Either way, as a dancer, you need it.
There’s something incredible about being a part of a team. Unfortunately, it seems to have lost a little gloss in the recent dance world talk of ‘making it’ and being ‘elite’. There’s a ton of focus lately in dance and motivational quotes too on ‘being you’. And I’m all for this one of course… but being part of a team and being you? One doesn’t exclude the other.
This is where I see dancers getting confused: YES. Be yourself. You don’t need to look, dance or be the same as anyone else.
This doesn't mean: Be alone, go far away from others, leave them behind, disconnect and separate yourself. Note: If we do this for more than a short amount of time, we miss out on critical qualities we need as dancers. Successful dancers. Successful humans. The dance world is a web of connections. So is dance.
Being part of a team doesn’t take away from you being you.
So, lately I see a trend towards picking and choosing which classes to take depending on what we think will make us look good, where we feel most comfortable and what we decide is ‘on point’ in the here and now. I see a movement towards independent training, as in leaving the dance studio at younger ages to pursue freelance training and opportunities. There are lots of opinions on this one - I get it - for some dancers and their families this feels like the best option and I can’t speak to every individual circumstance. What I’m focused on here is the risk when dancers separate themselves. I also see dancers who forget where they came from and others underrate being part of a cast - unless they’re the soloist.
These movements and trends concern me for a number of reasons. Top of the list are these:
- There’s a lot you can’t learn alone AND
- ’Being you’ isn’t about disconnecting from everyone else.
Another flashing neon sign here for me says that - sure, if we choose to separate ourselves we might escape the tough parts of being around others, we get to choose what we want and when we want it, we avoid the discomfort of regular feedback, accountability and dealing with stuff we don’t always love…
But none of this prepares you for living and thriving in the dance world. Or the world at all for that matter. Most of these things we might like to avoid are the exact place where the best lessons live. We might not always get what we want but chances are we’ll get some things we need.
Being a dancer is a lot about working with, for, around and alongside others. There’s a village of people working towards the same vision. Everybody’s responsible for bringing the best of themselves. It’s a team.
Being part of a team doesn’t take away from you being you. It actually makes you better at it because you learn some of the best, toughest, truest things and the most about yourself when working as a team. Lessons you can’t learn in a bubble, on your own.
What I can say is this… Every dance opportunity in this world involves being a part of something bigger than you are. Even a soloist or principal dancer understands that they are one piece of the puzzle. Even if there aren’t any other dancers involved, there are production people, casting, choreography, artistic direction, musicians… there’s a collection of people to whom you are connected. Let’s face it, even Academy-award-winning Actresses & Actors have a list of people to thank, a tribe who got them to that moment. AND there’s also an audience waiting to connect with you.
Every dance opportunity in this world involves being a part of something bigger than you are.
When you consistently train in a cast, studio, team and/or with this in mind you learn that:
- It isn’t all about you. And you keep your awareness of the bigger picture.
- There are times you will work on a piece that you don’t like. And work out how to deal with this, in dance and in life.
- There is a way to work with people you don’t love – a way to respect and cope with their process. And still keep yours.
And these skills and qualities go hand-in-hand with being a dancer. To be a working dancer you need to have a handle on more than just the physical dance part. You have to unpack what goes into the word professional.
Knowing real connection makes for believable connection onstage too
Beyond all this learning, the dance journey in general is a bumpy road. A creative, unpredictable, rewarding and lonely one in the tough moments. Having a team, knowing your village, connecting with other people means we get to share how we feel, share the experience, the excitement, the nerves, these ups and the downs. We ground them, get them in the open and remind each other of why we started this journey in the first place. Respecting where you’ve come from, where you’re going and the dance landscape. The solo moments and featured roles will come and go between you. And that’s ok; you realize they don’t define you. I said connections earlier… I didn’t mean connections to take advantage of, I meant community, crossed paths, the stuff we all have in common and the way we all seem to speak this dance language. In a village we get better at sharing and connecting. We know it from a real place. It’s kinda golden.
Here’s more gold. Knowing real connection makes for believable connection onstage too - with your work, your cast and with the audience. Yep. It really does. Because how we can possibly hope to represent authentic connection onstage if we don’t know it as humans?
Being part of the dance world is being part of a creative legacy, a life and history that has been around way before us. It is always about being a part of something.
When you can celebrate someone else. When you recognize the gold in the moments without the prize or success of a team without needing the credit. When you can be you and be part of a team. You might notice that your team and your village have actually become your dance family.