In a sick way, we glorify the “starving artist” kind of life. We take pride in being so dedicated to our art that we must scrounge for food, stealing ketchup packets from restaurants and stuffing free bagels in your purse every chance you get. We joke about living in a cardboard box with 9 roommates to help cover the rent. We accept bad working conditions, unfulfilling work, and much less pay than we are worth just because we're desperate to tell the world "I’m a professional dancer."
But are you really destined to become a starving artist once you leave the comfort of your parent’s home?
We go to colleges to major in dance or elite training schools to prepare us with the physical skills needed to enter the field as a professional. But what’s missing in our education is the real-world knowledge of how to go about actually living in the field as a professional:
- How do you support yourself in the dance world when there are so few jobs available and so little money to go around?
- How are you supposed to pay for health insurance and the cost of your pointe shoes as a freelancer?
- How are you going to afford all the dance classes you have to take to stay in shape while between contracts?
- How are you supposed to pay for healthy food to keep fit and nourished when the rehearsal stipend you get barely pays for subway travel to and from rehearsals?
With increasingly more competition and less money in the arts these days, the chances of you scoring a contract that pays for all your needs (and allows you to live the lifestyle you want) year-round is highly rare. But just because you have to find work outside of your dance career doesn’t mean you are any less of a dancer. It doesn't mean you don't deserve to dance on a professional level. And it definitely doesn't mean you are destined to be a starving artist either.
Look the reality is...there just isn't enough money out there in the dance world to pay all the deserving, hardworking, talented dancers what they are worth. Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.
But that doesn't mean your life should suffer. The key is being creative with finding other ways of making money…AND not being ashamed of that.
There is absolutely no shame in working a side hustle to support yourself. In fact, you’ll probably be able to sport a better lifestyle (think: vacations, experiences, financial freedom) than if you rely on your dance income alone. Plus, there’s a sense of empowerment that comes from being able to pay your own bills each month rather than relying on Mom and Dad to send a check your way. It might not seem glamorous on the surface to work that second or third job, but it can be very rewarding in the long run.
In fact, finding outside work to support yourself might even make your dance career MORE fulfilling. There's this concept called the “Sex & Cash Theory” originated by Hugh MacLeod:
“THE SEX & CASH THEORY - The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often.”
Instead of enduring that needy, desperate feeling as you bounce from one low paying contract to the next in your dance career, wondering where your next month’s rent is going to come from (*cue A Chorus Line’s “I Hope I Get It”), having a “cash” job actually takes the pressure off your ballet because you aren’t relying on it to survive. Not only is this less stressful, but it allows you to curate your dance career better. You can take the jobs you really find interesting and fulfilling instead of feeling like you have whore yourself out (pardon my French;) and desperately take whatever you can get.
I’m not saying you should be a money-hungry, ruthless b*tch. But let’s face it…the more money you have, the more experiences you can indulge in like travel, food, hobbies, & lifestyle luxuries. And the more experiences you indulge in…the more you fuel your artistry.
Now, the trick is finding a “cash” job that doesn’t leave you exhausted for your ballet. While you do want to experiment and find a job that works with your personality and skill set, mindset alone is a huge factor here. If you can appreciate whatever job you get, be it waiting tables, doing office work, or even pursuing another full-time career, as an opportunity to level up in life and cushion your art, that will go a long way towards having a fulfilling life and dance career. On the other hand, if you dread your side hustle and are ashamed every time you clock in, that is going to suck the life right out of you and leave you drained of inspiration for your dancing.
There's no magic formula for finding a “cash” job that works for you other than just going out there and attacking life one step at a time. Trust that you’ll figure things out as you go through trial and error. Just have confidence that it can be done, and it can totally add to your life and your art. Figuring out what will allow you to make money while giving you the least amount of stress is important for preserving your body and mind for your art. It may take some time to figure out what works for you, but the important thing is that you start searching...and don't shame yourself for not being "good enough" to live off your dancing alone.
The truth is, it's super empowering once you realize you can make it all on your own. I'm not saying it's easy...but it's worth the struggle. Embrace your “cash” job for what it is…then enjoy your passion without the heaviness of survival hanging over your art.
"Instead of working with a thing you love, think about how to work in a way you love." ~ Matt Linderman