A true dancer dies two deaths; the first is the day (they) can no longer dance… These words pierce many dancers’ hearts in a studio as Professor Jo Rowan states in her ballet class at Oklahoma City University. It is something that, if you let it resonate in your soul, can consume you. Although she once told me that I was “absolutely born to dance,” I knew I had to have a plan B. It was not because I need something to go to in the case I never got my big break; not because I cannot perform; not because I’m afraid to take risks. In fact, my life has been quite the opposite. I created my plan B because I knew that any unforeseen circumstance could come along, and this talent, this God-given gift I possess, could be taken from me physically. I needed to create a plan B to fulfill my talent and passion for dance mentally and emotionally, beyond my personal ability to move and perform.
The power of an education is never going to be grabbed away from anyone. I have had so many students declare their desire to go straight to the audition world, and I discourage them immediately. Those jobs will be there. Take care of your body and your craft in the meantime, but take care of your mind and future first. Numerous colleagues of mine didn’t, now only to find themselves frustrated, older, and despairingly trying to figure out what is next because they impulsively jumped to the work before the training. So few dancers are lucky to maintain a job in the business for the duration of their career without other skills and training in other avenues of work.
Did you know dancers are just as likely to be injured as football players, and are injured more than rugby players? In minor cases, the dancer will recover, but how long before another injury may occur? According to the United States Department of Labor, dancers have one of the highest nonfatal on-the-job injury ratings. Few dancers continue to perform for an entire lifetime, and typically cannot continue in their thirties simply because of the strain the work puts on one’s body…and that is if they were healthy and good to their bodies all those years of dancing.
You have to live under a rock to not know the economy is not as resilient as most had hoped it to be. In fact, it could be much longer than anyone wishes to fathom before we are the thriving country we once were. Unfortunately, dance and entertainment industries are considered discretionary expenses. Live shows do not receive the same support when people cannot afford the tickets. Students decrease enrollment in their dance studio to lower tuition costs. What does this mean? That wonderful chain reaction of less demand for shows to be created, less choreography to be staged, less dances present to be cast, less auditions to attend. More dancers are out of work, more dancers after the same jobs, and more of the “starving artist” syndrome in effect. But we love to dance…we have to dance! Right? Wrong.
There is a mere estimated 6% employment growth, well below average for any other industry, for all dancers and choreographers combined between now and 2018. Now more than ever it is time to truly be an artist and creative and develop a plan B. There is work out there for everyone; it just has to be found. But by limiting oneself to a satisfactory education and some training in the studio solely as a dancer or even a “triple threat,” one will not get through life comfortably and produce a sense of stability. It is also unrealistic to think that all dancers move successfully into teaching or choreographing. Performers do not always make the best teachers or choreographers, nor do they automatically possess the business skills it takes to produce a dance organization of any sort, especially without the education relative to the field.
So what should be your plan B? Many dancers become the proverbial server at a restaurant or a crowd motivator, or a nightclub dancer, awhile waiting the callback to the countless auditions they attend. It’s tiring, daunting, and realistically, not a way to live forever. Am I discouraging the experience? Never. Go to that big city of lights and glitter, stand in those lines with your headshot and dance shoes, and do it. But know that being a server is not a satisfying plan B for most people when they reach their thirties and forties (just something to think about when you’re standing in line at a call).
I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted a full life. Who doesn’t? I knew the consequences of going full throttle for a performance career could certainly compromise my personal and family life. I could be super successful, only to turn to my left and turn to my right and have no one there to share it with me. I had a glimpse of this when I was touring as a headliner and saw these breathtaking views in foreign places and did amazing things – and I was alone. The person I wanted to share those moments with was not present. It was bittersweet, but a pivotal moment in my life that reinforced that I knew there had to be a way to juggle my career and find happiness in dance as I shared my focus and love for dance with other things this life has to offer. A cast friend of mine in New Jersey said it right when she said, “Dance is in my life, it is not my life. I should be able to be happy in other ways if dance was not there for me.” There is so much more to experience, and we only get one chance to do it all. That is the truth.
I have found personally that possessing business skills and having knowledge beyond being on stage performing enriches my dance career, and also allots several opportunities otherwise I would not book if I did not pursue higher education. I recently met for dinner with a fellow choreographer and learned he has just a few credits to obtain before completing a degree. I want for him so badly to commit to the finish; the sense of self-accomplishment, pride, and for his life’s plan B would be a true reward. He is living for the now and doing well, but it is already become difficult for him to want to do the work to finish what he started! Of the fellow dancers I attended college with, the bigger group of those working are the ones that completed school, with a degree that trained them for more than a piece of paper that told them they could dance.
There WILL be a time that a dancer can no longer dance; for some that time may be now. One never knows when the first death of a dancer shall come, be it due to a circumstance within or out of one’s control. But being prepared for it would be the best way to reincarnate one’s self without delay or remorse. There are dancers that have not found the bigger picture of their life, and therefore are not chasing after more than their dream to be a dancer. But one day, perhaps that picture of life down the road will come into focus, and there has to be a plan B in place in order to fulfill that big picture.
So, what will be your plan B?
Krystina Alexis is a sought-after professional choreographer and has worked nationally as a guest artist for multiple conventions, workshops, and studios. Krystina offers private instruction and coaching. She is available for award-winning competitive or concert choreography work in both Jacksonville & Orlando regions year-round, and travels throughout the states as a master teacher, competition director, and adjudicator. For booking, please email: KrystinaAlexis@me.com