Editorial Note: Each August for the past three years, I’ve asked dance artists at different points in their careers what “making it” means to them. Please join us in looking at what “making it” means as a dancer, artist and human.
BY TRACEY MUNN
Dance has been a major focal point of my life for the past 21 years. I truly believe I didn’t choose dance, but that at seven years old in my first year of dance class, it chose me. I wasn’t a natural by any means, but I was immediately hooked, and I’ve been following this passion ever since. Having this extreme passion for anything is a gift in itself and, in that way, I feel I’ve made it as a dancer because I know I have poured my blood, sweat, and tears into this art form.
But what does “making it in dance” really even mean to me? Does it matter? By society’s narrow standards, “making it in dance” is usually measured by frequently booking high paid jobs on Broadway, Radio City, well-known companies and/or TV. By these standards, I haven’t made it quite yet. Although I would love to say I’ve achieved all of those things, my entire view on this subject has changed dramatically from when I was a young dancer, to when I was in college, to now. (Reality had to hit sooner or later.)
When I first began dancing, the physical, emotional and social rewards this art form gave me in return were enough for me to dance as much as humanly possible and devote my life to it. I developed a deep commitment and passion for this craft, and it became part of my identity. When you identify so strongly with your art form, it can be hard to separate your success as a person and your success as a dancer. The problem with putting so much weight and pressure on achieving goals you work relentlessly to reach is that sometimes the rejection and let down, even just the process, can be terribly disappointing… even crippling. It can also be electrifying when you’re on the other side. Dancers are taught to never let rejection infiltrate and to be tough warriors in the battlefield, but after my six years in New York City I understand how this is much easier said than done.
I’ve had many positive and negative experiences in the effort of pursuing dance professionally, yet in reflecting on them, I always feel like I could have and might still be able to do more to push myself further. The truth of the matter is I may have a few years left to surprise myself and make “it” happen. I will never close myself off to new opportunities to challenge myself and grow. At the same time, the moment I judge my successes by society’s standards, it’s always a losing battle. I’m not “society.” The need to redefine what making it means to me personally has become not only important but necessary in moving forward.
I’ve gotten to a new point in my life where I’ve finally decided I no longer have to “make it in dance” in order to make it in life, even though my life and dance are still deeply connected. I realize I fell in love with dance because it is empowering, enlightening and freeing in mind, body and spirit. Obsessing over making it in the industry just cheapens the sincere reason for doing dance in the first place. This being said, my new idea of “making it in dance” is being happy with dance in my life. Feelings of resentment and failure towards dance only lead to more resentment, and I’m so proud of all I’ve done. I realize it is more important for me to let dance remain a positive outlet than to use it to define my career or my self-worth. Teaching dance has been extremely rewarding and has helped me to see the importance of giving more merit to the journey than the destination. I’m finally learning to accept the simple fact that even though my role in the dance world may be changing, my presence is still important. I have years of experience and knowledge to share and I will always have a community of people who understand me. We are reinventing ourselves every day. Whether it seems like luck, talent or hard work that might make a person say they’ve finally “made it,” it’s really just a frame of mind. I could basically rewrite this whole paper with a positive twist on how I have made it, but ultimately it’s all perspective.
Tracey Munn graduated from the University of Arizona with a BFA in dance performance, and has received teaching certifications in both yoga and Pilates. She has over 17 years of training in ballet, modern, jazz and tap, and has experience with many other dance genres including hip hop, musical theater and African. She studied and performed with dance intensives such as Rimini en Danza and the American Dance Festival, and has trained as a scholarship recipient, assistant and invitational week student for the Radio City Rockette Summer Intensive. For over three years, Tracey was a featured member of Naganuma Dance Company, and currently participates in outreach performances and charity work as a member of ALMA Dance, a New York based non-profit company. She performs at special interactive private and corporate events with Total Entertainment, and enjoys working with independent choreographers, actors and musicians on dance-based projects around New York City.