Dancing Through Life: My Journey as an Artist

“A life lived for art is never a life wasted…” – Macklemore


“What do you do for fun?” – dance “What’s your hobby?” – dance “What are you doing after school?” – going to dance “Can we hangout this weekend?” – nope, sorry, I have dance “What extracurriculars are you going to do in high school?” – dance “What do you do for work?” – dance “What are you going to college for?” – dance “How would you describe yourself?” – a dancer

It has taken me a long time to actually publish this blog post; it’s been sitting in my drafts for a super long time and I think the biggest reason I’ve feared sharing all of this, is because it makes it too real for me to think about it this way, but I do believe that maybe if I share some of myself and my feelings about this, then maybe you can relate or you can start to understand what some of us go through, being artists our entire life.

If you have ever wondered about my feelings on dance and being a dancer, and auditions, and how I got to where I am now, you have found yourself in the right place.

“The ‘Earth’ without ‘Art’ is just ‘Eh’.”

The arts: the most beautiful gift and the greatest curse. There is nothing like stepping out in front of an audience or crowd and receiving automatic gratification for the art you have created. Or spending hours upon hours in a studio practicing to finally get that trick you’ve been working on forever. Or finally getting that “yes” after you’ve received hundreds or thousands of “no’s”. The thrill of it is unparalleled, and that is why we sacrifice lifetimes, lifestyles, and every second of our being to pursuing it.

Background

Like many dancers (or artists in general), I began dancing at the tender age of three, taking ballet classes with little ballet shoes, a light pink tutu, and my mom putting my baby hairs in a bun. I continued on with the usual ballet classes, jazz, tap, contemporary, hip hop, and Irish dancing…? I grew up in LA and trained at Los Angeles Ballet Academy where I took RAD exams every year to pass to the next level of ballet. I competed there, as well, and spent much of my time, after days at elementary school, at the studio. I danced there until I moved to OC around middle school. Coming into a new studio at that point was tricky, and I tried many before finding one that was the right fit for me. At Center Stage Dance, I continued my training and competed in more dance competitions than I could count. At the same time, at Mission Viejo High School, I spent two years as a part of the JV song (dance) team and then two years on Varsity Song, as captain both years. I spent every waking moment dancing. It was school, then dance, every single day of the week, and many weekends spent competing. I also trained my voice and participated in musicals, and drama, throughout the years. Post high school, I attended college as a dance major (later switching to a dance minor) and decided to audition, on a whim, for a job that I still have today. A job where I dance for a living.

Okay, so that’s the simple version. Both my parents were/ are performers. My grandparents were, as well, as are many other members of my family. My grandparents taught music well into their late 70s in private studios and at colleges, my parents taught and performed music for years, my mom got her doctorate in music, my aunt teaches piano, my cousin got her degree in music, my other cousin was an acrobat and dancer, my brother at college for cinematic arts, my great uncle has managed famous singers for 60+ years, and my great aunt was an actress in some pretty big films. Probably missing some people, as well (sorry fam). Safe to say that art runs through my veins, and even if I wanted to, I would never have gotten away from it. My parents have videos of me dancing around the living room as a two-year-old for hours and hours and hours on end. The arts are something that, once you have the bug, there is no getting rid of it. That’s why so many people put so much of themselves into this beautiful world where they create magic for others by dancing, or singing, or drawing, or filming, or editing, or playing music, or creating music, or teaching others how to do these things. I was very blessed to grow up in a home where, obviously, the arts were celebrated and were a very vital part of my life. Going to musicals and concerts and shows were a regular event and whatever my brother or I wanted to pursue, was strongly supported. My uncle has been a manager of some large celebrities for my entire life, so we grew up meeting all of these famous singers and actors and it really showed me another side to all of this glitz and glam. These people are just like us, they are people, and they started with a dream.

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

Athlete + Artist = Dancer

I had to throw a little section in here strictly about being a dancer, because it is my first love, and the thing I have pursued the longest and most consistently. Dance is an incredible thing. It is a mashup of extreme athleticism and artistry. The amount of strength and training that goes into being a dancer is something that many underestimate. I remember back in high school, we had to teach the football players a dance, and some of them actually admitted that it was way more difficult than they could have imagined, and that was an easy routine. Many of us have grown up our entire lives five, six, or even seven days a week in the studio, for hours on end, perfecting our craft. Dance class after dance class, from technique classes to ballet classes, to jazz, contemporary, hiphop, musical theater, ballroom, there are so many styles to master, and nowadays, you have to be diverse and know how to do all of it. Not to mention, if you were on teams competing, those were extra hours spent learning routines. Weekends were full of competitions from the early hours of the morning to the latest hours at night. The insecurity that comes as a dancer is a whole other thing. The stigma behind what a dancer’s body should look like and how skinny you should be, but also strong and muscular, but graceful… I can’t even begin to explain how it is, but all of this, and I would not change it for the world. There is nothing in my life that has ever brought me as much joy as dancing has. Putting a song on and moving to the music, the beats, the lyrics, the instruments, just feeling it and being able to express your feelings through movement is an unbelievable feeling. It’s even better when people watch what you are doing and are moved by it. It’s incredible to be able to move people to tears or smile bigger than they ever have, just through your movements. I wish there wasn’t so much competition, I mean there is, because we are all fighting for the same jobs, but every dancer has such an incredible story to tell, and should be praised and appreciated for their work. Dancing through injuries is our specialty and when they say “the show must go on,” I don’t know one dancer who doesn’t live by that daily, no matter what their condition. I may be biased, but dancers are some of the most badass people out there.

