Dancer Voices

Get Off Track: The Benefits Of Ignoring What's Expected Of You

Liz Tenuto's choreography for the artist-In-residence program at CounterPULSE SF. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

As dancers, we all hop on "the track." We attend class every day at 10 am, we go to summer intensives every year, we regularly show up at audition after audition. It's what we think we need to do to achieve our dreams.

But other things come up—maybe we change or what we want out of life evolves. It is up to us to listen, to see if we can let our plan shift and to be brave enough to veer off track. Otherwise, we may not discover what makes us truly unique.

For me, the dance track made me feel exhausted. After seven years as a professional dancer with Laura Larry Arrington, AvyK Productions and Tino Sehgal, I was barely making enough money to get by month to month. I was living my dream from 10 years earlier, but I knew it wasn't sustainable.

More importantly, what I wanted from my life had radically changed. I started craving being able to take a vacation, have a savings account and spend two days in a row relaxing.

Above: The author's choreography for A.C.T.: Steppin' Out

At that moment, I got off the track. I stopped feeling obligated to go to class, to audition or to go to friends' shows.

I started to define my own track. I started thinking about how my work serves other people. I got honest with myself—what are my true gifts and how can I use those to help others? By then, I had already begun choreographing and presenting my work in emerging choreographer showcases in concert dance.

I loved it. But while it fulfilled my need to create, I still wasn't making much money. Out of sheer curiosity, I met with several people to talk over coffee and hear about their journeys. One person said, "I wonder if you just look a little bit left of where you are presenting your work, what may happen then."

A lightbulb went off. I not only needed to get off the dancer track, I also wanted to get off of the concert dance track.

I began reaching out to everyone I knew who was involved in theater and film. I ended up aligning with another choreographer to assist her on musicals and plays. From there, I built the momentum organically through relationships and referrals. It took some time to shift my career, but once I began choreographing in theater and film, I saw that it could provide me with the lifestyle that I had been imagining.

Above: The author's choreography for Lucius

Even considering getting off track can feel daunting, especially as a dancer. We've been told what a sacred and difficult track professional dance is since our early years training in studios. But what is worse is knowing that a path doesn't suit your current needs and staying there.

We must be willing to dive into something new. We must be willing to look a little to our left. Re-imagining your path doesn't always have to mean quitting dance—there are an abundance of opportunities within our field. Trust your passion to guide you. When it speaks to you, allow yourself to get off track, several times over.

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