I’d estimate most great dancers are, at a max, 1/10th natural talent. The ones who are generation-defining probably max out at about 1/4th natural talent. Of course, that’s just my opinion, but I’m guessing many would agree with me.
There’s maybe another 20% that is circumstantial or incidental. This can come from the age you started, your learning ability, and other skills that may transfer over well. It can even include dance training from other genres, martial arts, or gymnastics.
While there are some ‘great dancers’ who are not involved with teaching or performance, the majority of great dancers end up making dance either their livelihood, or at least a substantial part-time commitment – which can include teaching, event planning, and more. These are people who are beyond just being social dancers.
The remaining 70% is all work. Lots and lots of work. So, what does this work consist of?
Most great dancers are in shape. This doesn`t necessarily mean that they are the ideal shape, but it means they likely can rock the gym.
Now, most people who go casually (or, for many, not at all) may not have the gym know-how, but may understand how much commitment it takes to actually haul your butt and go sweat it out. Add to that the fact that many top dancers are constantly on the road or travelling and it gets really harder.
Would you have the motivation after a 8-hour travel day to hit a hotel gym? That’s a reality for many dancers.
Strength without flexibility (and vice versa) can be dangerous in dance. So, those who are great dancers also need to keep up their flexibility.
A good stretching routine can take 30+ minutes, and requires warming up prior to stretching. Ideally, stretching happens twice a day! While not all dancers may do this, many top dancers must in order to retain or improve their flexibility.
If you slide in your discipline, flexibility is also notoriously fast to disappear. Working on your splits? 1-2 days of laziness can undo a week’s worth of work!
Dance Training and Choreography
Obviously, to be great in dance you need to practice dancing. This can mean hours of drills, exercises, and creation time with and without a partner. Plus, if you are a competitive or performance dancer, routines must be choreographed, learned and finessed.
Dance training can take a good chunk of free time – and also must be maintained while travelling. Sometimes, if two partners live separately, travelling is the only available time to even work on choreographies!
Great dancers often are versed in multiple dance genres or complimentary skills. Complimentary skills can include martial arts, gymnastics, acting/theatre training, etc. These also take time (and often a monetary commitment) to develop.
Most great dancers spend at least some time branching into ballet, contemporary, or other social styles. Sometimes, dancers will learn an entirely new genre for the sole purpose of adding that influence to their choreography. That’s lots of work!
Taking Care of your Body
For a dancer, their body is their instrument. Many abstain from casual indulgences. This may involve watching their diet, size control, abstaining from alcohol, quitting smoking, and more. Once again, travelling dancers have the additional hurdle of eating healthy on the road.
Of course, these items that are needed to be a great dancer don’t even take into account the rest of life’s needs and obligations. Many dancers have another job in addition to dance. Those who teach full or part time still have to plan lessons, teach, perform, and sometimes run socials or practice sessions for students.
If a travelling professional, there are contract negotiations, promotion of the artist online, and more. There is the constant travelling, unpacking and repacking, crashing in unfamiliar places constantly, finding places to do laundry, and more.
There is also the obligation to be nice to students, fans, and clients. Dance is fun, but when you’re jetlagged and exhausted, polite socialization with people you don’t know well can be challenging. But, if you’re a professional, it is still your job to mingle, talk, and enjoy the evening. Many pro’s who don’t spend this time get ‘called out’ by members of the community for not social dancing the whole night after working the whole day.
Many dance professionals also branch out into other fields. They may learn how to manage their own website, remix music or DJ, learn social media marketing, draft their own contract, learn how to sew their own costumes, apply make-up, do hair, and more.
Great dancers often also give up many things outside of dance. This can include family gatherings, relationships, other hobbies, their evenings and weekends, and more.
So tell me, do you want to be a ‘Great Dancer’?
Becoming ‘Great’ is only for the passionate, driven individuals who make deep sacrifices for the thing they love. If there is anything else you’d rather do with your life, do it. Not only will you likely make more money, but you can still dabble in the social, fun, and engaging world of dance and be perfectly good.
There will be hard times, there will be fun times, and you may experience some of the biggest highs and lows of your life. A friend and professional dancer has shared many of their stories with me, which have included nearly becoming homeless, great risks, and, finally, being able to survive (eventually thriving) off of dance.
Greatness in dance is not for everyone – and that’s OK…
…but it is also important to recognize exactly what it takes for those who are Great to get – and stay – there. Recognize those people. I make it a point to message professionals who inspire me – even if I’ve only met them in passing once. With all the sacrifices, it is an amazing feeling when someone recognizes the work, sweat, and passion that has gone on to inspire you and others.
So, message your role model today – or even publicly compliment them. Tell them why they inspire you. Do it now, and say it loud!
The worst it will do is put a smile on their face 🙂