“Dance is easy” “Mhmm.. All we have to do is have perfect control over every muscle in our body, hold 3 times our body weight on our toes, be able to fold in half, hold our legs up to our ears, be impossibly flexible, have the endurance of a football player, be able to jump 5 feet in the air, and turn endlessly, all while smiling.. but yeah, totally easy.”

Auditions

Auditions… my worst fear and my biggest downfall. I have a problem when it comes to pursuing the arts.. I absolutely hate auditioning with every part of my being. The thought of pulling up to a studio, with hundreds of girls lined up along the outside of the building, waiting to go belt it out or dance harder than they ever have, gives me anxiety just thinking about it. I truly don’t think you know the horrors of auditioning until you have gone through it. If you are part of this industry, please bear with me while I try to give an accurate description of how they run. Of course every single audition is going to be different, and this is purely my opinion, but a basic audition goes like this: show up super early to make sure that you get a parking spot and get a place in line where you will still be seen, get in line next to hundreds of other girls (you have no idea if they are the most insane dancer/ singer/ actress/ etc that you have ever seen, or never trained a day in their life), sit there and wait for a few hours while trying to calm your nerves, stretch or go over the lyrics/ lines in your head, finally enter the room, sign-in, check out your competition, learn a combo, have a little time to go over it, enter into the room in front of a panel of casting directors who’s eyes could cut glass, perform the combo/ sing your song, and then wait. It’s a hurry up and wait kind of business. After everyone has gone, you go back to a room, and wait for an assistant to the casting director to come in and start calling numbers. You anxiously wait and pray that your number gets called. Then, one of two things happens, your number gets called, and you get to stay to go through all of this again and again and again to keep cutting down the number of people smaller and smaller and smaller until they finally choose you, or you get a no, and you grab your stuff, try to keep your head high, and walk out the door with the other hundreds of other people that also got a no..

Sound fun? I didn’t think so.. Personally, I have the worst nerves ever and even writing this right now is giving me so much anxiety. I recall a singing audition I had, where I walked into the room by myself, gave the accompanist my sheet music, slated in front of the 8 casting directors, then proceeded to forget the words to a song I had sung a million times.. like what?! Or, my first audition for my current job, I was shaking so bad and was so nervous that I fudged a little bit of the choreography, and they asked me to go again across the floor, before letting me through to the next round.

With auditions, you never know why you are being cut or being kept. You could have been insanely talented and nailed the combo, but you are a quarter inch too tall or you hair is the wrong color or you have a dimple in your right cheek. Or, you could have flubbed the entire thing but you smiled so big and had the perfect facial performance, that they choose to keep you. You literally never know what it is..

Here’s the thing.. auditions suck.. but when you finally finalllyyy get that “yes”, there is NOTHING like it. Literally nothing. That’s why so many famous singers write about their struggles that they went through, to get to where they are. To realize that years and years and yearrssss of hard work finally pay off, is a feeling that is unparalleled. With my current job, I am pretty sure I cried when getting back into the car, because I couldn’t believe that I was going to get paid to dance. I couldn’t believe that something I had done since I was three years old, and something I had sacrificed so much for, would be my job. It was a feeling that I cannot even put into words. I still have so much more I want to do and accomplish, but that was the first real big one for me.

“I don’t think actors should ever expect to get a role, because the disappointment is too great. You’ve got to think of things as an opportunity. An audition’s an opportunity to have an audience.” – Al Pacino

The Truth About the Industry

The sad truth about the arts is that they are difficult to survive off of, and you never know if you are truly going to “make it”. I admire all careers, but even if we have been working to pursue this since we were three years old, and continue training for 18+ years, there is no guarantee that we will ever even have the opportunity to pursue it professionally. Many people decide when they are 18, what they want to pursue in college, and will most likely find a job in that career, where they get paid decently, and have some sort of structure to move up and advance in a linear fashion. Artists? Some give up their childhoods to train and train and train and realize that they need to train even more. I think the hardest part about it, is that it is so difficult to give up. Once you have the itch, it needs to be scratched. The arts are not a stable career and it’s a tricky business having so many friends in the arts. You want everyone to succeed and also know that “no’s” are much more common than “yes’s”.

