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7 Things I Learned in my First Month of Dancing Professionally

Last month, I finally got the email I’d been waiting for – a job offer! I’d been going to tons of auditions with no luck, but suddenly this popped up out of the blue. Now, for the first time, I’m being paid to dance onstage and I couldn’t be more excited!

I can’t say a lot of specifics about my job because of my company’s social media policy, so let’s just say I’m a performer at a theme park. You can expect many future posts based on my experience here! I’ve barely posted in the last month because I jumped right in to rehearsals and started performing two weeks after my orientation, but now, over 40 shows in, I stopped to reflect on what I’ve learned so far. It’s a lot!

Read on to hear 7 things I learned in my first month of dancing professionally!

1. Taking care of your body is crucial

Doing multiple shows a day is taxing on your body, especially when you only get one day off a week. If you’re not in top physical condition and aren’t treating your body right, bad things will happen. Skipping a warm-up, not resting well, using improper technique, or any number of other things can lead to injury. And when dancing is your job, an injury means bye bye paycheck.

My job takes physical health very seriously, and I’m so thankful for that. We get a full 30-minute company warm-up onstage before each day of shows, and we can talk to sports med experts if we have an injury. Even so, my body is still starting to protest with little pinches and pains. I used to be embarrassed to use an ice pack unless I was seriously injured, but I can’t afford to be embarrassed now. I just need to do what my body needs.

2. So is drinking water

Somehow, through all of my dance training, I never did anything strenuous enough (or sweaty enough) on a consistent basis to force me to learn about the benefits of water. I did lots of long days and cardio-intensive routines, but I never got dehydrated. I was accustomed to going long periods without a water break because that’s just how we did class growing up. You got one water break after barre and no water bottles allowed in the classroom. Going a long time without water was a sign of good stamina.

That does not fly in my new situation, and it took me getting dehydrated enough to overheat and almost not be able to finish a show before I started changing my water drinking habits. The results were miraculous. The amount of water I drink directly correlates with how much energy I have onstage. I’ve seen so many benefits to drinking more water that I’m going to write a full post about it very soon.

3. You’re responsible for yourself, and yourself only

Ever had someone give you a “friendly reminder” and been annoyed because they think being a senior gives them the right to order a freshman around? Or maybe you’ve been that senior whipping the new kids into shape. Do you really outrank them? No, you’ve just been there longer and you know how things work. In reality, you’re all peers,  but it’s human nature to create these informal hierarchies. (I use the word “hierarchy” very loosely here.)

In the professional world, you don’t have “seniors” and “freshmen,” but you do have people who’ve been there for a few years vs. newbies like me. An important thing to remember, though, is that no real hierarchy exists except that which is established by the corporation we work for. We all have the same job title and get paid the same rate, and you can actually get in trouble for those “friendly reminders.”

I’m not even talking about being bossy here. We could have the best of intentions, just wanting to improve the show by correcting someone else’s choreography for instance, but it’s not our place to do that. That’s the job of the choreographer or dance captain, and in the professional world, you could get in trouble for overstepping your bounds. You do your job to the best of your ability, and don’t worry about anyone else.

4. There will be drama

Nope, it doesn’t go away. It’s just a fact of life. Dancers, singers, actors, all kinds of performers are passionate about creating dramatic moments onstage. It only makes sense that drama would find its way into their personal lives as well. It might not be as petty as high school drama (or it might be), but when you put a bunch of performers (or anyone) together for long periods of time, people will find reasons to not like each other. Even the most loving and considerate cast will have their moments.

I don’t have any advice for this situation because everyone reacts to drama in different ways. I try to stay as neutral as possible, while others will thoroughly enjoy taking sides. No matter how you feel about drama, just know that it will exist.

5. The audience has a huge impact  on the show

Everyone loves an enthusiastic audience, but you don’t realize just how much it affects you until you perform for an almost-empty auditorium. You feel like draining battery, constantly outpouring energy without anything to charge you up. By the end of the day, you’re just spent and everyone’s grumpy and tired. It’s not fun!

6. It’s easy to get stagnant (but don’t!)

At my job, we do the same show 12-21 times a week, depending on when the park’s open. That’s a lot of repetition. The director and choreographer left after the show opened (that’s normal), so there’s no one telling us how we can improve except the occasional blocking note from the stage manager. It would be so easy to just go through the motions.

And here’s the truth: we get paid exactly the same whether we give 80% or 100%. There’s no obligation to make the show better except our love of the product. However, you’re doing yourself (and the audience) a disservice by not giving it your all. We don’t have to improve, but we do because we want to. At every performance, there are people seeing it for the first time, so we keep finding ways to do our jobs better.

7. A true professional can adapt to almost anything

I’d say the mark of a true professional is being able to make it work when things get shambly. Whether that’s adjusting your spacing when the person in front of you is off, or standing in for someone who’s injured at the last minute, the show must go on. “Adapting” isn’t a skill that can be taught, though. It comes with experience.

8. It’s the best job ever

From spring recitals to Nutcrackers to site-specific modern dance solos, I’ve been performing for as long as I can remember. I always thought I would grow up to be a teacher, and I still do, but I’m not ready to leave the stage just yet. For now, I get to do what I’ve been doing my whole life, with the added bonus of getting a paycheck for it. It’s a dream.

And there you have it, 7 things I learned in my first month of dancing professionally! Subscribe if you want to be notified when new posts come up, and leave a comment to continue the conversation!

Thanks Kelsea Hower Photography for the awesome photo!

Post Author: nicole

Welcome to Dance Insight!

Thanks for stopping by Dance Insight! We’re a blog dedicated to helping emerging and aspiring dance professionals thrive in their artistic careers. My name is Nicole, and I’m so glad you’re here! Click the picture above to learn more about us. Happy dancing!

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