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To our non-dancer friends: 10 things to know about us

woman breakdancing on street

When it comes to the life of a dancer, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Whether it’s our family, friends or even complete strangers, non-dancers don’t always understand our career. We know you’ve received questions and comments like, “You got a degree in dance?” “But how do you earn a living?” “I thought dancers didn’t eat cookies.” And the worst of all: “Show us something! Just do a little dance for us.” Sure, they might mean well, but this unwitting commentary can drive us crazy! So, to help educate and demystify things for all those non-dancers out there, here’s a quick list of 10 facts you might not realize about dancers:

#1. Having a career doing what we love is both a blessing and a curse.

As dancers, we are so invested in our career that it is hard to separate our work life from our personal life and feelings of self-worth.

#2. We are judged every day.

Discriminatory factors that are illegal and frowned upon in the corporate world are often commonplace when it comes to casting. Gender, race, weight and age are all “fair game” — and sometimes unfairly so.

#3. We are athletes.

Our careers depend on our body — our strength, flexibility, endurance and ability. Professional dancers must train, nourish, recover and care for their body just as much as Olympic athletes. And, we have to make our work look easy!

#4. We have to eat…a lot! 

Like in the modeling world and even in professional sports, dancers can succumb to eating disorders since our work is determined, in some ways, by our physicality. But to thrive as dancers (especially in professional careers), we have to fuel our body with a lot of nutritious food to keep us going strong through long days of class, rehearsals and performances.

#5. Don’t ask us to show off. 

Dancing is our craft, our cherished artistry. While we might like to let loose on the dance floor of a wedding or at a party, we don’t like to be pestered into performing. We prefer to save that for the stage!

#6. We’re not vain. 

Yes, we look in the mirror a lot. But that’s because the mirror is our tool for perfecting alignment, gesture and precision choreography. We’re not oogling ourselves in our reflection but rather analyzing and adjusting our body to achieve correct technical shapes and style.

#7. Our schedules are much more than a typical 9-5. 

Professional ballet dancers take class every morning, rehearse for upward of six hours during the day and then perform for packed houses at night. The same agenda goes for Broadway performers and dancers in most modern companies. Factor in time for rehabilitative exercise like Pilates, yoga or physical therapy, eating several nutritious meals throughout the day and, of course, giving our body times to rest and recuperate. That’s a packed schedule!

#8. The hustle is hard. 

Think of going to auditions as having three or four job interviews in a single day, each of which is completely different. Sounds like your worst nightmare, right? Well, that’s what the hustle is like for a dancer to land his or her next job. We have to show up poised, eager and “perfect” for every audition. As you can imagine, it is exhausting!

#9. Ballerinas don’t just study ballet. 

And this goes for every kind of dancer. Not only do we cross-train in terms of exercise (cardio, strength-training and flexibility), but we also study numerous styles of dance. Ballet dancers often take partnering and modern classes. And nowadays, you’ll see almost every style of dance on Broadway, so you should try and study them all! Versatility can inform a dancer’s virtuosity. We never stop learning.

#10. We’re passionate about what we do. 

And we’re more than happy to educate others and to share our experiences, so long as the person asking is respectful and understanding. A dancer’s life may seem very strange to an outsider, especially because of how difficult it can be. We work hard enough in our art form every day that the last thing we want to spend our energy on is defending it to other people.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly okay to want to learn about life as a dancer. It appears glamorous and mysterious and like every little girl’s dream come true. But just as you would converse with someone about their career, their personal hobbies, their finances or their health (because, as a dancer, these are all strangely intertwined!), be attentive, understanding and open-minded. 

By Mary Callahan of Dance Informa.

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