Growing up in the dance world, you frequently find yourself attending live performances, Broadway shows, watching films, seeing photographs or reading books/magazines all related to dance. Because of this, you gain some sort of expectation as to what your life as a professional dancer could be like. I talked to a few Pro’s about how their lives today are similar and/or different to what they had expected.
Uniting western and eastern dance styles, Ramita Ravi was a top 30 finalist on So You Think You Can Dance Season 14, recognized as the first Indian dancer to be featured since the series began. “Thus far, my life as a professional dancer has simultaneously met and challenged my expectations. Some weeks are extremely busy while others are fairly slow. I did not foresee how difficult it would be to manage free time and feel that it is being used productively. In those off weeks, I’m constantly searching for new opportunities, gigs, performances, and so forth. However, more often than not, I find myself scouting casting calls & bulletin boards without a sense of direction; merely for the sake of rushing forward. Rather, I could be spending that time focusing on the present, on training, and on growing thoughtfully as an artist.”
On another note, as an Indian American, with training in both Classical Indian and western dance forms, Ramita anticipated that it would be challenging to find her path in the industry. “As soon as I arrived, I began dancing with several Indian dance companies that connected me with other Indians who were similarly passionate about dance as a career. However, I’ve found it challenging to embrace my culture while also aiming to stay relevant in the mainstream dance industry. When I dance in Indian styles, I often feel “too American” to only be defined as an Indian dancer and otherwise “too Indian” to have a path to follow in the mainstream. While it will take me several years to navigate this intersection, it motivates me to know that, by using my dual identity, I’m beginning to carve a path for others with mixed or underrepresented identities to make strides in the dance industry.”
Kyle Taylor Parker, a true triple threat, currently performing in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Broadway says he never imagined he would get to dance as much as he has in his career! “I never stop learning and at the end of the day I believe that’s what it’s really all about. Learning. Growing. Sharing.
Connor Holloway, a Corps de Ballet member of the American Ballet Theatre, says that things like performing, rehearsing, a pay check, free shoes and hopefully some touring are what most dancers expect with a professional career, but truthfully no one can fully prepare for what their life and career will be like once they join a company. “When I first joined American Ballet Theatre as an apprentice, I suffered from horrible anxiety. I was so enthralled to be a part of this institution I had dreamed of since the day I took my first ballet class, but I couldn’t find a way around this most major obstacle… myself.
Every day, I walked into the studio caring so deeply about making the best impression that I actually stifled myself from being able to dance to my fullest. I was so inspired by everyone around me but so wrapped up in self-doubt that it was hard to appreciate it. The dancers and administration were genuinely welcoming, I had made lots of friends, but somehow that made it even harder for me to feel confident in the studio. I felt like I always had something to prove. As dancers, we are incredibly self-critical and self-aware, and sometimes we just have to throw our own opinions of ourselves out the window. We all have unexpected bumps in our road but at a point you have to let yourself get lost in the music and not the mirror.
Now, three years later, I look back on that version of myself and laugh a little. I had manifested all of these insecurities and critiques and projected them into my friends and colleagues. I had decided that these little ridiculous particulars were things that others would dislike about me; but actually no one even saw them, much less cared. Your friends will still love you even if you fall out of the pirouette, I promise.
Although it takes time, I have found a version of myself that I can say I actually like. I’ve learned to quiet the noise in my head. I’ve learned how to tame my anxiety. And most importantly, I’ve learned to deeply value and appreciate the time, dedication and work it takes to be in a profession like ballet. Today, we are becoming entirely too accustomed to the instantaneous rewards of ‘likes’, comments, ‘matches,’ next day delivery, binge watching, that we forget the importance of practice and patience. Don’t give up on yourself! Enjoy the process, because once you’ve made it to your destination, you’re just there.”
Whether we know it or not, listening to stories and insight from others has an impact on our lives. Thanks to Connor, Ramita and Kyle for sharing with us. We hope their experiences can be examples for us all to follow, learn and grow from. Do you have questions for the Pro’s? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!