a child and keeping up with your work load. According to The New York Times, women quit working more often than men. The number one reason they quit is because of the burdens of pregnancy and caring for their children. But the thing is, woman are getting more college degrees than men and are less likely to have criminal records. Men are also less likely to drop out of work to care for their child because they have the wife do all the work. Women found it too troubling to work, so they dropped out. They tend to be the ones who manage their husbands’ care, such as driving them to their appointments 0r therapies. It’s hard for mothers to work part time, let alone full time. Jobs either aren’t flexible enough for their schedules, or they just can’t handle juggling the two. The way in which this could get ugly is if the wife does all of the work with the child and the husband does squat. Both have to take part in caring for the kid. Balance is always good in relationships.
Some might wonder if it’s even possible to still dance while pregnant. Pregnant women are actually encouraged to engage in physical activity going through pregnancy. Professional dancers will often continue training up until their due date. Some will go back to training soon after giving birth. Elizabeth Harrod, a soloist in the Royal Ballet, found out she was pregnant while performing in Sleeping Beauty, but didn’t tell her dance partners she was expecting until the shows finished. She feared slipping or falling while her partners lifted her. She continued training until the week of her pregnancy, but only with relaxed barre exercises. Mary Helen Bowers also danced up until she was nine months pregnant.
Mary Helen Bowers in 2013, en pointe when pregnant.
Moderate exercise during pregnancy is good for women and can help reduce the risk of clotting, but the woman should not exercise excessively because it may take the blood flow away from the placenta. Worrying about their post-baby bodies was the most terrifying thing, since ballet revolves around your physique and toned body. It’s not easy getting back into the routine, especially since you are already exhausted from labor and now taking care of a child. But ballerinas are some of the most hardworking people I know and don’t get paid as much as they should. Their feet are bloody, swollen, and blister-infected underneath their satin pointe shoes. They are sore in muscles other people have never even used before. Their legs ache from their millions of grand battements and développés they’ve practiced. And their bodies are up and moving for 8 hours a day. Ballet is not easy, even though Svetlana makes it look effortless, you never know if she is dancing on a bleeding toe. Their job is to make it look easy to create the effect of “poised ballerinas”. Also, there are alternatives: like becoming the director of a dance studio. If your body is too weak, dancers may stop the dancing aspect of it all and go into the business aspect, which in turn gives them more money.
Of course, dancers are allowed to take a maternity leave, but not all are guaranteed to be paid on their time off. For a dancer’s first three kids, she is pretty much guaranteed to leave, but still practice. After they have over four kids, their bodies may not transform back into the lithe ballerina form as quickly and they may have to end their career. It’s this kind of thinking that goes into the job as well. Sometimes dancers may not have enough time to have a child, let alone take care of one.
Looking like a “poised ballerina” is NOT easy. It takes years and years of practice and training to become a true ballet dancer. Even the way in which you stand can be difficult. Turn out from your hips, pull up your neck and collarbone, chin in epaulet, one shoulder slightly in front of the other, no space between your legs, arms rounded and not touching your body, and last but not least, look like you’re not in pain, so have a slight smile on your face. Ballerinas, and any other type of dancers for that matter, are always afraid of failure. They’re constantly pitted up against one another and comparing themselves to other dancers in the room. It’s a tough world and their will always be someone better than you. The amount of physical and mental work dance takes is unknown to some. You always have to be “on”, and sometimes this can be difficult for dancers, especially those who try to achieve impossible perfection. I have personally been to the point where I compared myself to fellow dancers and broke down because of it. It’s depressing thinking you’ll never be good enough. But I have learned that trying to be exactly like someone else doesn’t make you unique, and you should always try to be the best dancer you can be. The most successful dancers out there are the ones who are unique and focused on what they needed to improve on, not whom they should become more like.
Auditioning for dance in college is a nerve wracking experience. I speak this from recent experience. Over the weekend, I had two very important auditions. On Friday, I auditioned for Butler University’s dance major program. The day consisted of a ballet audition in the morning, a ballet technique class in the afternoon, followed by a campus tour. The nerves were crazy in my head and my brain was running wild. The adrenaline and stamina required for an audition for a college are higher than I ever expected. The schedule ran from eight in the morning until three in the afternoon. After a seven hour day, there was a five hour drive home. The next morning, I got up bright and early again for my Rockette Summer Intensive audition. Chosen dancers get to go to New York City and train with real Rockettes for a whole week. Now, it’s not as important as a college audition, but it’s very important to me, because becoming a Rockette is one of my dreams. The class was taught by an actual Rockette and she taught us jazz, tap and kick combinations. The movement was VERY difficult and precise, so it gave me an understanding on how hard these dancers work everyday. There was definitely a lot of sweat and tears, but that’s just part of the business. You’re not always going to get the job. But overall, I am proud of myself for sticking to it and trying my best. This was just a start of my many auditions to come. I hope as time goes on, I can learn to become a better dancer along the way.
