THE PROFESSIONAL DANCER
When dancers become professionals they take on a busy schedule. Dancing is a full-time job, like any other, except that the demands on the body are great and retirement is certainly much earlier than 65.
Everyday professional dancers take a class for one or two hours to warm up their muscles and keep their bodies in top physical condition. The exercises are similar to those they did as students but are often more complicated. Class usually starts in the morning around 10am or 11am and rehearsals then follow sometimes until 6pm. After a dinner break, the dancers might have a performance or perhaps more rehearsals.
For dancers their bodies are their instruments. Unlike musicians, who can leave their violins and pianos at home, dancers carry their instruments around wherever they go and have to look after them well, pampering them with saunas and whirlpool baths, looking after aching muscles with massages and feeding their bodies a healthy diet of nutritious, stamina-building foods.
In most jobs a sprained ankle or pulled muscle does not keep an individual from working at full capacity, but dancers need their bodies to be injury-free in order to rehearse and perform. This is not easy. Dancers' bodies go through a lot of wear and tear all day long with the almost non-stop execution of jumps, turns and other rigorous movements, so they are constantly liable to injury. The dancing you see performed on stage with great panache, ease and energy is practised over and over again in rehearsal, putting great demands on the dancers' bodies while also building confidence and stamina.
Once they are members of a professional company, dancers begin to take on roles in various ballets. During their first year, they usually are cast in corps de ballet and group dances. The first year is a difficult one because the young dancers have to learn new dances in many ballets. They also have to learn about the professional world of ballet, including how to wear their hair and makeup for performances and about travelling, touring, banking and working in a professional arts organization.
They also work vigorously in the classroom, rehearsal room and on stage. Some dancers remain in the corps de ballet and enjoy the work, the travelling and the performing. Others, who are talented and ambitious enough, rise through the ranks to perform featured soloist roles. If they are truly special dancers, they can go on to perform principal, starring roles. If they want to progress to soloist and principal roles, they have to impress the artistic management with hard work, discipline, reliability, stage presence and professionalism, as well as the dance attributes of musicality, strength, beauty, personality, technique and confidence.
The work never ends, from the day dancers enter a professional company until the day they decide to retire. Most dancers stop dancing when they are 35 or 40 years old, because their bodies have tired under the strain of years of work or, worst of all, because they are injured and forced to stop prematurely.
When most adults are settled into their careers and are financially secure dancers have to go through an entire career transition. Some dancers prepare during their dancing careers for work in other fields, but most are too busy dancing so career transitions can be difficult and traumatic. Some dancers remain in the profession as teachers, ballet masters, choreographers and directors. Others find whole new careers and fulfilment in such diverse areas as photography, writing, carpentry, medicine, law and acting. The possibilities are endless. And, of course, 35 or 40 is not too late to return to university to continue an academic education. Toronto's Dancer Transition Resource Centre was launched in 1985 to assist dancers through this difficult period and to provide them with guidance, counselling and resources.
The salaries for most ballet dancers are not very high, the work is exhausting and painful and the career is short-lived, but around the world professional dancers stay in their jobs for the simple reason that they love what they do.
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