I recently landed on a social media post in which the writer was examining her dance career. She felt that both her performing and her teaching careers were at a dead end and were a huge disappointment. Things weren’t going the way she had hoped they would, and she was contemplating giving it all up and moving on to something new.
One of the best things about social media is the contacts that we make with colleagues in our field. One of the worst things about social media is the contacts that we make with colleagues in our field. The support, encouragement and sympathy that we may get when making a post such as I’ve described can be immeasurably helpful. It allows us to feel that we are not alone, that others are struggling too and that they are “there” (electronically, at least) to help, support and understand us. On the other hand, social media provide an endless stream of information about , images of, and videos from of our colleagues’ careers that inevitably lead to comparisons, frustrations and envy.
I know a lot of dance industry professionals. A lot. And I don’t know one person who has told me that they are truly and completely satisfied with their career; not one. Everyone seems to be disappointed in some way. I know a dancer with many Broadway credits who is still disappointed that he never could get into ABT. I know a former principal dancer with NYCB who is terribly disappointed in how her career unfolded once she retired from the company. I know a teacher who has taught at every major school in NYC including Steps on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center who actually left the industry because she couldn’t handle the envy she experienced when her students went on to better performing careers than she had herself (the very goal of teaching, in my opinion). NO ONE THAT I HAVE EVER MÉT SEEMS TO BE COMPLETELY SATISFIED. Obviously some people will be more “successful” than others. That is life. And life isn’t fair. But regardless of the level of “success”, it seems that the disappointment hurts just as much.
I would also like to remind the reader that social media feeds are, for the most part, not real, accurate or honest. They are merely a representation of a career and life that the poster WANTS US TO SEE. Whether it is the omission of problems and the things that go wrong, exaggerating the high points and the things that go right, or blatant lies, social media posts are designed to illicit a reaction. Sometimes the reaction is envy; sometimes the reaction is sympathy. But never, in my experience, has a social media feed been completely accurate, truthful, honest and unbiased. That is the nature of the media. That is human nature.
So, as I sit in my apartment on this January 1, I am reflecting back on my career this past year. And what keeps rushing to the forefront of my recollections are the disappointments; the jobs I didn’t get, the classes that I lost, the students that quit, the faculty position that I felt compelled to leave. And social media keeps streaming the glittering successes of my colleagues in a never ending parade of joy in accomplishment. This is life. And life isn’t fair.
I sacrificed a lot to have a career in dance. A lot. And I can’t imagine going back to my former life, despite the disappointments that professionals in the arts experience on a daily basis. So as long as I have a studio, and a student, I will teach. I will do what I have to do to make it work. I will offer my eternal gratitude to the schools that give me my work (Ballet Academy East, New York Film Academy, New York Conservatory for Performing Arts and my beloved Joffrey Ballet School). I will miss the numerous jobs that I have lost over the years. I will continue to mourn the closing of Hamilton Dance and the tragic passing of my dear friend and teaching mentor Rita Hamilton. And I will hold fast to the teaching that I so fiercely love; regardless of the disappointments thrown in my path.
Although my performing career did not go at all the way I had hoped, and my teaching career has come with its share of disappointments, my life is still better than a life without dance. The joy that I experience from the teaching that I get to do, far outshines the disappointment that I experience from the teaching that I don’t get to do. So I will try to look at my career in 2023 with hope and optimism and I will try to look at my colleagues’ careers without jealousy or envy. And maybe I can do that. And maybe I can’t. After all, I am human. But the one thing that I know I can do, is teach.