Coming Full Circle and the Art of Non-Compromise


Back in 2006, I walked into my supervisor’s office at a major NYC University and I gave a generous 4 weeks’ notice. I had just been offered my 2nd promotion (and a raise), had a retirement plan, a decent salary, plenty of paid vacation and had earned the respect of my colleagues. I had a comfortable job. I worked hard. As a trained counselor with strong admin skills, disability services was a rewarding path for me. What happened? Two things:

  1. I was bitten by the professional dancer bug.
  2. They restructured our department and moved us out of our offices and into cubicles. Yeah….CUBICLES! My colleague and I referred to it as the “glass case of emotion” — (cool points if you get the reference).

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No way was I going to do a soul-crushing commute to sit in a cubicle and dream about being a full-time dancer. I was a diligent student who did whatever gigs came my way but I wanted more and I was ready to follow my passion without regret. Suddenly I had photoshoots, a web site, business cards and a cell phone that was always within reach. I had an agency pumping more gigs my way than I knew what to do with and I secured some regular restaurant jobs. I was busy and it was exciting.

As years went by, I found myself wanting to be more creative than the typical gig called for. I joined dance companies, choreographed some pieces for theatrical shows and scratched the itch as I went along. Now, my need for creativity and non-sparkly dance outlets has only grown stronger. I still enjoy the typical “gig” but only because I do about 1/4 to 1/2 of what I used to do.

Returning to a day job on a part-time basis has given me the freedom to cherry pick the dance jobs that I accept. Since dance is no longer my sole source of income, I can spend more time feeling like an artist or diving into my love of folklore. It’s afforded me the ability to be non-compromising. If a client doesn’t appear to respect what I do, or if the job seems like more hassle than it’s worth, I don’t take it. So now the jobs I do are, for the most part, really fulfilling.

I realize my future will see even more “day job” work and fewer gigs, but I suspect this will be a very rich time in my dance life. The irony isn’t lost on me. I left a full-time job to earn my living as a dancer. After a while, the full-time dance life left very little time to actually enjoy dance. And now, what sustains me is the fact that I am able to choose dance. We’re best friends, but no longer co-dependent. I’m more in love with every movement as a result. I show up to my gigs excited to be there. My relationship with dance is on my terms now and I had to come full circle to reach this place.

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Shimmyathon, 2016, Peter Paradise Photography

If you’re considering a drastic life change to allow more space for dance, just go into it with eyes wide open. It’s a great thing to experience and teaches you a lot of about running a small business, managing client expectations, pushing through physical limits, dealing with the ebb and flow of fluctuating finances and a heck of a lot more. If you want more time to dance for YOU, out of pure love for the culture and the music, you just might want to remain a hobbyist.

The dance hobbyist has the best of both worlds. You can have all the sparkly and adventure…with a 401K on the side.

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Tava is a highly regarded professional bellydancer, instructor, choreographer and author of the best-selling book, “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals.” She performs regularly throughout the NYC Metro Area and the tri-state area. Equally at home performing at galas, family occasions, cultural events, theaters or in music videos, she prides herself on having a career with as much variety as possible.

In addition to the “sparkly bits” of her life, Tava has a Masters in Counseling from Fordham University and uses the dance as a tool for building self-esteem and healthy body image for women.

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