Advice to my Fellow Twenty-Somethings Trying to Make a Living as an Artist

I started my dance training at the age of five after experiencing dance for the first time through a show at my library. I immediately fell in love with everything about this art form and begged my parents to sign me up for classes. Growing up, dance was always an important part of my life, but it wasn’t until after I graduated high school that it really began to shape me as a person.

People always knew me as the smart, quiet, little dancer girl. I graduated from high school, and like most 18 year olds I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do in life. Anytime people asked me about my plans or what I wanted to pursue, I always said I didn’t know and that the only hobby/interest in my life that I’d never gotten burnt out on was dance. They would look at me as if to say, “Well, that’s cute that you danced, but it’s time to do something real now.” After I had some core classes under my belt, I transferred to Kennesaw State University to become a business major because that was considered a “normal” career choice. I heard that KSU had a dance department so I went to tour it on the day of my orientation and thought I might declare a dance minor. The moment that I stepped inside that studio during my tour changed everything. As I stared around at their beautiful dance space in awe, suddenly something clicked deep within me; it just felt right. Without even meaning to, I had found my place. I continued that semester still with full intentions of getting my business degree, but I slowly became more and more miserable. I realized I just didn’t have a passion for what I was doing there. It meant nothing to me and felt pointless.

Fast forward a couple of semesters later, and sure enough, I finally auditioned and declared a dance major instead. My three years at KSU changed my life. While people thought I was twirling through college and wasting my life away, I was actually learning how to hang/focus stage lights in a theatre, how to intellectually analyze/write about dance in a scholarly manner, how to skillfully teach dance through various pedagogical approaches, and how to write grant proposals. KSU’s program was incredibly well-rounded, and I was constantly surrounded with seemingly misfit artists just like me who were going against the norm for their career paths. Talk about an inspiring, nurturing environment! I discovered a lot about myself both as a person and an artist during my college years. It was actually during my time at KSU that I discovered my passion for teaching. If you’d told anyone back in high school that that painfully shy, awkward girl would one day stand with authority in front of a crowd of kids and parents as a dance instructor, no one would’ve believed you.
Dancing feet

So for all the rest of you twenty-somethings out there who’ve chosen to make dance your profession and are just finding your place in the world, here’s some things I want you to know:

1. Follow your arrow.
Put yourself first. Don’t put your dreams on the backburner because of other people’s opinions. Do what sets your soul on fire, not theirs. We’re all uniquely beautiful human beings each with different talents and skillsets. You can’t make yourself fit in a box just because that’s where other people think you belong. You don’t have to choose a career path solely based on what makes the most money. That’s great, but is money always going to make you happy?

2. It’s okay to not have everything figured out.
Try a little of everything until you find your niche. Just because your life isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that you aren’t taking steps in the right direction. Be patient with yourself. You’ll get there. You have the rest of your life to get where you’re going. I know people put a lot of pressure on us millennials to know exactly what career path we want from the moment we step foot in a school. Guess what? You’re going to change your mind a million times, and that’s okay so just be open to whatever comes along.

3. Exercise professionalism in all that you do.
Meet deadlines. Proofread your emails before you send them. Show up on time and be dependable. Go beyond what’s expected of you. Practice good communication skills. I can assure you that, as much as it seems like it might be, professionalism is not dead. Millennials are often cast in a terrible light as being entitled, lazy, and incapable of professionalism. Prove them wrong. Be the different one. I promise people will remember you for it.

4. Don’t measure your success off other people.
Life isn’t a race so stop comparing yourself to everyone else around you. I know that’s easier said than done, especially in the dance world. We spend hours upon hours just staring into a mirror at ourselves and others doing the exact same steps. Ballet gives us very clear-cut, objective standards. This is correct, and that is incorrect. In ballet that achieves its purpose, but don’t let that kind of mindset carry over into how you view your life as a whole. Just because you’re not dancing professionally, working your dream job, starting a family, etc. doesn’t mean you’re not accomplishing anything. It’s not all or nothing. We all hit different milestones at different times so don’t let that cloud your vision. Keep on chasing those dreams; you’ll get where you need to be.

5. Don’t sell yourself short. Know your value.
This one took me until my senior year of college to figure out, and honestly I still struggle with it a lot. Maybe you see a job posting and don’t apply for it because you don’t feel like you’re good enough or ready for it, but let me tell you… you’re never going to feel ready. Go for it. You’re capable of so much more than you even know. Don’t just tie yourself down somewhere where the people you work with stifle that fire within you and don’t treat you well or respect your input. You’re worth more than that so please don’t ever give up on your dreams.