Top Three Things I Wish I Realized as a Professional Dancer
By Karen More
I retired from my dance career about 9 years ago. I loved being a professional dancer. It is a special feeling, being able to express everything without words. I learned so much from my dance training and career: discipline, dedication, attention to detail, focus, persistence, and a strong work ethic. I’ve reflected a lot on my career and everything I’ve learned, both positive and negative. And if I could go back and talk to my younger self, this is what I would say:
1. Your body is amazing exactly as it is.
As a dancer, I was always striving to improve my technique, lines and performance. So much time was spent trying to get to the next level of achievement. Watching other dancers, it was hard not to become wrapped up in comparisons and wanting to be more or less than what I was. I wish I could tell that dancer, your body is amazing exactly as it is. Look at your body. Really see it. It is a gift. It moves in a way that is a result of hours and hours of training. It expresses everything you’ve always wanted to say, and everything that you have ever felt. Truly loving your body and yourself is a practice, start that practice today.
2. Use your voice.
I remember dancing with a company and listening to other dancers speak up about the things we all thought were unfair. I was shocked. How could they say those things to the director? Didn’t they care more about the dancing? Didn’t they care more about their art? Therein lies the problem. I believed in art above all. I believed that suffering was part of the process. That is a false and detrimental narrative. I was afraid to use my voice because I thought it would reflect that I didn’t care about the work. I was afraid to use my voice because I didn’t want to lose my job. The last four years have solidified the importance of using my voice to stand up for myself and each other. I would tell my younger self that being in environments where you are valued is more important than dance. And using your voice to call out what you know is wrong is more important than keeping your job. Seek the place where your voice is heard and valued.
3. Take time to rest.
As a dancer, I was always on the go. I loved dancing and was excited to be in class, rehearsals, workshops, and performances. I was eager to learn and grow; and dancing fed my soul. I didn’t want to rest. And so if I was tired or had a mild injury, I danced anyway. At the time I thought I was such a hard worker and dedicated dancer. I really embodied the philosophy of someone else out there is training and excelling right now; so I better get to work. But the body and mind need time to heal and recover. And that “just keep going” attitude was an unhealthy habit that became hard to break. Although deeply connected to my body, I wasn’t listening to it. I wasn’t mindful of my body. I treated it like a machine and counted on it to keep producing no matter what. I would tell that dancer, giving your body opportunities to rest and recover is an act of self-love. Create the space for that love.
I am grateful for my dance training and career, and all of the experiences that came with it. I appreciate my journey and the timing of the lessons I’ve learned and the life I’ve manifested. But if I was to walk into a rehearsal studio, I would share with the dancers what I wish I knew then. Your body is amazing. Use your voice. Take time to rest.