BY EMMALY WIEDERHOLT
“Unfortunately, dance isn’t really a part of my life anymore. I’ve loved doing this yearly article and I appreciate all your hard work. I don’t want to string along your awesome blog since I’m not dancing seriously anymore.”
A young woman wrote the above to me after I emailed her asking for an update on her dance life. For the past four years, I’ve been following the same group of young women from year to year, asking them each summer to share with me where dance has taken them in the past year, what they’ve learned, and what new roles dance plays in their lives. When I started the project in 2013, I envisioned creating some sort of log chronicling the trajectory of aspiring dancers from the outside in. My hope is to show an evolution of sorts, demonstrating the rapid growth in perspective that comes during one’s teens and 20s.
I know it sounds naïve, but I was a little heartbroken when I read this young woman’s email. Of course, I don’t expect every respondent to professionally dance, but to stop completely? The line that gets me is “dancing seriously,” as if there’s no gray in dance: Either you pursue dance seriously, or you don’t dance, but dancing un-seriously isn’t an option.
This past week, I had the pleasure of returning to San Francisco, where I danced “seriously” from 2008 to 2013, to perform a one-woman show, “Cover Girl,” choreographed by my good friend Malinda LaVelle. It was presented by the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance as part of its summer intensive performance series, so many aspiring young dancers were in the audience.
I believe a summer intensive is a wonderful opportunity for a young dancer, no matter their level of seriousness. It’s a wonderful thing to ask a lot of one’s body, brain and creative capacity, and to do so with peers who push one another’s personal limits. Though I’m not directly involved in the program, I hope each of the young dancers has a positive experience that catalyzes a lifetime of movement and creativity.
But if they are all hoping to “go pro,” well, I can see obstacles. There aren’t many long-term, full-time performance jobs in the field of dance right now. There are opportunities that often lead to other opportunities, but just as often don’t. In terms of financial and domestic sustainability, dance doesn’t deliver. As I work my way into my 30s, I increasingly appreciate the value of making sustainable occupational choices.
But I also appreciate the value of throwing oneself into non-long-term, non-full-time endeavors. Not everything has to be “serious.” And who defines what “serious” dance is anyway: Which pursuits in dance are “serious” and which are just elaborate hobbies?
I have four other young women who continue to respond to my yearly query, and their introspective and hope-filled responses will be published on Stance on Dance over the next two weeks. I’ll give this much away: They all aspire to dance professionally, and they are all nearing the end of college when they will have to do the very difficult task of setting up a life in dance.
While I wish them all the success and adventure that lifestyle can afford, should the time come when they want families or mortgages, and maybe dance gigs don’t seem as shiny, I (so desperately, so dearly) hope they find other ways to dance.
You see, I believe in dance. I believe it is not all that serious, and therefore can be malleably inserted in any fashion into any person’s life, at any age, of any ability. I don’t judge anyone who needs to break from the competitive world of companies/auditions/body type/injuries/hierarchy. But I do hope that seed — feeling creative in a moving body — stays intact. I’ve said it many times, and I’ll continue to spread my gospel: Dance is BIG, and there are as many ways to be a dancer as there are ways to be human.
This is what I responded to the young lady who told me she wasn’t dancing seriously anymore, and what I would respond to anyone who doesn’t want to climb ladders in dance anymore:
“I wish you all the best in your endeavors, and I very much hope dance re-enters your life at some point, in an utterly delightful way you’d never have imagined it would.”
I am utterly and completely serious in the earnestness of my wish.
Photo by Linda Carfagno, from “Cover Girl”