Being a professional dancer is a career that most people can only dream about. For some dancers, explaining the lifestyle of a dance career at a family gathering is a little bit tricky -- especially during a year where the pandemic has forced much of the dance world to shut down. Family may not understand how the entertainment industry works, or why you aren’t famous yet, or even what a professional dancer really does. It’s not all tutus and sequins, but to someone who is not connected to dance or the arts, these could be their only associations. Additionally, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the indefinite closure of live performing arts, your family may also be confused as to why you choose to stay in the arts.

When holidays and gatherings start to feel like interrogations, it can keep you and your families from truly enjoying your time together. However, there are definitely strategies to use, and boundaries to set that can help you to assuage any fears, and leave you feeling peaceful all holiday season long!

Keeping your dream job and a positive relationship with your family may take setting boundaries with family.

Being a professional dancer isn’t just about dancing, it involves auditioning, side-hustling, and gigs. Trying to explain every gig may not be the most effective way to share your life with your loved ones. Explaining what post-modern movement collectives, ballet company rankings, or the commercial and Broadway audition circuits are may be a place to start. Unlike most office or conventional jobs, where you interview and then have a job for years, dancers usually spend chunks of time in and out of productions. People in non-entertainment jobs may see this time off as an indicator of failure, but in reality, it is just a part of life as a dancer or performer. To take it further, explaining how auditioning is a part of the job can reduce the implication that time not spent in production is ‘time-off’. Auditioning takes a lot of time, similar to networking or interviewing, and similarly to those, regardless of the results, they typically are good experiences and great places to meet people and learn.

Another clarification or explanation that may help your family better understand you and your career choice can be how you manage your finances. Explaining the different jobs you do as supplemental income may be helpful in illustrating that although dance is your main career path, you are still savvy with your finances and able to support yourself through side hustles. Again, many fears or worries families may have can be related to perceived financial insecurity, so indicating that you are on top of your financial health can help alleviate concerns in this category; therefore setting a conversational boundary with your family and fending off unwanted questioning.

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Attitude can go a long way, especially in the eyes of people who have known and loved you all your life. Talking about the dance jobs or experiences you’ve had enthusiastically can be a great way to share your life with your family so they can be just as excited for you, and invested in your success. Sharing photos or videos related to projects, photoshoots, installations, or anything else can help them tangibly see your career progress, as well as be impressed! Finally, in this age of uncertainty in the arts, projecting a hopeful and upbeat stance on the return of the entertainment industry after a Covid-19 vaccine development shows perseverance, maturity, and dedication to your career, admirable traits your family will likely value and respect.

These specific strategies may be helpful for some family gatherings, but there is always a chance that they won’t stop a relative from asking too many vexing questions. When your family seems unsupportive of your dance career, consider this: Are they concerned about your financial stability? Or is pursuing a nontraditional career puzzling to them? Sometimes, it may be difficult for your family to see you go through ups and downs in your dance career; they may not understand why you put yourself through the struggles of a physically and emotionally draining career. Take a minute to think about your answer. It may have to do with a love for the art, for performing, and/or for helping people to understand their own feelings through movement. If this emotional fulfillment is what makes it worth it for you, and what makes this your passion, then share that with them. For a lot of dancers, it is worth sacrificing a comfortable, reliable 9-5 lifestyle to pursue their dreams. Keeping your cool while sharing your feelings with your family can help them understand you, respect your career, and support you in the end.

While gaining your family’s approval and admiration is important, acknowledging your feelings and pursuing your dreams of a fulfilling career is crucial.

When all is said and done, your decision to live and work as a professional dancer is something you may not wish to change, regardless of your family’s judgements or commentary. Keeping your dream job and a positive relationship with your family may take setting boundaries with family. Similarly to how some families stay away from subjects such as politics or religion, you and your relatives can come to agree on topics to avoid that are related to career and finances at any upcoming family gatherings. Another strategy to employ is to succinctly end conversations pertaining to subjects you would wish to steer away from. Keeping things short and sweet satisfies nosy relatives while relieving you from a potential argument or lecture. Changing the subject can also help move the conversation away from your personal life and towards more small talk. These strategies could all reduce opportunities for stress and hurt feelings on both sides.

Best of luck this holiday season, dancers. It’s been a rough year, and while the stress of pandemic-related unemployment, lost opportunities, and upcoming holiday pressures at family gatherings can seem overwhelming, just think the hardships will only teach us to be stronger and more resilient. While gaining your family’s approval and admiration is important, acknowledging your feelings and pursuing your dreams of a fulfilling career is crucial. As long as you are being true to yourself, to your passions, and to your own happiness, stay proud, and keep on the path you’re on.

As we dive into 2021, let’s hold on to our faith that this coming year will be a year of new opportunities for performance and creation, a time to explore different paths and avenues -- a chance to dance again.