Around this time five years ago, I found out that I got into the UA School of Dance. Very exciting time to say the least. But the deal I made with my mom was that I could only go to UA for dance if I got a second degree in something else. The argument at the time was that it would be good to have a backup plan “just in case.” I believed the reasoning was valid.
At the time, I remember thinking the idea was completely logical. What if I get injured or I’m not good enough to make it as a pro? What if I get there and realize that after twelve years of doing this thing that I love, I suddenly lose interest?
Seems crazy to think about now, but these were real fears I had and sometimes still deal with. However, is it more beneficial to spend years towards a degree in something your aren’t passionate about, or to spend that time in classes where you can develop skills you’re interested in learning about.
It wasn’t until my Junior year when I was learning Balanchine’s Tarantella that I began to realize this backup plan/ back up degree was taking focus away from what I really wanted to do with my life.
We were learning the piece from past NYC Ballet principal Edward Villella (which is one of my highlights of my dance career thus far) and throughout the process he would share stories about what it was like to work with Balanchine and in the company. Really incredible experience. One story I later read in his book, Prodigal Son: Dancing for Balanchine in a world of Pain and Magic, talked about how he stopped dancing for a period of time to pursue an engineering degree... This dude is fascinating.
In his book, he says that his years in college were crucial to his development as a dancer. However, he never had any real interest in becoming an engineer. The reason it was crucial was because it gave him experiences outside of dance that helped him avoid becoming a performer that was “too ascetic or pretentious.” Basically, having life experiences and learning something outside of dance, energized his true passion of being a ballet dancer. After he got his degree he has never touched it or found any use for it. Even after he injured himself and stopped dancing at 36, his knowledge and experiences continued to propel his career.
“But Brandon,” you might be thinking, “he was a principal dancer for NYCB, he doesn’t need an outside degree because he is just so incredibly talented. We normal people should have one, just to be safe.”
To me, if you believe this, you are already setting yourself up to fail. You are already saying, “Something bad is going to happen to me and I will no longer be able to do what I love, so I should be prepared for when that happens.”
But what about the other side. What if I make it? What if I’m the one still doing five pirouettes constantly at 42? What if I get to do what I love everyday and inspire someone else to do the same? To me, that is logical because I know it’s possible and I’m willing to do what it takes to get there.
But what is my back up plan? ….Can’t say I have one right now. I’m too focused on how my plan A is going to succeed.
Am I happy I got my second degree? Yes. I am so happy I got my degree outside of dance. However, not for the reason of using it in my post grad life. It was more important for me to finish something that I started and following up on an agreement I made four years prior. If I were to go back, I would take all the classes that sounded interesting to me that I didn’t take because I “had” to take certain classes in order to earn my degree. I’d have the time to take an extra technique, photography, planet drawing, star gazing, etc. class. The point being, wouldn’t we all be more productive with our time if we always put our energy towards developing our passions and interests?