Recently, there has been a lot of talk about changing the ballet system to create fairer work environments and opportunities for dancers. Talks of diversifying and accepting different body shapes, sizes, and "looks," as well as issues of fair pay and treatment have been quite popular.
Are there politics in ballet, favoritism, unfair biases? Sure. Does that mean talented, deserving dancers get passed up for jobs? Absolutely. Is there foul play and mistreatment in our field? Oh, yes. Can our work environment and situations be improved upon? Definitely.
There’s no doubt that our dance world has a long way to go in terms of evolving as a legitimate professional career. However, when exploring these conversations, we have to be careful not to go down the rabbit hole on the other side of the spectrum where we play into the perpetual victim role.
You are not the poor defenseless creature this PC culture and social justice warriors want to make you believe you are. Yes, you can be in bad situations where you are treated unfairly, and that sucks. You don’t deserve the evil that happens sometimes. But, you always have power over your life. You always have a choice – you can stay there and take it…or you can leave. You can walk away from jobs that disrespect you. You can say “no” to things that violate your principles. You can ask for more money for the work you put in. You can start a conversation, a real conversation as an adult, with the people in charge:
"I’ve been feeling upset by “X situation." I may be misinterpreting things, so can we discuss what is going on for you and find a way of dealing with this so we both get what we need to excel?"
You’d be amazed what you can accomplish when you don’t come out blazing insults and accusations. Plus, it can be easy to misinterpret situations. Sometimes, the story going on in your head can be nowhere near close to reality. Those tricksy little mental demons can really play wicked games, twisting your perception of things to create a monstrous story about how you are being mistreated. And, when you push those feelings down without addressing them, you are bound to explode eventually from all the built-up tension and emotional turmoil.
Trust me. It took me 30 plus years to get up the nerve to address issues rather than let myself feel walked all over. I made a lot of mistakes in my past because of it. I was too scared to hurt someone else’s feelings and be seen as “difficult”…so I would let my own feelings get trampled. Then, I would end up behaving in ways I regretted because of all the built-up hurt and aggression. Not a good way of dealing with frustrations.
Truth be told, some directors and authority figures have their own issues to work through and may know perfectly well they are mistreating and taking advantage of you. Others might not have a clue about how their actions are hurting and affecting you. But, it’s your responsibility to bring your issues to them and see how they respond.
Things won’t always be resolved according to your wishes. Things may not be fair. But, you can always walk away. There are other jobs out there. It’s not worth it to be undervalued and mistreated. But, instead of blaming your problems on someone else, you own the consequences of your actions. There’s real power in knowing you are directing the course of your life instead of feeling manipulated by others.
This doesn’t mean you deserve to be yelled at, put down upon, or treated like an indispensable animal. You shouldn’t have to engage in unhealthy practices to maintain a low weight and frail aesthetic in order to please your director. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your body or time for anyone’s artistic vision. What you do with your life is your choice alone. But, until you own that…you will be stuck blaming other people for your situation in life. That takes power away from you and destroys your only chance of winning this game – by taking ownership of your body and your life.
It’s easier to stay quiet and think of yourself as a victim than it is to have that difficult conversation with management. But, if you really want to take charge of your life, these are the kind of Big-Girl steps you need to take. And, if we want to change our field from the inside out, this self-awareness that you are choosing to work in an art where competition is fierce, jobs are limited, and money is scarce is crucial...yet, you are still in control of your life. And, every dancer that owns the responsibility to stand up for his or herself as an artist and voice the work issues that are important is a chance for our field to evolve and get better for all of us.
Photo credit: Rachel Neville