Career Development Plan - Realistic ambitions for dance as a hobby?

by Gabriel

Career Development Plan - Realistic ambitions for dance as a hobby?

I'm 26 years, male, and I've always had a passion for dance, though I haven't always practiced it. I took jazz dance classes from 6-10, then I switched to Judo and practiced for ~9 years (until one belt before the black). The reason for that switch was partly social pressure (dance isn't the 'coolest' hobby for boys), but I don't regret because I found that I also really like martial arts (to me they have a lot in common with dance). During college I took some contemporary classes and organized a performance with friends, for the last two years, while already working, I've been taking modern dance classes once a week and Jiu-Jitsu classes once a week. I've come to realize that I enjoy dance even more than martial arts and I want to take a slightly more serious approach (ie learn the basics instead of just going to classes where you learn a choreography).

I'm currently taking workshop classes in ballet basics and contemporary at an international dance festival in my hometown (Vienna in Austria/Europe that is). The kind of dance I enjoy most is modern/contemporary, but I felt that ballet could provide me with the mentioned basics. In fact, I enjoyed the ballett class so much that I spontaneously changed my summer holiday plans to take another workshop in ballett next week. I'm now inspired to go on further with dance and I've done research on what kinds of programs there are in my location for my age. It turns out that there are more options than just open classes: one school offers 1 year programs in ballet with some modern classes (so exactly what i'm looking for) intended to prepare people for auditions in BA/MA programs in dance (up to age 22), but also for people who just want to acquire solid dance skills (up to age 29). The classes would run in the evenings for 4-5 evenings a week and an audition is required to get in. Another school offers a 3-month introductory class in ballet for adults (once a week) after which you can take follow-up classes (also 3-month once a week) in two levels. And then there lots of schools which offer open ballet and modern classes for adults at all levels.

Now I am fully aware that a professional dance career is out of reach at my age (also, I'm very happy with my current career as a programmer), but I do feel that my body still has the potential to develop a lot to allow me to become at least a good dancer. To give you an idea: I weigh 67 kilos at 1m80 (that's 146 pounds at 5"11, I believe) and I've never had any problems maintaining that weight, even though I eat what I want and as much as I want (often a lot). I've got a lot of awareness of my body and that really allows me to focus on new techniques while staying relaxed in the rest of the body. My body still feels (and looks) pretty much the same as at age 16 (people have always told me that I have the body of a dancer), and I want to use this now to acquire dance skills before I start feeling my age.

The question that I am asking myself is how much effort it really makes sense to put into this: the mentioned 1-year program is really intense (and costly), it would block almost all of my free time during the week and even risk to be a drag on my career if I'm never available to work late. The 3-month program on the other hand is definitely not intensive enough for what I have in mind, with only one evening per week. Now what I am currently considering is either asking the first school whether I can maybe do a slightly reduced version of the program with only 3-4 evenings per week and/or spread it over 2 years, or taking the 3-month program and just doing a few additional classes at other schools. To me the big point for the first option ist that I would have a structured program that is intended to take people really far, while with the other option I might end up taking rather casual classes as I did so far. The big downside would be the high time demand (many classes start at 18h, and leaving at 17h is ok at my job during low season if I come early, but really early during busy times) and the hefty costs (the full version of the program would use up almost a third of my disposable income after fix costs, which I could definitely afford, but it'd be a lot - I'd be willing to pay it, however).

Now what would help me in making a decision on this would be a few thoughts on how far you think I could get with dance. My plan is to learn ballet thoroughly in order to have a good basis for learning modern/cont thoroughly afterwards. Do see any chances of using my dance skills somewhere outside a class (eg participate in workshops for professionals, smaller performances or maybe even teach)? I know that ballet is very strict and it will be impossible for me to catch up with people who have been doing it since they're 6 years old. But my impression is that the modern and especially contemporary dance world is a bit more forgiving. I know one guy (a local philosopher) who started dance in his later 20's and who is now a part-time contemporary pro (ie he features in performances sometimes). What do you think would be possible in my situation? And do you have any thoughts on the specific programs I mentioned?

One thing, just to make it clear: I have a profession and I intend to stick to it to earn my living. Dance is a hobby for me which I would like to take far, but I have no plans (yet ;)) of making my income dependent on it. This will of course mean that from time to time my job will take priority over dance, but I'm willing to scale back big career ambitions to give room to dancing.


Reply by Odette
To:- Career Development Plan - Realistic ambitions for dance as a hobby?

Hello Gabriel,
Thank you for your message, it is great to hear from you. I spent a lot of time reading through what you are saying and I must credit you, because you have a great sense of what you want as well as what is realistic for you. You are definitely one that knows what they're talking about, so trust yourself! My best piece of advice is always to go with your instincts. You may learn along the way and make mistakes, but you have more answers inside of yourself than you think. Don't be afraid to dig deep inside and listen to what you want.

My father is a black belt and instructor in karate, so I definitely understand your thoughts on the similarity between martial arts and dance. They are both extremely physical, yet require a lot of mental strength and focus.

I can see you want to pursue dance further, but without it overtaking your career path, which is a sensible idea since dance can be very unpredictable. You never know where it may take you, if anywhere, but it drives strongly on passion and determination. If the dancer is determined to make something out of their potential, then they will not give up until they have done so.

For you, you have to decide what are your priorites. Obviously, you want to take up ballet more and it will be hugely benefical for your development as a dancer. Yet you also want to create a balance in your life, as you don't want to occupy yourself with an ambitious and tight schedule that it drains you out of any enjoyment at all.

However, I think if you put yourself out there and get enough experience, you could be in for a chance to get more opportunities in dance. As you say, ballet is strict and has a specific technique that requires a lot of practice. Yet it is the people who are hungry and active to get a chance which are the ones who succeed in the end, even more so than the ones who are more technically gifted.

I hope you understand what I am saying and please feel free to keep in touch. I am keeping it short and sweet, because I want you to make this decision without being influened too much. When I was a young dancer and torn on making a huge decision, I asked so many people for advice that I think it knocked out my own opinion of what I truly wanted.

Let me know how you are getting on and I will always be happy to help out.

Best wishes,

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