Few would argue that dancers are some of the most disciplined and focused people. From the time we are young, we set goals for ourselves and a regimen of steps designed to make our dreams a reality. Often, dancers forego the usual high school social path of football games, homecomings, and even dating, opting instead for conservatory educations that take them away from home at an early age. So here’s my quandary: In all of our intensive training, something is missing. Beautiful dancers have been and always will be churned out through the time-proven method of blood, sweat, and tears. They will have the tools to dance on stages and bring audiences to their feet, but I think it’s time for a new conversation in the evolution of dance. It’s time to discuss the importance of the importance of dance as a business, in particular communication skills within the profession.
In my article, Pay for Play, I touched on the importance of communicating with management in a dance organization and letting the dancer’s voice be heard. Now, I want to discuss the importance of communication in a more broad sense of the word. How does it apply to the daily life of a dancer?
The reality is that few dancers are fortunate enough to find a place in one of just a handful of the economically sound dance organizations in this country or elsewhere. These small societies can provide the dancer a cushion of time in which to begin shaping themselves, i.e. continue to grow up in a fairly safe and comfortable environment. Note: I am not saying that company life is always the healthiest. But when it comes to money in the arts, I have yet to see in this country a more stable position to hold as a dancer. As I am now learning in the second phase of my career, for every dancer in a professional company—and yes, I define that as a company in which ALL DANCERS ARE BEING PAID—there are countless others who are killing themselves in the freelance market to make a career for themselves.
In this series, I plan to discuss the discoveries I’ve made about the ins and outs of the dance industry. I will focus heavily on communication, as I feel this is where dancers are lacking consistency.
If it is indeed true that dance training and experience contributes greatly in making model citizens with strong work ethics, then why not try to complete the package. It’s time to get talking.
Video Killed the Radio Star
In 1981, MTV made history when they aired the first music video by The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Throughout history, we can see how, with the ever-changing advances of technology, new products and trends drive us forward.
Fast forward to now: I’d like to write a song called, “Text Messaging Killed the Human Star, and Has Made Us Incompetent in the Arena of Communication and Personal Interaction is Nearly Extinct.” (Ok, so the title may need a little work.) We make appointments through text. We converse through text. Often, in New York City, we even date through text! The advent of smart phones has made communicating easier in many ways, but we need to use these new tools appropriately. We used to return phone calls. It was proper etiquette. Hearing a voice at the end of the line meant something. It meant that human communication was occurring, and thereby, a moment of verbal contract was set in place. Nowadays, I can’t count the number of times when I think, “Oh, I’ll get back to them later, ” and life happens and I forget.
In dancers, I’m seeing far too much of this in our personal business relationships. We don’t get back to each other fast enough unless someone is offering us work—and even then too much time can lapse in between communication. How amazing would it be to always be on top of responding to people regardless of the context of the conversation, and especially in regards to business? We would begin correcting a major weakness that is possessed by many in our profession. We would be forging genuine business relationships with people. Everyone knows that so much of business is networking, and word of mouth is huge in the freelance scene. People like to hire and work with people they know on a personal level. So, why would we cripple ourselves by not being strong communicators?
It’s not always possible to pick up a phone, and I’m not implying that we revert to the technological shortcomings of yesteryear—I sited text messaging to point out how casual we have become in our communication. Dancers, especially freelancers, cannot afford to have a lackadaisical attitude in this regard, and expect to be respected and successful.
An agent once said they hated working with dancers because “all dancers are flaky.” Let’s change that perception and strengthen our place in the industry. Communication is not only good for professional gains; it’s good for personal growth as an artist and human being.