If a professional dancer had a pointe shoe every time they were asked an extremely strange, sometimes rude, and often ignorant question about their career choice, they’d have enough for a large ballet company’s full season. Though dance gained mainstream media popularity in past years, the art is not understood by the general public as a legitimate career path, and our job losses have not been respected or protected during the pandemic. Dancers, alongside all artists, have been hit heavily with job loss, all while fighting numerous battles over the importance of our existence. With this, some questions seem to repeatedly arise, and we’ve found ourselves laughing-off, ignoring or reciting calculated responses to them. Luckily for all the non-dancers, I’ve compiled a fool-proof list of questions and comments we’re sick of, all for the greater good of achieving a better understanding of the career path dancers hold dearly, and for the industry’s need to be brought back into post-pandemic existence.
1. Yes, dance is a real profession.
You see us, and we know you do. You watched Dancing with the Stars. You bought your ticket for the Nutcracker every holiday. You took a seat at a Broadway show. You found a good spot to watch the parade at a theme park. You spent evenings at the theatre on your cruise. More recently, we entertained you during quarantine through countless Netflix shows, movies, Broadway performances, and TikToks. We’ve spent decades in music videos, commercials, TV shows, movies, concerts, award shows, sidelines, and our own shows. Almost everywhere you see us, we’re getting paid to be there. Getting paid equals a job! Therefore, dance is a real job, a real college major, and a real career path. But you already knew that, because you’ve seen us all the time!
A dancer’s success isn’t measured by appearing on a television show, dancing behind a big artist, the “principal” promotion, or performing on Broadway.
2. Asking if we’re strippers and laughing about it, isn’t funny.
We can’t comprehend why, but directly following the statement “I’m a dancer,” people often immediately allude to it being of the exotic sort. First, if that’s the only style of dance you’re familiar with, you now look uncultured because there are countless existing genres of dance and performance arts. But asking if one works in the sex industry can make someone uncomfortable, especially if it’s intended as a joke. No job deserves to be mocked, and have you tried lifting your own body weight onto a pole? You probably can’t because it’s extremely hard, and takes immense amounts of skill and strength.
3. We may not want to dance 24/7.
Just because we’re at a wedding, night club, or anywhere involving social dance, doesn’t mean we’re there to show-off our abilities and become the life of the party. Sometimes, we’ve danced all day or week and we’re attending this social event to sit and socialize. Sometimes, we are tired, sore or injured. Sometimes, that’s not our personality (not all of us are outgoing!) Dancing is our day job and we may want to be clocked-out too. Allow us to spend our free time freely, and not entertaining others for once.
4. We probably don’t know that one dancer that you know.
We may not know your dentist’s dog’s veterinarian who danced in their youth, or your nephew’s niece who owns a dance studio in a state which we’ve never visited. Sure, the world can be small at times, but there are a million people who have taken a dance class, grew up dancing, taught dance, and danced professionally, and hopefully that number grows every day! Being a dancer might seem rare to some, but there are many more men and women who have been and still are involved in the art of dance, many more than most realize. Just because you haven’t had any connection to dance, doesn’t mean everyone around you hasn’t.
5. We all don’t want the same thing.
“You should dance for Beyoncé! You’re really good! I’m sure you could ‘make it!’” “Well, thanks, but that’s not what I’m trying to do.” We definitely appreciate you encouraging us to reach for the stars, but whichever big achievement or dance job you think is the “best,” may not be our ultimate career goal, in our chosen genre, achievable in the city we reside, or feasible with our look. A dancer’s success isn’t measured by appearing on a television show, dancing behind a big artist, the “principal” promotion, or performing on Broadway. Yes, those are fantastic feats and great examples of goals, but they’re not for everyone. Dancers can have long and fulfilling careers performing however they choose. Everyone has a different path, just like all other professions.
The same goes for teaching, choreographing, and other close professions that seem as things dancers should inherently do too. Some dancers enjoy teaching, some enjoy choreographing, some enjoy both, and some enjoy neither. Every person involved in dance is unique, so let us carve our own individual paths through the industry.
No job deserves to be mocked.
6. If it looks easy, we’re good at our job.
You may not ever believe this, but we perform equally-as-difficult physical feats as the highly-praised professional athletes, but they aren’t required to look flawlessly put-together doing it. Just because we’re wearing a costume, plastered with a full-face of makeup, not appearing to be stressed or sweating, and finishing the look with a non-stop pleasant facial expression; that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be taken seriously as exceptionally talented individuals.
Though we make complicated numbers seem second-nature, you would be shocked to sit-in on an entire process it takes to achieve a flawlessly performed routine. The choreographer needs time to plan, the dancers need time to learn and perfect, there are tech rehearsals, dress rehearsals, countless takes; all while the already-memorized steps are constantly being altered, and endless notes are expected to be immediately corrected. Though in movies, the entire high-school cafeteria magically stands up and they know the dance perfectly, everything that looks natural has been meticulously crafted and practiced to appear that way. Though this heightens the misconception of our talent, value and purpose in the job market, we won’t stop making dance look easy and entertaining.
7. Discussing how ‘hard the industry is’ or ‘how much dancers make’ is a bummer.
Most dancers’ lives are filled with the typical “are you sure that’s a smart career choice?” “dancers don’t make very much, right?” and “do you have a backup plan?” People think we haven’t matured beyond our obsession with wearing tutus and tiaras, and belittle us to “soon snapping out of it to find a real job.” A lawyer, doctor, or CEO doesn’t need to prove why they chose their field, but artists do. It takes immense amounts of dedication to do what we do, not to mention the inaccuracy of the professional dancer’s salary versus the time and money spent mastering and upkeeping our craft. We wonder why you think you’re the expert on this subject, because you’re not the first person “enlightening” us on these harsh realities. We know more about our dance career choice than you do, and we wouldn’t be in this career path if the negatives outweigh the positives.
8. Bringing up old industry standards… also a bummer.
At all costs, avoid saying the sentence “I thought you had to be ____ to be a dancer.” If you’re filling in that blank with a physical trait, stop yourself from speaking and take a time-out to think about the damage you may add to someone. Whichever trait you, as a non-dancer, are noticing, just imagine how many times we’ve already heard that from people who actually matter in the industry. Professional dance continues fighting to overcome stigmas, stereotypes, and to gain inclusivity for those who didn’t necessarily fit the outdated “showgirl,” “ballerina,” or other genre-specific standards. No matter the size, height, shape, age, ethnicity: the talented and hardworking dancers are earning their right to be onstage.
Allow us to spend our free time freely, and not entertaining others for once.
Before you try asking or telling us something you think we haven’t heard, professional dancers have almost always gotten that question at some point, and we’ve gotten pretty good at defending ourselves and our craft. Instead of immediately spouting out the one potentially-offensive harsh stigma you’ve heard about dance, we’d much appreciate you admitting to not knowing much about the dance industry. That’s OK! We understand that not everybody is us, and dancers are generally willing to talk about our career choice to those who want to listen and understand. We wouldn’t be in such a tough industry if we didn’t love it, and we sincerely would love non-dancers to love it too.