As a dancer, a student, an admirer of the craft, and a former ballerina who has sought after a professional ballet apprenticeship I have asked myself the question no person, no dancer wants to face, what happens when my happy ending doesn’t happen? As a student first and foremost today, this question isn’t as scary as it was when dancing took center stage in my life. Today this question of mine isn’t so scary because, I have made choices and chosen paths that have led me to San Francisco University rather than the San Francisco Ballet. I would really like to emphasize the “I” in that statement because, it can feel like an absolutely crushing defeat when the individual is not in command of the ship they run. Unfortunately the life of many professional ballet hopeful’s is one of little control, few certainties, a lot of work, and long hours. In the first of a total of three issue related blog posts I, to the best of my abilities will bring you, my readers into the trials and tribulations of a ballet dancer.
I would imagine, and hope that not very many of us have experienced the pain, and helplessness related to a lack of something that may seem so trivial but, truly means so much. By this something, I mean the ability to choose. The ability to work hard towards a career and one day achieve this career isn’t always a luxury us dancers are afforded. Rather, it is the first part of this sentence that dancers know all too well; those in the ballet profession are in no way strangers to working hard and are definitely “afforded” the right to do so. However, it is after the weekly weigh – in’s are over, and the four year tuition to the best of the best ballet academy’s have been paid, and the eight hour point classes have been taken, when all of the work has been done, and all of the oats sowed that these professional ballet aspirer’s should reach the professional level, right? Or, at least get some sort of apprenticeship? Wrong.
As many of us have learned early on with the infamous “life’s just not fair”, the sad reality is that it truly is all so unfair,and although it’s especially hard to attest to in the realm of ballet, the art I love more than almost anything it is important for myself as a dancer,and others to acknowledge that ballet dancer’s relinquish themselves to the riggid structure that surrounds them, and after years and years of hardwork must many times face the fact that they may never reach professional heights. As a dancer it was important for me to acknowledge the cracks within the system and work from them because, it has been a life lesson thus far that those who rock the boat and make waves rather than sail along, don’t always succeed in changing their conditions ,and can actually make the system worse by doing so. At a very early age I learned the formality and riggid structure, so restrictive and removed from the standards of day to day life is all that ballet encompasses, and to take away from even the negative would mean taking away from ballet itself. So, for the most part a traditionally trained dancer whose goal is to reach an apprenticeship is taught to fully embrace the art, succumb to instruction that confines, and all that may be deemed necessary to in the end succed, or possibly fail.
Sounds crazy, to conform to an institution and follow all that it entails in the hopes to one day gain the recognition and respect for the beloved craft, while understanding that all of the hard work may never pay off. Ultimately this was my biggest challenge, and unlike many inspiring dancers that take the negativity, and rejection and used it as motivation to keep reaching to attain their goals, the loss of my apprentice contract was something I did not take well. As an apprentice, you go from being the top dog at your studio to the most expendable member of a large company, at the whim of budget cuts, injuries, poor timing or the preferences of a fickle director. The loss of my contract lead to anger, confusion, and eventually lead to my decision to pursue academics which I knew would provide me certainity. The certainity that the work I would invest would eventually lead to a career, and skills in which I could count on, something as a dancer I lacked. When a dancer recieves an apprentice scholarship it becomes all too easy to see it as the happy ending of the story, I mean afterall as previously mentioned with the countless hours of work it is the only reward, and the first real step into a professional company. Unfortunately, although it may be the first step into the major leagues, it’s just a foot in the door at the end of the day,and many like myself do not proceed smoothly upwards through the ranks, eventually leading toward derailment before they can secure any type of position within the corps.
It is for the few and far between, gifted, well deserving dancers that secure positions within professional company’s, and use the negativity and rejection to better themselves that I dedicate this post. Many of these inspiring stories of dancers who have been turned down ,contracts retracted, and have perservered on to be successful ,are highlighted and can be read in the up -coming month’s reputable ballet magazine, Point magazine: www.pointmagazine.com