It’s safe to say that we’ve all experienced at least one (if not all) of the three 'A’ words at some stage in our lives. Even though dancers can come across as overly confident, happy and mostly positive, the truth is we can easily slip into a depressive/anxious state just as easily as we can get up on stage and beam from ear to ear.
The thing is, after a lifetime of hard work and then some, the ‘dream job’ can often feel like a let down.
Yep, I said it. Because it DOES happen. Being paid to dance, whether it’s on a cruise ship sailing through the Caribbean or in 42nd Street on West End - being paid to dance can sometimes feel like a cruel test. 'How long can I physically do this for? Will I ever get a pay-rise? Am I going to get sick of dancing the same steps for the next 8 months straight? Do I even like the show I’m in? Do I like my cast? Am I being ungrateful?’ These are some of the thoughts many of us have experienced.
I have one thing to say to all of the dancers reading this now.
It’s OK to have these thoughts.
You’re allowed to say no; to jobs, conditions, pay etc. You’re allowed to want to be in a better show. You’re allowed to take the time to rest. You’re allowed to moan to your friends and no, it doesn’t mean you are ungrateful, it means you are human.
Dancers are trained to suck it up. We smile through pain, we follow instructions and we don’t question authority. I know one dancer who smashed her front tooth on stage mid-show and instead of getting medical attention, proceeded to finish the show with blood pouring from her mouth at the request of the director who held on to a piece of her tooth while he watched her continue a 10 minute Can Can. True story.
We not only suck up physical pain, we suck up our emotional pain. When you find out you didn’t get the job you wanted after a gruelling audition process, knowing you only just missed out, you put on a brave face and bear it. It can take weeks before you start to feel like yourself again. Before you know it, it’s time for another audition and you question whether or not you want to put yourself through the emotional trauma that is auditioning, all over again. (See previous blog post.) Hello darkness my old friend, otherwise known as: Anxiety.
If we let our anxiety get the better of us, we can become angsty, bitter and cynical. We are angry with the industry and it’s ridiculous and unfair standards. It’s easy to do this. I’ve done it. I know plenty of dancers who’ve gone/are going through phases of this or who are permanently just, well, over it. Some of us aren’t happy-go-lucky all the time, some of us are counting down the days left on our contract because we’ve had enough and some of us have decided to give up the dream altogether and move on to something else.
This is also, OK.
You are worth more than what you do. If something no longer makes you happy, it’s OK. Priorities change, people change and in my opinion, change is always good.
There are also dancers who desperately want to perform again but are no longer able to. Whether it’s because of an injury or circumstance, this can feel like the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to you. Welcome Anguish. There is no quick fix when you’re forced to give up your dreams and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Like any loss, healing takes time and you can never replace what was lost. To my friends who have dealt/are dealing with this, I’m so proud of you for moving forward. Scary as it is.
Speaking openly about these common thoughts and emotions is very important to me. I want dancers to be having more discussions about expectations vs reality. The topic of mental health doesn’t appear to be discussed or even mentioned in dance schools - this needs to change. Young aspiring dancers are made to feel grateful and lucky to get ANY job because so many other dancers want it. It’s frowned upon to complain or speak up if you’re unhappy in your job. Some dancers feel like they don’t have the right to feel sad or let down. I’m saying right now that you have every right, because not all jobs are as fabulous as they appear. Even though they are always portrayed that way (especially on social media).
I’m fully aware that not every dancer would have enjoyed the contracts I’ve done as much as I did. I became very aware of that straight away. We are all different and have unique expectations and experiences. I want people to know that even though I’ve had wonderful dance jobs, not all of them were smooth sailing by any means. I love what I do but that doesn’t mean I don’t get down or feel sad or question the fate of the whole industry (so deep). Dancers are human after all. Dancing isn’t who we are, it’s just what we do, for as long as we WANT to do it.
Let’s be real and speak up about our experiences so that we can create positive change and hopefully better jobs for our future dancers.
I still want to do it.