Life as a Ballet Dancer
"But, what's your actual job?"
It’s always really awkward at family parties when that one aunt, who isn’t really your aunt, but you call your aunt just out of convenience, asks you what school you’ve decided on or what major you’ve chosen, and you have to tell her you haven’t done either. Instead, you’ve pursued your passion she thought you’d grow out of and now have a full-time job as a ballet dancer—something you’ve exhaustively trained and sacrificed much for. Yet, the most awkward part is when she responds with, “But what’s your actual job?”
Most people’s daily routine involves sitting in a cubicle all day, or maybe standing behind a cash register relaying the script, “Hello, how ya doing today?” to every single person in line. Me? I get to go to a dance studio everyday and get paid to do what I love. This is my actual job.
It didn’t always used to be this way, though. It took a lot for me to get here.
I started dancing when I was just seven years old, but fell in love with ballet and seriously started follow my passion around the age of nine. I am so truly and eternally grateful that I was able to discover my dream and knew what I wanted to do at such a young age. While many of my friends at school wondered what they wanted to be when they grew up, or what major they would determine for college, I already knew my plan: I was going to be a ballet dancer. But trust me, it’s easier said than done.
Much of my childhood was spent at the studio, and consequently, I didn’t go out to parties with my school friends much. So, when I started homeschooling in seventh grade because of ballet, I didn’t really have anymore non-ballet friends. When I was invited to a family event, or someone’s wedding or party, my response usually went something like, “Sorry, I have dance.”
Many people would call this a deprivation of my childhood, but, in all honesty, I wouldn’t have had in any other way. This was my definition of a childhood and while it seems I missed out on a lot of things, I actually gained so much in return: A sense of responsibility, determination, perseverance, and motivation. Ballet has taught me how to get over my insecurities, even though it’s proven to be very difficult at times, forced me to mature quickly, and taught me to be quick on my toes (haha, pun!).
While most people don’t get a job in their field of study until after they graduate college, around 22 or sometimes older depending on what they decide to do, ballet dancers start applying and auditioning for jobs around the mere age of 18 years old. Retirement for ballerinas is much earlier than those who have desk jobs; most ballet dancers stop dancing before they even reach their forties. Not many get employed right away, and instead, have to work their way up through an apprentice position before getting into an actual company. And even then, some don’t make it. It’s a tough career both mentally and physically. Some get badly injured before they can even have the privilege of calling this their profession, and others can’t handle the mental weight of it all.
I am so blessed to say I’ve made it this far and I continue to love my job more and more every single day.
Everyday, I wake up at 6:30 to make sure I have enough time to get ready for the day: I take a shower, apply my makeup, get my dance bag ready, eat breakfast, and sometimes make lunch for myself. I leave my house around 7:30 and endure the horrible rush-hour traffic for forty minutes, arriving at work around 8:10. After changing, and doing my hair for the day, it’s time to roll out my already fatigued muscles and warm up my body. Every morning starts with technique class at 9:00 sharp, something we must do in order to ensure that our bodies and minds are ready for the long rehearsals ahead. We start with barre work and simple movements, warming up and loosening our muscles, joints, and ligaments, and finish with big, energy-filled jumps across the floor.
After an hour and a half long class, soon come the rehearsals. Every day tends to be slightly different, but I normally have around 30 minutes to an hour for lunch and the rest of my time is occupied by rehearsals for whatever production we’re getting ready for next. I tend to be out of the office around 4 or 5.
Nevertheless, my day doesn’t end there. Depending on the day, I’ll either go straight home, to the library, or make a trip to the gym or a gyrotonic/pilates studio to keep up with my cross training. Regardless, I still endure traffic, yet again, on the way home, which usually takes about thirty minutes. Once I’m home, I normally start to prepare some sort of meal and often a protein shake to help start my muscle recuperation. On days when I’m too tired to make anything, I might stop on the way home to pick something up. After a nice meal, I’ll take an epsom salt bath, which is horribly essential to my recovery. The last couple hours of my night are spent with ice packs on both knees, and both ankles, Netflix on the TV, tea, and often a pair of pointe shoes and a needle and thread.
Moreover, some of my weekends are filled with a whirlwind of rehearsals and performances depending on the season or production we’re getting ready for.
So, when people ask me what I do for a living, and I reply, “I’m a ballet dancer,” it can often be misconstrued as a hobby or something I pay to do, when in reality, I work a 9-5 job just like everyone else and get paid to do it, just like everyone else. Except, unlike most people, my workday is in an open, collaborative space, standing on my toes, and essentially a full-day cardio workout. I wholeheartedly love my job and all that it’s taught me. Sure, there are days when I absolutely don’t want to get out of bed because my body aches all over, and there are days when I wonder why I decided to pick a profession as rigorous as this one. But, there are also days when I ardently want to get out of bed even though my body aches all over, and there are days when I question why anyone would ever choose to do anything else. Like everyone else, I have my ups and downs; my good and bad days, but at least I’m doing what I love… and getting paid for it!