What does your dance bio say about you?
Every time I go to a dance performance, I cringe and my eyes glaze over as I start to read the dancers’ bios in the program:
Jane Doe started training at Such-n-Such Academy where she studied under the great Madame X. She went on to train at Blah-Blah Conservatory and attended the Let’s-Brag-A-Little-More summer intensive taught by ballet masters A, B, and C. She was then invited on full scholarship to attend the XYZ School of Ballet. Upon graduation, she joined ABC as an apprentice and worked her way up the ranks to soloist. She then went on to dance with DEF, GHI, JKL, and MNO companies where she performed the roles of Juliet, Aurora, Cinderella, blah, blah, blah, blah-blah.
It’s the same endless list of overcompensation. It’s almost a game of one-upmanship where every dancer is attempting to look more skilled on paper than the others with her list of fancy schools, awards, and job titles. (My bio looks like this, too…I’m not saying I’m innocent here!) And, of course we don’t mean to be boastful or arrogant...this is just how dance bios have always been written, and so we follow suit.
Most of us feel obligated to catalog our accomplishments as if they are what determine our worth not only as dancers but as human beings. How you went to this prestigious school; how you were invited on scholarship here; or how you studied under these revered ballet masters…those are the things that are somehow supposed to tell a story about who you are and give the audience an idea of your dancing.
But, I despise this tradition. Look, I get that this stuff is an important part of us as artists. But, it’s certainly not the only part. It just reinforces what is already too prevalent in the dance world - that our worth is determined by these outside circumstances…by the roles and titles assigned to us...by subjugating to the system, following the rules, & playing the same game everyone else has always played.
Well, I don’t want to play that game anymore. I’m ready to play by my own rules and make my own way…even if it’s only in my mind. I've allowed myself to be destroyed by the system and these external pressures far too long. The mental torture of trying to be who I'm "supposed to be" and get ahead in such a competitive field has been excruciating, and it chokes my creativity. I'm done with seeing myself as just another puppet in the dance world whose worth is determined by how well I play by someone else's rules.
Instead, what if our bios described the qualities we love portraying with our dancing, what we are truly passionate about in life, the experiences that have impacted our art, the love and friendships that have irrevocably changed us and that we’ve been able to channel into our dancing?
What if we started listing the things that really made us feel alive, the things that give us inspiration, the memories that have shaped who we are – the summers you spent building tree forts with your brothers and swimming in the lake, the vacations you've had where you could totally submerse yourself in the experience without worrying about your dance technique suffering, the relationships that have brought you to another level of living. It’s less about bragging and more about recognizing and appreciating the life that you have lived and the choices you’ve made. It’s being happy with where you are now and where you are headed. It puts the emphasis on choosing how you want to spend your time on this earth and taking responsibility for your actions…rather than just being swept along in the system.
The next time I’m asked to write a bio, I might be tempted to write something more like this:
Tanya enjoys long walks on the beach, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and spending time exploring the world… [Insert cheeky grin]
Changing the way the world sees you starts with changing the way you see yourself. Start viewing your worth through the life that you live…and the life in you…versus the obligations and expectations you hold yourself to. You are so much more than your list of accomplishments. Start discovering what else is inside you. As practice for appreciating your life and all that makes you unique, write your own real-you-bio. No one has to ever read it. Just use it as a mental tool to remind yourself that you are worth more than the roles you've played and the jobs you've been offered. Our field is riddled with disappointment and broken dreams. It can be so easy to get down on yourself if you let how your dance career looks on paper determine your worth. If you focus on building this real-you-bio to reflect on in moments of despair, it can serve as a reminder that there's more to you than these outside circumstances...and you’ll teach yourself not to be destroyed by them.
Start exploring who you really are...and what you are really worth. Here's a hint: it has nothing to do with what schools you've gone to or the contracts you've been offered. It has everything to do with the unique experiences you've had that have shaped your life and your art.
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