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Losing Structural Integrity

Back when you’re in dance school your teachers warn you about life in the real world. Meetings are held. The…

By Melanie Kuxdorf , in Blogs Struggle and Strife: A Dancer's Life , on January 18, 2008

Back when you’re in dance school your teachers warn you about life in the real world.

Meetings are held. The words “parallel career” are thrown at you.On The Move, Toronto

They tell you stories about the dancer who was also a doctor – he would run out of class when his pager called him in for an emergency. There was that girl who made brownies and made a lucrative cottage business. Or the dancer who started a successful dance clothes company.

These ridiculous examples were to be the elements of our survival.

Now how do you get the skills for this parallel career in a program where you have no time, really, to do anything outside dancing, eating and sleeping? Never mind becoming a doctor.

Dance jobs don’t pay, so in the real world you teach or wait tables. But you’ll be lucky to have enough time to make it to morning class. And if you don’t take class, are you a dancer any more?

As for grants (where all the dance money comes from), to be eligible:

  • The BC Arts Council requires at least three post-school years of professional experience
  • The Canada Council requires “that recent graduates…develop a professional portfolio prior to applying.”

…And only then are you even considered “emerging”.

It’s even harder for a choreographer. To be eligible:

  • BC Arts requires two professionally produced works
  • Canada Council requires three

…Which means you had to pay your dancers, somehow.

Better start making brownies.

However, some people are trying to fill the gap. Moving Space and Time points out that on Feb 8-9 the On The Move conference (aimed at new graduates) is taking place. I attended it in its first year, 2004, and it looks like it’s been getting better every year.


  • Hi Melanie,

    Thanks for inviting me to take a look at your blog. 🙂

    For me, one of the biggest challenges since leaving school is realizing how long it actually takes to build something. In school, we receive more or less instant gratification with feedback at least every semester (4 months), a rigid structure and system is in place, and we get something new to work on pretty much all of the time. Projects are linear, relatively short and concise. Our bodies are finely tuned throughout the entire process. We are given opportunities to make our own initiatives, and there is a system of support underlying it, plus we get to interpret the works of others and support their vision. Truly fantastic, but then there’s the “real world”.

    I think that all of these aspects are out there…it just takes more time to find them, put them together, and actually get an idea off the ground. Plus, no two paths are alike, so things can get disheartening when we feel like we’re the only person on the planet that is going through this or that. Persistence is a word that comes to mind…and persistence isn’t easy, but dance isn’t the only field that requires it. I embarrassingly burst into tears the first time that I heard I wasn’t eligible for a BC Arts Council grant, but the next year (which feels like a LONG time, but perhaps isn’t) I was ready to make my arguments successfully.

    I’d like to get a “Creative Focus Group” going this year as one more supportive tool for us young artists to use so that we can make work for each other, help push each other forward, and then when we’re ready…get the general public involved, and then maybe some money will come our way so that we can feed and shelter ourselves comfortably as dance artists and not have to rely so heavily on baking brownies. 🙂

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