One of the biggest struggles dancers face is surprisingly, when to stop being a dancer. Or at least, when to drop a dance major, or when to take classes without the desire of becoming a professional.
The dance world is obsessed with progress. I’ve spoken on this site before about the obsession with never enough in ballet. There is a huge fear that I’ve experienced and I know my colleagues and students have expressed that if you take a break or slow down, you’ll lose the skills you’ve worked so hard to achieve and never get them back, let alone get better, as most of us are rather obsessed with.
So when is taking a step back a good idea?
You just have to ask yourself one thing, which will make sense after this short anecdote:
WHen I was was in college, a boy I knew since childhood overdosed. We weren’t good friends at all- he was more in the ‘bad kids’ group in high school where I was a goody-two shoe nerd.- but he was in the same treatment program as a relative of mine. I always remembered going to visit that relative and seeing this boy’s parents in the waiting room, looking so bewildered, just trying to get help.
When I heard that he had overdosed, I couldn’t stop thinking about his parents, and my own family, and the sadness that sometimes people don’t get better.
I got the news right before ballet class, and I remember telling my teacher, who very kindly offered that I could go home. And I thought about it but chose to stay, and I was glad that I did. It helped in that moment of sadness to -forgive the cliche- dance it out.
When the questions of ‘should I leave the studio and this dancer life’ start coming in, like my teacher offering that I excuse myself, here is what you need to ask yourself…
In moments of sadness, stress, anger, negative emotion, does dancing help me regulate my mood and feel better?
If the answer is yes, don’t quit. If the answer is no, take the absence and find something else that brings you comfort and pleasure.
It gets tricky, when to dance is not an end unto itself. If it had been a different teacher that day, for instance, I would have gladly left. teachers influence how safe and comfortable a dancer feels or how criticized and pressured. If this is the case, try as best you can to study from teachers you aren’t afraid of to the point you wouldn’t want to take their class even on your best day.
Other thoughts on Quitting Dance:
- 6 Lessons I Learned From Quitting Dance
- When To Quit Dancing
- Unhealthy Thoughts and Habits- Thinking About Quitting
and Wise Words from a few other artists:
- Hello Stranger- Momix’s Steven Ezra
- Mental Health Olympics with Kitty Conlon
- Navigating the Artist Path- Dancing at the Met with Alison Clancy
If dance is not medicine in your life, then why keep taking it? It’s also ok to put it down for a while. I have ‘quit dance’ and come back as a professional more than once, and while retraining isn’t easy, it is not impossible and sometimes it’s necessary.
You don’t have to stop being a dancer altogether if you aren’t planning on going pro, or if you aren’t in class as often or at all. It’s fine to dance for yourself. I often do, mostly whenever I SHOULD be doing something else, like cleaning my apartment. Who suddenly feels like doing a full ballet barre or throwing myself a disco party soul train for one? Me.