Learning from others is very important in the dance business. I have learned many new things from other dancers throughout my dance life. You have to strive to be better, it won’t just come naturally. I have put years and years of practice into my stretching routine and have seen positive results. But it really didn’t come just from myself, it came from me wanting to become a better dancer because of another dancer. The time and effort it takes is immense. I train hours upon hours a week at dance class, but I don’t believe that is enough. A dedicated dancer puts in extra hours at home to become more technical, flexible, and more confident in themselves. Thinking you are the best in the class will get you no where in dance, and then you’ll never improve. A stagnant dancer is only good for a while, until it becomes boring and repetitive. There is always room for improvement. Staying the same type of dancer your whole life will get you nowhere in the business. Directors like to see growth throughout your career.
Dance is a short-lived career. Injuries can happen at any moment, and any dancer should be prepared for this. Pregnancy can affect your dancing ability and make you weaker as a dancer. The stress it puts on your joints can slow you down as you get older. Most dancers stop dancing around the age of 33. Some go even longer, but it’s not very frequent. The amount of stamina, flexibility and effort dance takes can take a toll on a person in their old age. Never stop dancing if your body tells you to continue. But definitely stop if your body tells you to do so. Even though dancing may not be an option, owning a dance studio or even teaching can be a goal as a dance career moves on. It’s less stressful on your body, but you can still be a part of the dance atmosphere. A dance teacher doesn’t necessarily have to dance, because they can give out the dance sequences or phrases by word of mouth. Usually dance teachers will not show you the combination full out anyway, they will just mark it. Or, as some of my dance teachers do, they sit in a chair and yell out the upcoming phrase. So, knowing your dance terminology is also key. You will get in trouble if you don’t know what a rond de jambe or fouette is. There are plenty of options in the dance life that don’t require physical dancing. My dance director has been the director of our studio for over 50 years and the studio is still going strong.
Should dancers be offered healthcare? Or at least a portion of it? In my opinion, yes they should, because dancers are extremely hardworking and deserve the benefits. Injuries in dance are very common, so dancers should get a fair share of healthcare benefits. Dancers are strong, emotionally and physically, so getting back up on their feet is not a difficult task. Many will be back after 6 weeks, or sometimes even earlier. It all depends on how fast their bodies adapt back to the rigor of dance. Also, if a life-threatening injury were to occur, healthcare in the dance world is beneficial. Even if a dancer is injured, some directors or teachers don’t care, they will make you dance on a broken ankle. Other directors will kick you out of the company. It’s survival of the fittest. Getting to the top is one thing, but staying there is another.
I have learned over the years to not compare myself to others. Even though I still struggle with perfection and comparing myself to other dancers, I have learned to not give up on dance when I fall into a dance slump. You can learn from others, but don’t try to be like them. It will only make you feel bad about yourself, and could affect your dance career. Your dance director will notice if you have been improving, and will reward you for that. They may even promote you to a higher level and increase your salary. There is always room for improvement (no matter how good you may think you are).
According to the New Economics Release Study, as of February 14, 2016, Performing Arts jobs and Spectator Sports jobs have increased by 3.9% from December 2016 to January 2017. From January 2016, the number of people with performing arts jobs has increased by 50 people. These statistics will encourage people who want a dance job to find one. It certainly encourages me because of the higher numbers. People want to do what they love and that is now showing. More and more people are going into the performing arts area because of its record-breaking popularity. Although, fame should not be the ultimate goal. Many celebrities go into the business to become known and therefore make more money. For example, a lot of the dancers on Dance Moms, and especially their moms, go on the show just to become famous and find themselves a career. I have no issue with kids trying to jump-start their career, but when a mother wants to live vicariously through their child just to make money, it can become suspicious. It definitely seems like some moms are just there for the money, fortune and fame. They want their child to become known, so then they get a big part in a movie and make millions. I guess it’s just another way dancers can make bank, but it’s certainly not the right way to use your child’s talents.
According to Partnering For Prosperity-Economic Development Strategy for Southeast Michigan, the second greatest asset to attract or grow a business is skilled workforce. This is a very good sign for dancers in Michigan, because the skilled dancers are attracting dancers to go for a job professionally. This means Michigan believes skilled workforce is successful in persuading others to get jobs.
