Saturday, December 1, 2012

...but do you work?

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?"

I paused.

Excuse me.?

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.

Wait... what?

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.)


  1. Haaaa yeah no but in all seriousness, you didn't seriously take his question with this much disdain did you?

    I mean... you have to give him the benefit of the doubt, its very rare to meet someone who's as committed to dance as someone like you, enough so that they dedicate their entire life to the art and make their living (presumably) by getting gigs and dancing for audiences. Not every dancer can do that. Most people who dance, even if they're REALLY trying to do it professionally, even if they DESPERATELY want to make it their full time job and to be able to support themselves indefinitely by gracefully moving up and down the stage.... Not everyone can do that. Most people have to hold a 9-5 office job while they attempt to track down gigs here and there. Most people have to take what they can get. I'm sure that you didn't start dancing one day and then every day after that you were completely self sufficient, never looking back and never worrying about bills or rent again. You probably had to work your way up to where you are now, am I right?

    So why blame the guy for asking if you had another form of income? How do you know that he's a cold shallow unappreciating shell of a man? Perhaps he once longed to be a first chair violinist when he was a boy, perhaps he does acknowledge the blood and sweat that goes into fine arts.

    You are so critical of someone who you believe is unable to comprehend your level of professionalism yet you make so many judgements and assumptions regarding the very centerpiece of your post. You don't know him, just as he does not know you. He asked a simple question, and given the fact that he was doing research it only makes sense that he would be thorough in his fact checking, would you not agree? You are thorough in your daily routines, you are diligent in your practice as I'm sure he is as well. He asked if you have another form of income, that's actually a rather straight forward question. And instead of saying "No, I make my living doing what I love, dancing" with a big proud smile on your face, you wrote an entire page about how under appreciated and misunderstood you are.

    You spent so much time explaining how much of a hard worker you are that it almost seems like you're attempting to convince yourself, not the researcher.... Maybe you could use a little bit of self reflection. Just an observation, pay it no mind if you disagree.

    Beautifully written and full of emotion but unfortunately your misguided attempt to empower yourself while simultaneously relinquishing this researcher of competency, perhaps by alluding to the idea that individuals with science driven careers are incapable of fully appreciating finer art forms... Has failed.

    The reason being, you simply do not know him well enough to make that judgement.

    Also the main reason I decided to write a reply was because I felt that it was absolutely ludicrous that someone could take a simple straight forward question such as "Do you work?" and read so far into it as this.... Yeah. I just got the feeling that you were attempting to make yourself seem extremely important, like a diamond in the rough that has been overlooked for so long...

    Just remember, he was a researcher doing research. Not much else there. He was asking you a question and you blew it out of proportion ;P

  2. Hi, Devin! Thanks for commenting! No, this was not written with disdain. No, I'm not trying to empower myself. And no, the gentle doctor did not ask if I had additional income or a secondary job. Of course, may artists - may people in this economy - in fact, must hold second and even third jobs. Irregardless of the monetary amount, the action of creation is important. In my conversation, the concept of work itself, seemed disregarded. Creative work and creative inquiry was dismissed as unimportant and effortless. Unfortunately, as we are seeing, cultivating creativity is being pushed by the wayside in education. Art, music, and physical activity are programs that are first cut, but they are programs that research has also show are important in child and human development. Longitudinal research is demonstrating that not developing creativity is having a negative effect on the "traditional work" sectors. Thanks for reading and thanks for all of the work you put into writing.