On Being a Dancer with a Full-Time Day Job

There’s this persistent struggle I think a lot of artists face. For a very fortunate few, art can pay the bills. For most of us, though, there isn’t much money to be made in the arts, so we seemingly live two simultaneous lives in parallel: one that pays the bills and one that keeps us sane.

I have found over the years that most artists keep these two identities compartmentalized. It’s almost like two different people. One of my teachers, for instance, works as an assistant all day, then clocks out only to head to the studio to teach a few hours of classes, rehearse with her troupe, write choreographies, work on costumes, continue her training, or perform.

For me, it’s similar. My life looks like a typical 9-to-5 gig Monday through Friday. I work in a high-stress, fast-paced environment that has me starting the day with admin work, coaching employees, de-escalating customer service situations, helping my boss with forecasting and business planning, and the occasional ambush conference call with a higher-up. Once I leave work, I am most likely headed to a class, to a rehearsal, to home or the studio for practice, to a performance, or to the gym to do some cross-training and pre-hab work.

Sometimes, it feels like I’m on a never-ending hamster wheel trying to run fast enough to break free. Other times, I feel fortunate because I have the freedom to enjoy my art without having to worry about making ends meet.

You are no less of a creator for working a full-time day job.
Photo credit: Emmeline Pidgen, who I 100% stole this from without permission and who you should 100% check out because she’s freakin’ incredible | https://dribbble.com/shots/6196138-You-re-No-Less-A-Creator-For-Working-A-Day-Job

And you know what?

It’s totally okay

I am okay with being on the hamster wheel.

I am okay with feeling like I don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.

I am okay with struggling through the slog of a full work-day only to have an exhausting evening full of blood, sweat, and tears when I get home.

I am okay with feeling like I never get a break.

Is it ideal? Of course not.

Is it okay? Yes. Absolutely.

It means I have maintained my dedication and my passion. It means I am taking caring of myself. It means I am making progress and getting somewhere.

Maybe that somewhere isn’t where I want to be right now. But that’s okay. Things take time.

Working as a dancer doesn’t make me any less of a manager, so why would working as a manager make me any less of a dancer?

Having a passion for performing doesn’t ruin my performance at my job, so why would doing the work at my job kill my ability to kill it on stage?

We really are all equally valid as artists, even if the art has to take a back burner sometimes when the rest of our lives happens.

So let’s give thanks.

Counting the blessings of having a day job

I am fortunate for several reasons.

First, I am competent in what I do. My boss recognizes this (and just hates micro-managing in general), so he gives me a lot of freedom and flexibility in my job and how I choose to get it done. My boss is also very supportive of what I do, so if I want to leave in the middle of the day for a workshop or a class or a performance, I am allowed to do that.

Because I am so overwhelmed with work, I have learned how to delegate accordingly. In previous roles, I tended to gravitate towards a full schedule and a heavy workload. Now, I have taught myself how to learn to trust my employees and ask for help when I need it. It has made me a better manager.

I am lucky to be compensated pretty well for what I do. My pay is a bit above industry average and I live in a city with a pretty low cost of living, so I am able to save for retirement and afford things like health insurance, workshops, and certification programs. I am grateful for how comfortable my life is financially at this point, especially having experienced the complete opposite of this for most of my life.

I have a competent and dedicated team surrounding me, so I can feel confident and calm when I leave work for the day and for the weekend. For the most part, my work schedule is consistent, so I can plan around it and meet my obligations. Having worked with flaky teams in the past, I know how valuable consistency is.

Although my job can be stressful, the challenges present themselves as opportunities to grow – and even gain inspiration for my art. I am thankful to have this mindset because I have watched so many artists consider their day jobs crippling and stifling.

I have also proven to myself over the years that I can handle anything. My last semester of grad school, I was taking a full-time course load, working my management job, rehearsing with a dance troupe, and taking 3-5 dance classes per week, performing at least once per week. I told myself when I started the semester that I was going to regret biting off so much – and at times, I did (hello finals week) – but I also learned that I can rise to the occasion even when I set standards for myself that feel nearly impossible. I am thankful to have lost some of my doubt in my own capabilities.

I know that at some point, I will likely push against a wall where things begin to fall apart and I can’t keep carrying the sum of my workload anymore. Someday, something will have to give and I will catch myself half-assing something that is important to me. At that point, I think I will have to either downsize my pursuits or let something go entirely. That day worries me and I know I’m not ready to face it down yet, but for now, everything is okay and that’s really beautiful to say.

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