Trying to even make it onto that show would be a struggle. You have to be the best of the best of a million little girls who desperately want that fame and fortune (or their moms who want it for them). And sometimes when they make it, they crack under pressure because of Abby or the moms. Abby Lee Miller is one of the toughest dance teachers I’ve ever encountered, and I know this because she was at one of my competitions a few years back. She even yelled at a few girls from other studios to point their feet or straighten their legs. She does not take dance lightly, and neither do many other dance teachers. It’s a competitive business and Abby is just trying to prepare her dancers for the real world. This does not mean I condone her behavior in any way; she gets way out of hand sometimes. But I understand her intentions. No choreographer or director of a dance company is going to be easy on you. They will always push you past your limits. Professionals need to be pushed, or they will remain the same type of dancer their whole life, which is boring and may cost you the job.
My dance teacher for 9 years now, George, has always been extremely hard on me. He’s made me cry plenty of times. But I know all along he was just trying to make me better. And he has for sure. His strictness has made me practice on my own in my free time. It’s amazing how much I’ve progressed since the 3rd grade. I remember crying to my dad every night because I didn’t have my splits down and George would yell at me. But I worked on them every night and eventually they were down. I still practice everyday and now am working on my scorpion. There’s never an excuse to stop practicing dance.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2015 median pay was $16.85 per hour. That’s about $680 a week and $2,700 a month. You can make a decent living on this salary, but not be extremely rich unless you have another high-paying job on the side. Long-term on-the-job training is required, as previously mentioned. You can’t just become a dancer out of thin air without any training. Many colleges offer a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in dance or fine arts if wanted. For choreographers, the median hourly wage was $22.09, making slightly more than a dancer. The highest 10 percent earned more than $45! It honestly depends on how hard you work and how many hours a day you put into it. Employment of choreographers is expected to rise 6% from the years 2014 to 2024. Dance has become a more popular job nowadays and more people wanting the job means even more competition in the dance world.
According to Brookings.edu, the employed share of working-age population in Detroit, Michigan is the lowest, with a rate of 51%. The jurisdiction of Johnson County, Kansas has the highest rate of 83%. Deciding where to live as a dancer is essential. You do not want to live in a place that has a low employment population, because, odds are, you will have trouble finding a job as well. Landing a job as a dancer or choreographer is tough enough as it is. Adding pressure to your load is not needed if you can afford to live somewhere else. The population in Detroit has over 70,000 more people than Johnson County, making this fact even more terrible than it already is. Choosing to live in an area that is highly employable is beneficial to how that dancer will live and make money in the future. I, personally, will definitely be moving out of state, hopefully to a warmer place. Living in Florida, California, or Hawaii would be a dream come true. My grandfather has a house in Sarasota, Florida and The Sarasota Ballet is just a couple blocks down from his place. Working there would be beneficial and convenient! The Sarasota Ballet is a professional ballet company that has been ongoing for 26 years now. It puts on several plays and performances throughout the years and is nationally and internationally recognized.
It’s a hard knock life for us dancers. We get turned down, judged, and criticized everytime we dance. Technique, quality, presence and flexibility all come into factor. A great dancer has the full package. It’s best to work on these qualities while young to eventually become a professional. Starting as you get older only decreases the chances you’ll land a job. Unless you dance and stretch twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, results of becoming a better dancer are low at an older age. I started dance at a young age, but was never provided the training young girls do now. 8 year olds are more flexible and can do quadruple pirouettes better than me now. It’s unbelievable to me. Younger dancers tend to be more flexible and it’s hard to keep up flexibility once you’re older and you start to grow. The dance community likes to see a lot of experience prior to your auditioning. The audition could be based on your prior experience or your current training; it really depends on the company. My recent Butler University audition was focused on current training and what the judges saw then and there.
My goal in life is to make a difference in the dance world. I want to show young dancers that professional dancers can make a difference in the world. We CAN make money and be successful. I want to first get started on my business career and then delve into dancing. I will start out as a businesswoman, maybe while teaching dance, and then start my auditions. If I don’t like the business world, I will go into writing and journalism. Writing has always been a stress reliever for me. I might even try out for So You Think You Can Dance or The New York City Ballet if both of those don’t work out. I want to inspire others to dance, make them laugh and cry, but of course overall, make them happy. I want to make myself happy too. There’s no use in having a job that makes you hate getting up in the morning. That’s just a wasted life. My mom always tells me to go for something I love. I really couldn’t imagine my life without dance.
So overall, there are many ways for dancers to make money. Dancers should always have extra skills to back them up. A one trick pony never makes it far in life, unless they’re outstanding or a prodigy. Another one of my goals in life is to prove people wrong about the stereotype of “underpaid dancers”. Dancers work too hard to get paid poorly. I want to show people that dancers can be successful and can make a steady living in the real world.