15. “I can’t afford to be a dancer anymore” : The Post Graduate Dilemma

I want to discuss an issue that is very close to me, as I’m about to graduate, and an issue that I’ve hinted at many times on this Blog and in person.

The Post Graduate Dilemma.

Not just any post graduate dilemma though (cause if we face the facts, no post graduate is 100% safe in this economy). I want to share my voice on the issues of dance degrees in U.S. universities. This has been sparked by a recent article from Dance/USA:


And as this is a university issue, I’ll be modestly using photos I’ve taken while at TXST.

Is American modern dance a pyramid scheme? Yes.

I’m going to be blunt about this: In all of my 6 years in the university dance community as a student and, more recently, as a scholar and TA, I’ve seen how quickly dance majors switch to another more lucrative degree after learning about the realities of a dance major’s post graduation life.

A dance major will not have a job after graduation. A dancer major will not have health insurance after graduation. A dance major will not have consistency after graduation. Sure, these things matter to ALL majors after graduation, but it is with the dance major that these things are VITAL in order to maintain the proper dancer body, mind, and spirit.

IMG_5343So what is happening inside of U.S. universities, the breeding ground of dance? As the article states clearly, “the American university system is growing rapidly. Tuition doubled over the past two decades, no doubt in order to compensate impressive university presidents and renovate and construct buildings and stadiums to attract students. Departments have to attract students to their programs, so they hire and promote star faculty to prove to the administration that they deserve attention and funding.”

See Forsythe and USC Dance, and, closer to my home, TCU. Attracting the swarms of worker-dancer drones to the honey pot of big name choreographers is not the solution, but it will continue to happen. It works; universities see a spike in auditions and applications when someone like Forsythe or Jaffe are exclusively announced to their dance program. But I continue to see a misplaced value in how those dance students see “the best of the best” and nothing beyond that. Still, I continue to have a naive hope that the worker-dancers become more than that. I hope that, as dancers, they value the whole of dance, not just the part of dance that they were spoon-fed.

IMG_5387But back to the main issue; dance majors can barely afford to survive in school (granted they are making ends meet at least 50% on their own), so why is it a surprise that they can’t afford to survive outside of school in a hostile economic environment? They can’t take classes, they can’t travel to workshops, they can’t perform or create for festivals, and they can’t afford to get injured without insurance.

They instead take on dozens of second jobs that stress and overtake their lives. Their once strong self-confidence as a dancer diminishes rapidly. A personal friend of mine saw her dance career evaporate entirely in a matter of a year as she no longer had the will or drive to say confidently, “I am a dancer.” Instead, post graduation, her mantra became, “I can’t afford to be a dancer anymore.”

Yet, these dancers and choreographers are the life force of the dance world! It’s not the educators in the classroom or the writers of the articles or the already established and acknowledge professionals (aka our dance “elders”) that will be producing the current line of dance work. It is and will always be the new generation of dancers and choreographers, mainly those that are post graduates, that should be producing the bulk of new dance works.

IMG_3628Why doesn’t the fostering of dance majors start from the very beginning and carry through until the climax into their professional lives? Why does the system drop them during the most crucial point of their lives, post graduate?

I don’t know. But I do know that the system will change again.

Not soon, but it won’t be a pyramid forever. Right now America values the money making future over the creative endeavor future. Until American universities and the public realize the worth in creative endeavors, i.e. in-depth and personalized dance degrees, it’s going to be a long and gloomy path for post graduates: “But out of hundreds of students who attend these programs, anecdotal evidence confirms that only a few will be contacted for an opportunity to audition for or dance with a choreographer.”

IMG_2255We must be harsh about dance when it comes to this topic. And it must happen everyday.

We tend to forget about it because we have so many grand successes in the professional dance world, mostly ballet and Broadway at the moment. Across the global, choreographers and companies are awake and reaching upwards once again. The current public is receptive to contemporary dance trends and dramatized dance-related films. Yet, the current public is ignorant or ambivalent to the dancer’s post graduate dilemma.

Success sells. Failures suck. For a simple public, it’s as simple as that.

So, let’s not forget about the people in the places that really matter, the university students. They are paying for a cohesive education, for fresh connections, for unique training, and for personal knowledge about dance. They deserve our attention and our support during this difficult dilemma.



2 thoughts on “15. “I can’t afford to be a dancer anymore” : The Post Graduate Dilemma

  1. Pingback: 2. In the Heat | Jessica Maria MacFarlane

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