Some people audition and audition and audition and never get a yes. They say you will hear 100 no’s or even 1000 no’s before you ever hear a yes. That’s why so many artists have such a thick skin and are so much tougher than you could ever imagine. I guess I might be biased because I’ve been in this world my whole life, but I always had a problem with people who talked down to those doing theater, or dance, or band, because if only people knew what it really took to make it. Side note, I’ve always found it a bit peculiar that people have this odd view of theater kids or choir kids throughout high school, when professional actors and actresses and singers are some of the most praised people in society.. anywho, the arts are like nothing else, and if you know anyone pursuing it, give them a hug and tell them they are amazing and appreciated.

The arts don’t provide a stable living, going from show to show, side hustles, extra jobs, rehearsals throughout the late hours of the night, beating up your body, practicing, training, auditioning, and getting paid dirt… it is a tough life but one that so many choose to pursue, because when you finally book that job, or finally get that role, or direct that movie, or create that song, or get acknowledged for this beautiful art you created, there is nothing like it. It’s hard to not feel discouraged sometimes, and it’s hard to make yourself go to more auditions or keep creating when you’ve heard no’s, but keep moving forward and know that “everyone deserves a chance to fly.”

Passion

I have always struggled with this.. This is where I get super vulnerable. There has been no question my entire life, that I love the arts. I love love love love musical theater and singing and dancing and just everything around it. Something I’ve always struggled with, is comparison. Now, I know I’m not special in this, if you grew up in the arts, comparison is all we do. Why did she get that solo? My legs need to be skinnier to make it. My voice isn’t strong enough. I can’t cry on command. I need to learn better camera angles. I should be practicing my drawing more. I should take more classes in this, train more in that, do more in this, look better in that.. Gosh, the list goes on and on and on. There are a MILLION things that go through your mind as an artist that tear you down..

This is where my issue is. The past few years, while I finished up college, I was trying to decide if pursuing the arts further was something I wanted to do. I went to New York last summer and had some meetings with some of the biggest people in the industry, and still came back unsure. I have struggled with going back in forth if I want to do it or not. It’s starting to become crunch time where I make a decision if I want to get serious about this or let it go. I’m having such a hard time with this, and some might say “well if you aren’t 110% in this, then you shouldn’t do it.” While I get that side of it, I don’t think that I don’t want to not do it because I don’t have the passion for it, I honestly think I’m scared to death of failing in it. I’m scared that I could go for this and have it not work. I hate instability and change and I’m so terrified of trying to make this artist thing work and then end up hating dance and music and theater because I didn’t “make it” the way I wanted to. I struggle because I’ve seen the way that pursuing the arts has changed people. It is a frustrating business and one that can become detrimental to your mental health and relationships with others if you don’t know how to deal with rejection and control your emotions towards it. I’ve had a lot of personal experience with this and that makes me more sensitive to it. It’s so difficult because I’m surrounded by artists in many different capacities and many different levels of “success,” but no matter what, it’s hard for everyone. The passion is there, there just needs to be passion to pursue it without hesitation. There needs to be the passion to overcome rejection and keep creating and do it for the pure intentions of creating art to move people, not for the fame or the money or the glitz and the glam. Nobody should go into the arts with the expectation of gaining fame and fortune because the truth is, that isn’t what it’s about and only a few have that outcome. If you go in with the pure intentions of the creation of art and all that extra stuff comes to you, more power to you, but passion for creating and touching people is at the root of it.

“Passion. Give power to the calling. Tune into your hearts desires. Live it. Breathe it. Beam it.”

All in All

I think my main point of this blog post, was to give some perspective. I wanted to share this with my artist friends because, if you feel something similar to me, you are not alone. And those of you that aren’t in the arts, I truly hope you have walked away with a little bit more of an understanding what it means to dedicate your life to the arts and what we endure. My heart goes out to every single artist trying to make it. I have seen this in so many capacities: singers, dancers, animators, cinematographers, photographers, painters, actors, choreographers, the list goes on and on, I have been around so many of these people just trying to “make it.” It breaks my heart. I wish that every person I know, that I have seen work so tirelessly, and put all of themselves into it, could make it to where they want to be. Unfortunately, this industry ultimately tears some people down to a point of giving up or losing them self completely. I’ve seen it happen. I hope that if you are pursuing this, you realize that there is never any waste in what you are doing, you are special, you are amazing, you are so extremely talented, and you can do it. You really can. I hope to keep myself in this industry as long as I am able to, in some capacity, and experience the magic that it brings to stages, screens, and canvases. Your time will come, and the arts are worth it. Pursue your dreams and have faith that you can move others with the beauty that art is.

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”Andy Warhol

One Comment Add yours

  1. kaby says:

    The post is really helpful for the artists who are experiencing those things. You’re so right in your entire post and it really happens in the entire world…..
    I am also an artist but apart from this I am struggling with something else and something uncommon… πŸ™‚
    Thank you for sharing this post ❀

    Like

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