The Magical Land of Making It

By Andrea Thompson

Andrea ThompsonThe idea of “making it” as a dancer is unique to each of us. If I had a book of Mad-Libs in which “making it” were the first two words of every prompt, I could tell a different (true) story from my life on each page. There is of course making it big! But the permutations better known to me are making it work, making it happen, making it through, making it out alive, making it awesome, making it suck, making it do-able, making it now, making it next time, making it last year, making it someday, making it by accident, making it according to Mom, and lastly my special nemesis: making it…almost. I’ve often wondered why there isn’t a standard section on dance resumes where you can list all the roles, jobs, and promotions you were up for, yet for inexplicable reasons did not receive.

Clearly my thoughts on the subject of “making it” are incredibly fluid. This is something I think about constantly; nearly every day is an evaluation of whether or not I can consider myself “making it” now – out of school, dancing in projects and very VERY recently signed to my first fulltime contract which has not yet begun – or still “making it almost,” as has been my status for all of eternity. (Ok, maybe just the past six years of my life that I’ve been auditioning for professional companies). Where is the shiny blue finish-line tape for me to burst through, transforming this could-be, maybe professional dancer into the magnificently confident, absolutely (albeit self-proclaimed) professional dancer? Did I somehow miss the transition into the realm of professionalism? Was I seriously in the bathroom when they explained how this stuff works? I live in the reality of a contemporary dance world where all of my professional friends work for choreographers outside of their primary company, if they even have one of those. When I left the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance I found myself immediately a bit lost, but by merit of two 9-week paid projects apparently a “professional” freelancer as well.

I was in a bizarre state of flotation, looking for any location or job I could love enough to anchor myself to. What I got was one paid gig in San Francisco – then summer programs on summer programs on summer programs – then the other paid gig, followed by moving back in with my parents, followed by traveling to Israel and Europe for three months to try my luck overseas. I spent time with a few companies I could imagine myself being really happy in. To get a contract with any of them would certainly have satisfied a definition my student-self had made of “making it” – dancing full time with a prestigious company where I get paid well enough that I can focus all my efforts on that one job. And in this definition I would love that job, probably. How could I not, right?

To make a long story short I returned to the States with a few more items for the “almost made it” section of my resume, a pinch of despair, and a ping-ponging sense of what I was trying to do versus what I thought I was capable of. Audition season was over for me, I was back on the coast I had been so eager to leave two years ago paying the astronomical prices for dance class in New York City, and I had to re-evaluate. It was March, and I hadn’t performed since September of the previous year. Whatever momentum I had been riding from my initial thrust into the “professional freelance world” had run out and I wondered if I hadn’t regressed back into the “aspiring professional” stage of my career. At what point does it become simply untrue to identify as being “on the verge of imminent success” and when might I have to admit to myself that I had witnessed personal failure?

A month of existential crisis went by. A sense of duty drove me to class, a sense of curiosity about the changing New York dance scene drove me to shows, and some particularly keen friends yanked open my eyes for me – and thank goodness, because otherwise my lack of direction would have swallowed me whole. But as Christian Burns once sagely observed of still moments in improvisation, “something always happens.” It’s as true for dance as it is for those seemingly halted moments in life’s progress. I bumped into old acquaintances making new work, and soon became involved in three projects of varying lengths. I was “making it happen,” forging out a place for myself in an environment full of other forgers. The sense of relief to be involved in anything was overwhelming, and having full days of dancing again provided a sense of fulfillment, interest, and engagement that I had never dreamed possible in a freelance setting. Until I was doing it in New York, I had mostly considered freelancing to be what you do when you’re waiting to be picked up by a “big” company. My own experiences combined with what I learned from my freelancing friends who had voluntarily left their jobs at “big” companies were formulating a whole new version of what “making it” meant to me, almost behind my back.

Suddenly the sense of “I will be happy when___” was replaced by the dawning realization that I am happy, now. To “make it” in the way I had dreamt of in school seemed far less important than throwing myself whole-heartedly into whatever it was that I was working on, for whichever project, at that moment in time. I found myself surrounded by driven, intelligent, and endlessly creative peers who are going to be the Forsythes, Naharins, and Bauschs of our time. How incredibly special to know and work with them at the start of their choreographic legacies, and to have my experiences with them redefine not only what I thought I was capable of in the studio but the trajectory I envision for the rest of my career.  I no longer pine for one avenue only of a professional existence. I am more satisfied than ever, in fact, with NOT knowing where I will be three years from now because I have an unshakable trust in the people I have met along the way, and will continue to meet. I can trust that something will happen in a moment of stillness and I know that what makes me content is an environment of investigation.

I know for sure that there is no such thing as “having made it,” past tense, and resting now on a luxurious platform of achieved success. I don’t care if you’re freelancing, choreographing, enjoying a life-long contract with cushy benefits. Whatever your vision of “making it” is, the only two stages of achievement are “trying to make it” and “making it happen,” both present tense. This profession is synonymous with constant hustle and change, and that’s what makes it so interesting. I’m so appreciative of the people who showed me that making it work IS making it awesome, and I look forward to making it happen, wherever that takes me, for the rest of my career.

Andrea Thompson began dancing on the East Coast at age three, and most recently trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. She has spent the past year traveling between Canada, Europe, Israel, and the States, and worked with LoudHoundMovement in New York before accepting a job with Hubbard Street 2.