What Undergrad Didn't Prepare Me For

Some of my best days as a 21 year old were Friday morning modern classes. The course was led by a local dance artist that everyone respected and accompanied by a skilled jazz guitarist. We aligned ourselves, memorized long floor warmups and standing patterns, built our stamina, and sweated hard. One of the things that has kept me in dance for most of my life is the limitless sensation of moving and it has shaped me into the person and arts professional that I am today.

When I think about my alma mater, I think about how much I admired the artistry of the graduate students, my cohort, and the students who graduated after me. My program represented a spectrum of aesthetics. There wasn't a singular agreement on what dance had to look like and it was both challenging and enriching. I developed a palate for everything from ballet to hip hop to post-modern to silence to text to well selected pop music to live accompaniment. Some of the best courses I took were writing intensive courses where we read and discussed dance in culture, creating dance histories, and making meaning in dance.

The program cultivated my technical proficiency and my artistic worldview. I grew as a dancer and choreographer and I developed skills to articulate my values, ideas, and contribute to dialogue in a thoughtful, well researched way. I earned a 4.0 my very last semester and I was proud.

Transitioning out of undergrad was a different story. Collegiate training is valuable, but it was only one stage of my continuing artistic realization. 

I'm critical of assumptions young adults may have about getting hired out of college and I'm critical of what universities don't implement into their curriculum. After graduation, I had no idea how much to charge for a dance class. I was frustrated that no one ever gave me a straight answer about income unless I asked a friend or I heard stories of recent graduates who worked 7 jobs at a time.

It took nearly a full year before I could identify with clarity and intentionality what work I wanted to do, and I'm so thankful for the people that extended those early opportunities to me. It took several months out of college before I started perceiving my artistry as a small business and before I could confidently articulate the through line in my work. 

College students, it's not up to your university to prepare you for a job. You prepare you for a job, start now. Education is one qualification employers look for. Perhaps more importantly, you should also be ready to articulate your own goals and values and back them up with relevant experiences. When it comes time to enter the field, you must be driven by your mission. The assumption that going to college will get you a job is outdated and incomplete. Our economy stopped working like that a long time ago.

Your faculty is wise and experienced-listen to their stories and advice. They are the ones who can be more transparent about the business of the field and what young artists can expect. Talented students, don't be deceived into thinking that a consistent job is one audition away or that a full time performance company is a feasible option. If you're just starting out, you'll hear a lot of  "No." Never take rejection personally. The field is changing. Artists, together we must continue advocating for our livelihood in the field of creating culture.

University arts programs, treat your students like the entrepreneurs they are and implement curriculum that will better expose them to managing the business of their art, creating jobs, and inspiring social change. Your alumni ought to thrive.

Today I'm proud to be doing exactly what I want to be doing, but it took an extra year in the making after earning my degree in order to secure sustainable streams of income and re-learn how to stay active as a performer and choreographer. And I'm still learning as I go, wondering with the rest of my peers and mentors where the funding is, and continuing to imagine where our artistic initiatives can take us.

dancing joyfully,

Belle