Photograph By Josh Hawkins
It’s that time of year again. The end is nigh, and for third year students and even some of us scaredy-cat-anticipating second years, an element of panic may be creeping in. It’s all about the big question. The elephant in the room, the thing that keeps us awake at night during times of self-doubt… It’s ‘What next? Can I really make a career out of this? I can’t believe my training is almost over!’ Having done a degree (in English) many moons ago, it’s a familiar feeling, but with a different twist. A contemporary dance degree is more intense, for want of a better word, with all it’s sweat, tears, and generous sprinkles of joy! Though I enjoyed my first degree and wouldn’t change it for the world, in the end pulling last minute all nighters in aggressively lit 24 hour libraries didn’t really do it for me! It was not my dream and a lot was just missing.
So the crux of it is this. We’re all here because we want to be a dance artist of some form or another. We have chosen to ‘walk the path as we tread it’. It’s the uncertain route, basically, and there are no guarantees. We have to see where it leads, beating back the lions and tiger and bears as we go. And here comes the other part of the paradox. Statistically, it is highly unlikely that all of us will make a living exclusively from dance for the rest of our lives! Before anyone’s sky falls in, I don’t mean to be negative. To become a dance artist takes confidence and drive, and I know there is a fine line between being a realist and a defeatist which a positive person in pursuit of their dream just cannot afford to tread. I only wanted to say it so that we can start to talk about it, rather than pretending it’s not the case. A problem shared is a problem halved and all that.
With this in mind, I have looked around recently and witnessed two different phenomenons; those who have something planned, and those who don’t – yet. Some lucky folk already have jobs lined up (Scottish Dance Theatre, Dance Lecturer at Cornwall College), some are planning to train further abroad in destinations as far flung as Israel and Buenos Aires, some will be taking up sought-after places in postgraduate performance companies (Verve, Edge, JVC and the like) and others will be becoming apprenticeship dancers via various schemes. At least one is heading off in quite a different direction – to join the circus! Many also have exciting short-term projects lined up, including performances at The Edinburgh Fringe and the International Exchange project at The Place. All of this is to be celebrated and congratulated. We salute you! We are all proud of what you have achieved and want you to know it!
However, I’m thinking more now about those who don’t know what they will do next yet. I imagine some might feel at a loss. Of course, the routes I discussed above are amazing opportunities, which few of us would turn down if we were offered them. Of course solid plans offer the security of knowing where you are and what you are doing next, and of course they offer the recognition of your talents and abilities. However, it is not the only way, and it doesn’t mean you are lost or have lost! A year onwards, many of those who do know what their next step is now, will be facing the same uncertainties that you are, only a little later. We all have to learn the wisdom of uncertainty and the courage to embrace change at some time or another.
If we can do that, it becomes possible to once again see the possibilities. Not everyone has the confidence necessary to go it alone immediately (though some will next year – and we wish you well!) However, there is nothing to stop us from forming groups, just as ex-Northern students ‘See Us Move’ have. Plenty of well established dance collectives were formed this way, and theatre companies even more so. Why not use our collective power and strength in Northern numbers to be D.I.Y dancers?! It is a completely different approach, and a scary one, but what the hell! I know that certain current students are planning to do this (The Grace Fool Collective), and I’m really excited to see and hear what might come of it. They already have a gig lined up at Beacons Festival, so more news here as it happens I guess.
There are impressive lessons to be learnt in this respect from the successes of Carlos Pons Guerra and the spanish contingent – De Nada Dance Theatre. As many of you will be aware, Carlos graduated from NSCD last year and was the first recruit to the Catapult scheme for emerging choreographers/collectives. He enjoyed rave reviews at Resolutions this year for his piece Young Man! showing initiative by organising a Scratch night to cover costs for the trip to London. He also writes for various publications, demonstrating how other skills might come in handy as a second income. Various current students are already on to this – from teaching pilates to photography and probably loads more besides that I don’t know about. A few strings to your bow can only be a good thing.
It’s also true that if you cast your net wide enough, there are always more opportunities. In Europe, the list of dance festivals and arts centres where there is often opportunity to volunteer your time in exchange for classes and workshops is quite extensive. See Ponderosa Festival of Movement and Discovery or Au Brana Arts Centre, to name a few. There are also residency opportunities and places where you can platform your work if you look hard enough and keep researching. Let’s get those website addresses on our bookmarks and be prepared (we’ve added a load to the blog’s links section for starters). I can only speak for myself, but when it comes to fear of the future, once I start researching I feel better. It doesn’t have to be a concrete plan, as some of the fun is in the ‘not knowing’, but it’s a start. Such knowledge is not necessarily power, but potential experiences!
Again, it all comes down to a bit of D.I.Y, and I suppose it’s that same doing it yourself element that’s scary about leaving full time training. I felt it before when I left university and I’ll feel it again this time. You’ve just been in an institution for three years and leaving is a huge step into the unknown. It’s difficult to be prepared for something when you don’t know what’s going to happen! I suppose all I really want to do with this article is show some solidarity and support so that everyone can feel a little bit less alone and a little bit more confident in finding their way onwards.
It can be as simple as not discounting any possibility, but looking into them all. You just never know what’s around the corner. I was once sure I would live in the mountains and dedicate my life to snowboarding forever! I also once thought I was going to work in PR, be a poet, a teacher, all sorts! All were steps en route to here and I wouldn’t change them, as every experience we have makes us who we are and is inspiration for the next phase. This is where all the process not product stuff we’ve been taught comes into play, because if we see ourselves as an on-going process, we never fail. Close one door and another opens. Be open and interested and life will flow. All the clichés exist because there is truth in them, so let’s support each other and learn from what each moment brings – even if our path does turn out to be different/slower/more winding than how we imagined it.
By Izzy Brittain