- DANCE IS A COMPETITIVE, CATTY BUSINESS
Maybe it was like this back in the 80’s; I don’t know. Dancers are incredibly supportive of each other in general. I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from an audition without having made a new friend. Dancers are driven, hard working people who want to get by on their own skill and merit, not by putting others down. Dancers know that everyone is different in the way that they move, and that every artistic director/company is looking for something a little different, not who has the highest extension.
Dance can get competitive, yes. There are more dancers than there are jobs. But in my experience, that competition drives you to dance the best that you can and work as hard as you can, inside and outside of the studio. The competition drives you to work really hard in class and to keep yourself and your peers accountable, not to sabotage or put others down. Dancers appreciate each other. In class and even at auditions, dancers are always applauding after watching a group perform. At the last audition I went to, during a break, everyone was complimenting each other.
The nature of dance means that you have to trust your fellow dancers; you’ll be catching them or they’ll be supporting your weight, you have to trust them to be in a certain spot at a certain point, and so on. Great pieces are not accomplished without trust. You can’t be catty if you’re going to be a part of actual, adult choreography. I’ve read about the social hierarchy of Russian ballet companies, and frankly, I’m not sure how they function like that.
Dancers also know how hard this business is, so there’s usually some level of empathy toward each other. Everyone knows what it’s like to be nervous at an audition or intensive, and everyone knows what it’s like to fall in front of an audience. So other dancers are usually supportive when that happens so someone else – I’ve seen dancers get injured or fall and everyone jumps in to help them up or else applauds when they recover.
There are some bad apples in every bunch, but in general, dancers are a positive bunch of people.
- DANCERS NEED TO STARVE THEMSELVES/YOU’RE ANOREXIC IF YOU’RE A DANCER
It’s true that it was a race to the bottom in the past, with certain choreographers (*cough*Balanchine) encouraging very low body weight. This may still be true in certain types of dance, but overall the trend leans toward healthy>thin. Lots of dancers, especially in ballet companies, have dealt with anorexia, but the industry certainly no longer condones only ingesting carrot sticks and cigarettes to keep a lithe figure.
Of course, you need to be at a healthy weight in order to accomplish what dance requires – great strength and power along with good endurance. Serious dancers dance a lot, and they cross train by swimming, running, doing yoga or pilates, kickboxing….whatever they find helps their body the most. Dancers also realize that their bodies are instruments or machines that require healthy amounts of healthy foods to stay in tip top shape. Thus, most professional dancers are fit or athletic looking.
This is different from anorexia, though. Current professionals need strength (which comes from food…and muscle) and starving oneself is detrimental to this. There’s this terrible misconception that you’re punishing your body by eating vegetables and not indulging in chocolate cake every night, but the truth is, you feel better and perform better when you put good, nutritious food into your body. I know that I feel sluggish and bloated when I eat too many chips or a big greasy cheeseburger. I also feel sluggish if I go too many days without working out or moving my body in some way. Dancing and working out isn’t a punishment to my body – I get to move around and enjoy it.
- YOU HAVE TO START YOUNG
The list of prolific dancers who started dancing in their late teens or early twenties is hella long (Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham, Michael Wood, Misty goddamn Copeland, David Hallberg, Phillip Chbeeb….and many less famous people who I know who have careers with companies).
The list of dancers who burn out at 18 and decide to do something else with their life is even longer. If you’re wiling to put in the hours and the hard work, you can start late.
- BALLET IS THE MAIN/MOST PURE/WHATEVER FORM OF DANCE
There are so many other types of dance. Ballet companies are falling behind in popularity at this point, too. Modern companies really started to surge up in popularity in the 1950s and beyond, and there are so many modern/contemporary companies that are doing well and are touring and teaching. Hip hop crews are more popular than ever (look at this awesome choreography).
Ballet had a few hundred years in the limelight because of the way it started (court dances>opera>King Louis XIV>and so on). Ballet is also more easily accessible because it has a longer history (who hasn’t heard of Swan Lake or the Nutcracker) with a vocabulary that is immediately visually pleasing and easy to understand. Modern dance is relatively new, and contemporary is even newer, but that makes them no less valid.
Training in ballet is a great way to get an introduction to dance, but it is by no means the end all, be all of it.
- DANCERS NEED TO BE DAINTY AND GRACEFUL AND FEMININE
Hell no. Dancers need to be strong, solid, muscular, and powerful. It all depends on the type of dance. Certain companies and pieces require different qualities.
Look at how interesting and cool this is! There is a grace and coordination about them, but it’s not like they’re trying to look like they’re floating around.
Black Label Movement is always a great example of how dance doesn’t have to be dainty or graceful to look really fucking awesome. I auditioned for them (and got a callback but was not cast in the final piece) and they wanted to see you run, jump up, and fall from mid-air. It was such fun and physically intense audition.
- YOUR CAREER WILL BE SHORT LIVED AND YOU HAVE TO STOP PERFORMING WHEN YOU’RE AROUND 30
This sort of used to be true. Injuries take out dancers, as with other athletes, all the time. There aren’t many 60 year old football players. Dance can be really hard on your body.
But as time has gone on, more and more dancers are going to college and getting their BAs in dance or physical education or exercise science before they even start their careers. For these degrees, you usually have to take anatomy and biomechanics. Dancers and choreographers are becoming more aware of how the body works.
Somatics is a very important part of dance, and there is an emphasis on moving in a healthy way. Gone are the days when the 180 degree turn out is forced. Dancers are now being taught to work with their bodies instead of fighting against them. Dance is safer than ever, and dancers are performing longer and longer.