Recently, I was asked by a very intelligent, seemingly sensitive, research scientist at Jefferson University Hospital, "I know you're a dancer... but do you work?"
Yes, I'm a dancer. I'm a professional dancer. Dancing is my work.
|Photo by Brian Mengini|
I don't have a lab coat. I have a leotard and tights and several layers of warm ups.
I don't have a sterile lab. I have a studio. That is honestly covered with the sweat, blood, and spit of my colleagues and me.
I don't take blood or urine samples. I give them... in addition to giving my heart and my soul.
I don't ask questions to participants. I actively seek them out. I am the questioner and the subject. I am the analyst and the object.
You've taken my blood. And my heart rate. And the pressure of my heart and lung capacity. And urine. And asked intimate questions.
I've responded honestly because I know that even if the work you're doing doesn't benefit me directly, it will improve the quality of life of someone in this world. Someone will benefit from your work and from my discomfort. Someone will experience his/her day-to-day cycle free from discomfort and worry because of what I am donating to your cause.
But you ask me if I work.
I ask you... when did you last see a live performance? Listen to music? Read poetry - or a book? Watch a movie - or a television drama?
What did it take to produce that performance? music? poetry? book? movie? drama?
It took practice. Patience. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Heart beats. Blood pressure. Urine. Uncomfortable questions and answers that might not have been offered gently.
It took work.
And although your
quality of life was improved by your engagement, and enjoyment, of the performance, music, poetry, literature, movie, drama... it took a lot of time, effort, energy, and money to produce.
Just like you're waiting for your research on your experimental drug to be funded. We, the artists that create the moments that you work to attend on your weekends, your vacation, your time off, are also waiting for our funding. We're waiting for our work to be recognized as work
I deeply appreciate that in the future, my children (or the children of my friends and loved ones) will benefit from the research you are doing and I am glad to be an active participant for you. I value your work for the benefit of the future. Please, value my work, for the benefit that I, and the other artists in this community, provide you on a daily basis.
Yes. I'm a dancer. A professional dancer. And yes. I work. Very, very hard. I put in at least 80 hrs a week, staying in tune with my instrument, finding what's relevant in my field, asking questions, researching, teaching.
(Oh, did I mention that I teach? Throughout Pennsylvania. 'Wow... isn't that a long drive?' Well, yes, but my work is important. 'Oh! (interested body language and tone that gives me a bit of credit from Doctor Jefferson). What do you teach?' Seriously?? (I think, but don't say) I'm a professional dancer. Do you think I teach chemistry? Granted, based upon my performance, education, and pedagogical experiences, I could lead courses in psychology, biology, history, anthropology, philosophy, creative writing/ thinking, and yes, even math and research methods because dance is a completely interdisciplinary field... but really... what do you think I teach? And why do you seem surprised that dance, which encompasses most, if not every, human (and academic - not that being human is different than being academic...) experience would be taught at the university level? I teach dance. Technique. Performance. History. Pedagogy. Diversity. Composition. Direction. Advocacy.)
Yes. I work.
I won't get paid nearly as much as you do, Doctor at Jefferson University Hospital, but my work is as important. Your quality of life directly effects the work you're able to do. And that has a direct effect on the future, as I see it. Therefore, if my work directly effects you, as a whole person, and you, as a whole person, have a direct effect on the health of the future, I directly effect the future, through you. In addition to all of the work I do, personally. As a performer, choreographer, educator, advocate.
So, please think twice next time you ask an artist if (s)he works.
And just in case you think that I'm making this up... please check out these articles. If nothing else, they're an interesting read....
Did you know that dance involves the moving body? And the moving body usually = exercise? Sure... the engagement of the artistry of dance will challenge you, intellectually, but actually moving will make you smarter. Join your local ballet, hip hop, modern dance, or Zumba class and increase your brain power!
"Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door will be opened."
"The all powerful helps those who help themselves"
Think. Figure it out. Find a new way to do something.
Read. Play. Investigate. Dig. (Even if its just in the newspaper or your own backyard. or the library!)
As a dancer, your body is your tool. (Just as a researcher must understand her instrument. A rancher must understand her equipment. A plumber must understand the pipes of a building). As a person, your body is your tool. In order to live an effecient, effective life, you (me, we) must understand your (my, our) body(ies.)
Dear Doctor Jefferson... would you ever ask the Amish if they worked? I admire this population because they truly live their lifestyle. And accept it. And understand it. What is your lifestyle? Is that the truth? Your truth?
How do the decisions you make on a day-to-day basis effect your health? happiness? relationships? the surrounding community? the environment? Is what you define your lifestyle to be really your life?
(And why is this relevant to dance? I think like a dancer... I am constantly aware of my body in space, of my body in relationship to people around me, of my audience, even if my audience is the person in the car next to me. I am aware of how I feed my body, emotionally and physically. The relationship I have with my body directly effects her performance. Dance = life. Dance = Art. Life = Art. Art reflects life.)
Doctor Jefferson, Yes... I work. And my work is important. It's hard and challenging. But, what's more difficult than actually doing my work is convincing you that it's important... even though you admit that you take it for granted.
Oh.. and by the way... did you reserve your tickets to the Nutcracker, yet? I know you have season tickets to the theatre... you told me. And your children love the tradition...
I'll see you after the performance.
Sure... I'd be happy to take a picture with your family. Just give me a minute to wipe the sweat from my body.
But don't get out of costume? Okay... you want me in my work clothes... Absolutely. But it's very much not a lab coat...
(Disclaimer: I have also "worked" as a scientific researcher. For a period of time, I was the supervisor for a research institute of a well-known university.)