What they don’t teach at school, and were they right?

There are precious few people who can negotiate a stint at ballet school without being straightened out, but there will always be few hardened souls who manage to escape unscathed. What you hopefully do get at school is an understanding and appreciation of technique, stagecraft and heritage: all things which will serve one well as a member of a dance company. There’s the glitch. Ballet school grooms students for a career as a company member; a future as a freelance dancer, teacher, choreographer, any of the other jobs allied to dance or otherwise aren’t exactly catered for.

Admittedly, a career with a dance company is the desired outcome for practically every dance student; the reality is for the most-part otherwise. As a freelancer myself, and I’m not so naïve as to think I’m alone here, there have been many bumps along the road since I left the safe confines of the ballet school regime: almost all of which I was ill-prepared for. How to operate as a freelancer was the one for which I was least. With a majority of companies working on a short-contract basis, being freelance is the only option for most dancers: with that come issues such as personal finance management, tax-returns, continued training – none of which I can remember being made aware of.

I’ll be the first to put up my hand and say that I probably wouldn’t have been interested if someone had arrived to show us the potential pitfalls of a jobbing dancer in the real world; I was far too interested in what was going on in my direct, insular surroundings – there was plenty of time to address what really went on in the big, bad, ballet world when I actually got out into it. (Wasn’t I silly!)

So, whenever I encounter an issue that wasn’t in Ballet 101, my knee-jerk reaction is to blame my schooling for not preparing my adequately. Being put in these situations, while initially disconcerting, are amazing opportunities for learning and professional progress. So maybe instead of passing the buck, I should just get on with it and take the responsibility. Some lessons have to be learned rather than taught!

Diarmaid O’Meara

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