I graduated from George Mason University 5 ½ years ago earning a BS in Economics and BFA in dance. I was part of the honors program, took 22 credit semesters (including 2-3 one credit classes), had two on campus jobs, almost always had night rehearsals, and managed to graduate summa cum laude with distinctions in both degrees.
I went straight from graduation to my first job, and have been working ever since.
My profession has taken me to over 40 countries, I have an IRA and an additional investment account, I get to have an impact on people’s lives, and I love my profession.
What do I do, you might ask?
Am I an economic consultant for an international company? Perhaps I’m a data analyst. Maybe I am a financial advisor. I could even be pursuing my passion for environmental economics and trying to save the oceans.
Good guesses, but all are wrong.
I am a dancer.
“What does that mean?”
“Have you tried out for So You Think You Can Dance?”
“So like, what do you DO?”
“You mean at clubs?”
“No I mean, what is your JOB?”
80% of the time no one understands that a career in dance is a real thing, and I get confused looks with a slight smile trying to cover up an undeniable “oh poor dear” look. I’ve lost count of how many people have asked me after a show if I was doing an internship or if it was just for fun. The concept of getting paid to do something like dance on a stage is as mystical as a unicorn, and surely not a “real job.”
I find it equally fascinating, confusing, and upsetting.
Performers spend years and years filled with literal blood, sweat, and tears to perfect their passion, and it requires a discipline and drive that is rare to find in the workplace. The training regimen far exceeds other areas of study as performers strive to blend athleticism, technique, and artistic nuances to create something thrilling and beautiful. We need deft social skills, an unrelenting work ethic, the ability to work in a team, stellar time management… and the “special skills” list can go on and on and on. All this hard work goes into putting on an incredible performance that has the power to spark thought, lead to change, and impact the lives of those who see it.
In the 2018-2019 season, nearly 15 million people attended a Broadway show, 52% of Americans attended a live music event in 2018, and the Kennedy Center usually hosts 2,200 different arts performances a year.
Yet, it’s not a “real” job?
“Real jobs” include teaching, finance, law enforcement, nursing, engineering, other STEM related fields and 9-5esq, Monday through Friday jobs that are stable, reliable, and may or may not involve a cubicle. The hard work will earn you a mortgage, a family, the weekends off, perhaps a vacation every year, and a comfortable retirement.
Don’t get me wrong, all those things are great, and I will always support people pursuing what makes them happy and fulfilled. But those aren’t the only options. “Traditional” shouldn’t equate to “real”, and artists deserve the same professional respect as someone who wears a suit to work every day.
If society doesn’t accept a job in the arts as “real,” these fields will wilt away and die. And unfortunately, that appears to be the track we’re headed towards.
American culture is flying down a technology driven rabbit hole fueled by narrow-minded capitalism. The goal is to get the most we can with the least amount of effort in the least amount of time. It’s totally rational, but wildly dangerous. We are becoming dependent on the dopamine rush elicited by the “cha-ching” of a paycheck or cash register. Being fueled by “things” rather than ideas, relationships, and experiences creates a slippery slope of always needing more. Got the house? Now it’s time for the car! Cool, you have a BMW, but imagine how happy you’ll be with a new boat! Our consumer highs from quick fixes are fleeting, and we constantly need more and more to get that craved dopamine rush.
There’s an unbelievable amount of wealth in today’s society, but are we proportionately that much happier than humans of the past? I doubt it. American culture needs to break free from the wealth trap, and I think we need to look to the arts for help.
Music, dance, and cave art have been around for over 50,000 years, serving as vital means of communication and story telling. When writing didn’t exist, knowledge could be passed down in movement and rhythm. Today, the arts bring entertainment and joy while providing a unique medium of communication to spark social change and giving voices to those who are usually silent. Art moves, changes, and impacts both the participants and the viewers, making it a powerful cultural tool for fueling growth.
While the things that are “essential” allow us to live by providing food for the body, the things that are “nonessential” is what makes life worth living by providing food for the soul.
True happiness and satisfaction require the total self to be nourished, and acknowledging the value and “realness” of the arts is the first step towards fulfillment.
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New York City has taken me on quite the journey. It’s been amazing, terrible, uplifting, and defeating. And I’d do it all again.