Five Things I Wish My Mom Made Me Do When I Still Lived At Home
It has been six years since I last lived at home. In that time, I have lived in two major cities, have earned my college degree, and have entered the workforce. All the while, I’ve tried to stay as involved in the dance industry as possible. I believe my efforts and professional experience thus far are valuable, and I am proud of everything that I have accomplished. Still, at the ripe, old age of twenty-four, I find myself reflecting on the past and considering how my adolescence has shaped my present. In this reflection, I have discovered five things that I wish I would have done—or, rather, five things I wish my mom had made my sometimes-stubborn-teenage self do—when I still lived at home.
1. Working Outside Of The Studio
There are a handful of dancers in our industry who are “Booked and Blessed” (i.e., who are consistently booking dance jobs and don’t have a side job). For most, however, this isn’t the case. In the meantime, dancers need to work “survival jobs”–consistent, non-glamorous jobs. While I always suggest trying to get a “survival job” in the dance or entertainment industry, that is not an option for everyone. Sometimes, the jobs just aren’t there. Other times, the available industry jobs do not fit your schedule, which may be packed with classes and auditions.
If I could go back in time, I would advise high school me to get a job outside of the dance studio. Here’s why. First, I would have learned the value of the dollar much sooner. I have had many friends who worked at their home studios, just like myself, when they were in high school. Instead of earning a paycheck, these dancers are often reimbursed via a discount on their own classes. When you’re not seeing that money in your account, and when you’re not managing those funds yourself, the value of your work can be too abstract. If I had had a non-industry job (e.g., retail sales associate, waitress, babysitter, etc.), I would have more quickly learned about money management. Second, having a job outside of the studio would have helped me to develop a wider skillset. Not only do these skills look good under your “Special Skills” part of your dance resume, but they can also help you find survival jobs more easily. If you are one of the many dancers who aren’t booking dance jobs back to back, then non-industry experience is invaluable when trying to find alternative ways to make ends meet.
I am not saying that your dancer shouldn’t work at the studio at all to receive discounted classes (or however they may be paid). There is a lot to learn on how to teach dance to kids. This is valuable information if they are interested in being a dance teacher. However, being where I am today, I wish I had only assisted at the studio one day a week instead of three and worked additionally somewhere else.
As a youngster, I trained at a studio that required dancers to take gymnastics classes up to a certain age. When I was in high school, I suffered an injury that required me to take a year off of dancing. Two years prior to that injury, I had begged my mom to let me drop gymnastics as I had no desire to really tumble. My mom said no to my request because she wanted me to maintain my back flexibility. Now, I hope my mother savors this moment, because I may never say these words again. Boy, was my mom right! The first thing that I “lost” in terms of my dancing post surgery was my back flexibility. I don’t need to impress upon you the importance of back flexibility and strength in dance. It was a hard hit to take.
In general, strength, flexibility, and range of motion are capacities that need to be improved and maintained for all professional athletes and performers. If you’re training at the same studio and with the same teachers year after year, it’s possible you may hit a physical plateau. Dancers need to cross-train to ensure that all muscle groups are worked. As we age, we need to be more careful about how we cross-train to reduce the risk of injury. In my old age, I find that yoga, pilates, barre classes, cycling, and swimming are good cross-training options. But I wish I had explored my options more thoroughly as an adolescent.
The dance industry is not uniform—it varies from place to place. Different cities and communities offer different training and career options for dancers. I truly wish I could have explored New York, Chicago, and LA during my sophomore or junior year of high school. This would have provided me with a better idea of what each city had to offer and, in turn, would have helped me make a more informed decision about where to go post high school. I know traveling is not cheap. But in the long run, it isn’t even about saving money. It’s about saving time. I attended university in Chicago and, therefore, made industry connections in Chicago. So when I moved to LA, I had to start over. I am very grateful for my college experience. But I have to wonder, would I have selected a school in Chicago if I had known more about the dance industry elsewhere? I wouldn’t have to grapple with this question had I traveled more as a young adult.
4. Attending Live Shows
There a ton a of dance shows (e.g., dance companies, Broadway tours, SYTYCD) that tour the United States. Attend them. Live shows are a great educational tool. It’s all about exposure. Give your dancer the chance to encounter different styles of dance. It may spark a new interest for them. It may reshape their goals entirely. I didn’t see my first dance company until I was a freshmen in college. Had I attended live shows when I was younger, I might have discovered a different passion and plotted a different career path. That’s not to say that I’m dissatisfied with my dance career. I like where I am. But my limited exposure in my youth leaves that “what if” question in the back of my mind. So again, attend live shows.
5. Ballroom Dancing
To be honest, I don’t even know where in my hometown I could have taken ballroom classes. But mastering that particular style is so important. In my experience, competition dancers typically aren’t trained in ballroom, and I think that’s sad. It’s not just about learning a different style, it’s about using your body in a completely different way. More practically, ballroom teaches you how to dance with a partner, which is an important skill needed to succeed in the industry. For those dancers who are small and petite, they got a glimpse of what it is like to partner with someone for lifts. For those of us (people like me), who were almost just as tall as all the boys in our studio there was no way I ever partnered with them. Being able to dance with someone, not next to them, is a skill in all of itself. Given its usefulness, I wish I had become more comfortable with this style of dance when I was younger.