I have this conversation with teachers, choreographers, and dancers often: When it comes to training, is it better for dancers to focus on excelling in one area, or to be more well-versed in multiple? I began writing on this topic thinking I would make a pros and cons list for both sides of the question, only to realize that after really digging, there were very few cons to either side. There used to be, and perhaps still is, the idea that being a jack of all trades means you are good at many things, but not great at any. On the other hand, if you specialize in just one area, you may not be seen as flexible or adaptable to change. How and when to spend your time and training really comes down to two thing: Defining your career goals and being authentic to yourself. Let’s look at a few pros and one potential con of both sides.
Being a versatile dancer
- Keeps a wide range of opportunities available to you. It will never be a negative to have more knowledge, comprehension, and ability to execute technique in a wide range.
- Many companies and shows specialize in more than one style or genre. Being someone with training in multiple areas keeps you more hire-able. This also expands beyond just dance, and what else you can bring to the table.
- Training in multiple areas of dance supports you overall as an artist and many potential career paths while also gaining you more exposure.
There is a possibility that being a jack of all trades, and never settling on one area, you could become bored or feel stretched too thin.
Versatility can go beyond being able to say that you can do something but include the willingness to try.
Having a more focused specialized training in a certain style
- Focus on your strengths. Beyond where your heart lies, you need to be honest with what your strong suits are. It’s important to acknowledge what your goals are and where your passions lie.
- Be smart about your time and money you’re spending on your training. If your goal truly is specific to one area, then that’s where you should be, every day.
- Although necessary to keep doors open, knowing what you want will keep you focused, realistic and driven.
As they say, putting all of your eggs in one basket can lead to disappointment and the fear of failure.
So, how do you identify your strengths?
Like any other advice I give students, take from as many teachers as you can, audition as much as possible, and ask for feedback. Do your homework on who you’re working with. There are a lot of well-known names out there that are wonderful dancers, but that does not automatically make them good educators. Know who you are getting your information from, just like you would research a doctor. Take as many master classes as you can, especially if you don’t have access or the means to regular professional classes.
Even if you focus on one particular dance genre to train in, every choreographer and teacher is going to be different. Versatility can go beyond being able to say that you can do something but include the willingness to try. It will help with picking up choreography quickly, easily adjusting to change, and supporting you finding your own unique style and voice within new movement. It’s kind of like only learning something on one side. Be the dancer that’s already reversing things in your head, as well as able to raise your hand when a choreographer asks who can do something on the left. Swimmers still train in all strokes, but there’s a reason for the ones they pick to race.
Go beyond the dance studio. Be more informed about all of the technical aspects such as lighting design, costume design, stage management, as well as the practical skills it takes to be on a run crew. These skills can also help supplement your income while in between other jobs, while still keeping you in the field.
I knew someone that kept auditioning for a company but wasn’t quite ready. She was given feedback on what to work on, especially when they learned that getting into that company was her main goal. The company suddenly needed someone to run the light board on their tour. She had done it before and offered her assistance. This allowed her to tour with them, take company class with them, and get to know them on a personal level. After that experience she was able to improve in the areas she needed to, and ultimately made it into the company. I realize this is a unique story, but it is a prime example of why having more skills will always keep you more hire-able. Even if it’s not the foot in the door you want, it’s a foot in the door.
Dancers are forever students. So, as long as you’re remaining curious, committed, and consistent with your training, you’re always going to grow. At the end of the day, choreographers are seeking dancers who are willing, flexible, passionate, and who contribute something unique and authentic. So focus on your training, in whatever path you decide, but make sure you’re spending as much time on being humble, kind and true to yourself. Honor your dreams, focus on your strengths, and see if you can turn your “yes, but” into a “yes, and.”