Just about a few months ago, I was walking down 2nd avenue on my way to my waitressing job (a kind reminder of not being on my way to rehearsal or anything entirely productive), on the phone with my poor mother part-crying, part-laughing demanding, “At what point did we think getting a degree in modern dance was a good idea?! Really modern dance, couldn’t I have been happy being a doctor and having some sense of a secure-future, a normal life?” For the full intensity of this dramatic moment, picture the dreary puddle-bound city streets in winter rainfall, me being tangled by leashes all with two-pound chitsues dressed in Louis Vuitton rain coats and matching booties on one end and Jimmy Choos and Prada clad women on the other. Damn, these dogs were living more pampered lives than I was as I gazed down in self-pity to view my soaking wet ripped jeans hovered under my $5 umbrella that only had the lifespan of five city blocks during even the most trivial rainfalls.
Let me just start with how saintly my mother is for putting up with my antics. I am notorious for being a true Pisces at times – highly emotional and dramatic, constantly change my ideas about what it is I should be doing in order to achieve something higher. The ugly low of the on-again-off-again dance career and pathetic title of starving artist was looming over me. Someone hire me to be on “Days of our Lives,” really or perhaps “The Young and the Restless” might be a better fit. I believe that week I debated going to school to be a psychologist. A few weeks before I was planning on being a personal trainer to support my dance career. Before that it was a yoga instructor. The list goes on and on. All these ideas were diversions for me; I was having a hard time dealing with the unemployment aspect of the dance profession and seeking fulfillment in the fanatical ideas of another career or parallel career.
My dream job as a dancer always included dripping sweat, diving blindly head-first further into movement than ever thought possible day in and day out, hitting the stage feeling the lights and eyes of the audience on my every move, all while traveling the world and experiencing different cultures. Right? Youthful naivety is bliss. Pinch me, please. Those are the highs that make it all worth it. No one mentions that even when you have a dance job this kind of glory comes few and in between, particularly in this economy when dance companies are struggling to have performance seasons and lengthy rehearsal processes (I’ll save the drama of the lack of rehearsals for another episode of this overly dramatized daytime television). My point being, all careers have their pitfalls.
A few days later (the timing of this is rather hysterical), I went to my friend’s apartment for her boyfriend’s birthday. She is in graduate school for psychology and I was chatting with some new friends only to hear these soon-to-be psychologists had the same exact woes I had as a dancer. Sinking deeper in student loans by the semester, having the desire to start a private practice of their own one day but not having the funds or networking quite yet to make it happen and feeling overwhelmed. I may be a financially struggling artist now, but nothing lasts forever and I won’t be my whole life – take that pessimism! I am simply a normal 24-year-old with dreams ahead of me, wondering how the pieces of the puzzle are going to fit together and create this career as a performer/choreographer in a lifestyle that makes me comfortable.
How do you stay happy when you feel you have put in the time and still no new windows of opportunity are opening? I feared a one-dimensional dance career, and was craving change – professionally – although perhaps a new boyfriend would have solved some of those emotional woes. Auditions for paid, functional dance companies were rarely being posted and I was investing all this time, energy, and money into a career wondering if it would ever pay me back. It was completely logical for me to inquire about other career paths; ones with some return on investment. However, no matter how many ideas I tried on for size – and trust me, every week I tried on something new – it felt as if I was denying what made me tick entirely. I am sure I could live a very happy life as a psychologist because 1) I find the field entirely fascinating and 2) Dr. Christina Ilisije M.D. has a nice ring to it. But toying with the idea of a career shift seemed like a cop-out. There is so much in terms of dance I am striving to achieve and haven’t even touched upon yet. For others a career change or new parallel career may be the necessary kick in the pants life needs. I’m grateful to have questioned my career choice as an artist; I can recognize it as a choice I make daily rather than an obligation with no way out. Who knows, if one day I feel I have accomplished my goals as an artist and I find a new challenge to conquer in another career – bring it on. That day has not come yet, and my recent frustrations stemmed from not achieving them rather than needing a get away car.
So instead of feeling stagnant and bored with my current state, I went Obama and actively introduced change and some new interests into my weekly repertoire. Either actively do something about feeling uninspired and bummed about lack of rehearsals, or start feeling positive about where you are presently. Simple concept, but when feeling less than positive doing anything can seem like a huge chore. Since I couldn’t find the positivity in having lots of free time – I wish I was one of those people – I took up salsa dancing (thank you Shelly for introducing me to your vivacious world!), took a capoeira class for the first time (thank you Aldy!), booked some rehearsal space for my own work (thank you Rebe!), and set a new choreographic commission at my performing arts HS in Howell, NJ. All these activities were entirely fulfilling yet I didn’t have the luxury of doing them while under the rigors of performing. Some of them even helped financially to fill in the gaps between dance gigs and lead to more job opportunities in the future. Funnier yet is as soon as I dove head first with dance and stopped with my crazy delusions and side-tracked thoughts, opportunities came my way.
I do believe a profitable career is possible in any field as long as you have passion and wits to back you up. Modern dance may not be Hollywood, but there are people who love it and keep it’s engine going. Keep your head in the game and stay inspired and happy along the way and positive things will come. If dance is what makes you tick, there is something to be said about constantly going to class, auditions, and shows. The relationships you build with people now may surprisingly help you in the future. Where you put your energy, things will happen. So take dance classes that make your soul sing. Stick with friends who share your passion and duke it out together during the down times. Keep yourself productive. What do you need to do to feel like you are a part of the dance community, even when you are not actively performing? See more performances, write, read, and one of my personal favorites, drink vino and talk shop with fabulous company! So go do what you love and stop worrying about ending up poor and unemployed. And while I don’t have it in my heart to completely knock a pair of beautifully crafted, over priced Jimmy Choos and those who wear them, I don’t need to be walking my dog in them to be happy.