We all get to a point in our careers when we have to start making tough decisions about dance jobs. This means something different for each and every one of us. For those of us with Lady Luck on our side, we are choosing what dance opportunities we still have time to do because there’s just not enough hours in a day. For many of us, though, the dance world wreaks havoc and barely gives us a morsel to nibble on. One thing is certain, we all find ourselves riding this spectrum like a roller coaster and it seems like we will never get off.

Letting a great opportunity pass you by does not make you unwilling or ungrateful

So what happens when we are given a great chance to represent ourselves as artists, but there is that one thing that stands in the way of jumping on board with a gung-ho attitude for life? This is when we all begin to overcommit ourselves and become overwhelmed. As dancers, we are trained to want to do, or at least try, everything that comes our way. We have to pry ourselves off of that gig because we just can’t say no. But that’s the crux of the matter—it’s OK to say no! Letting a great opportunity pass you by does not make you unwilling or ungrateful. It shows maturity and value for your own career and wellbeing.

When faced with this challenge of choice, I suggest you ask yourself a series of serious questions (and get some honest answers, not just the ones you want to hear). Sit yourself down, shine a light in your face, and prepare to tell yourself the truth, and nothing but the truth, as if under oath.

How directly (or indirectly) will this opportunity benefit my career?

When answering question number one, you have to allow yourself to be a little selfish. Make it all about you. Is this job at hand going to benefit your dreams as a dancer, teacher, or choreographer? Without us realizing it, we could be making career choices based on a comparison of someone else’s journey. We think about that one dancer, or that one choreographer, who did that one thing that sounds a lot like this opportunity that was given to us just now, and we believe that it’s the right thing to do because it created success for that one person. Don’t fall into that trap. Yes, that gig may have been a game-changer for that dancer, but that doesn’t mean that this similar (or same) gig is the right way (or only way) to build your career. If it does not hold up as a stepping stone to one of your career goals, maybe it is beneficial to let that ship sail and practice how to decline a job.

Is this going to challenge me artistically or otherwise?

As a wise mentor in dance once told me, “If you aren’t moving forward, you’re just moving backward.” I’ll insert my two cents here and say I think she wasn’t necessarily correct, but she had the right intention. In my mind, if you aren’t moving forward, you could be perpetually doggy paddling in the shallow end of the pool, staying right where you are. And that is comfortable. The familiar is comfortable. But take a close look at this opportunity right in front of your nose and decide if it will be the scary swim instructor to drag you out into the relentless deep end. If so, you should probably perform a Tom Daly Olympic dive right into that opportunity because it is a challenge that is going to create a pathway for growth and, in time, allow you to flourish.

Compensation is key, but at what cost?

We have all been there. A job comes around with a paycheck too good to pass up and so grand it’s irresistible. The paycheck is one that you envision being presented to you on a stage gracefully and fabulously by Vanna White. In an ideal world, this is the guest performance at Prix de Lausanne for the Ballet Dancer or the choreographic residency at Nederlands Dans Theater for the Contemporary Choreographer. It’s the big bucks for your ideal job. But in a more realistic world, the job with the sparkling paycheck may be something we are a little less fond of. Or maybe it is not the stepping stone job that will guide you to your success. If the main reason you would consider jumping on an opportunity is the rate of pay, consider what you might be giving up in order to make it happen. Will you have to give up something more beneficial to your overarching goal? To help you decide if the pay is essential to accepting a job, check out these guidelines on managing money for dancers.

Honestly, will this make me happy?

We are all here because somewhere down the line, we experienced complete elation while we danced. Just a small euphoric moment can really last in fueling our careers. But why settle for just a few chances for happiness when we can decide that each opportunity we take sparks joy? Take the time to reflect on what drives you to dance, teach, or choreograph and decipher if the presented opportunity is going to contribute to your happiness. At the end of the day, our own happiness is the key to leading our most fulfilled lives.

...it is a challenge that is going to create a pathway for growth

In the thick of it, stay committed to your decision. As motivational speaker Brian Tracy said, “Decide what you want, and then act as if it were impossible to fail.” When you decide that this is the right opportunity for you, make sure to thoroughly invest yourself to ensure the greatest experience with the most growth for you artistically. If you decide this is not the right thing for you, or just not the right timing, then you are keeping the gates open for what is going to be best. It’s OK to let this one pass you by, as long as the reasons behind doing so are just. Everyone has a different journey in dance, and when an opportunity comes your way, you will know in your heart if it is the right time to take it and run.

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