Confessions from an Ex-Dance Team Member

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At some point in their lives, every dancer decides, “I think I might want to try out for a professional team this year”. I have seen it happen to almost all of my dance friends. This year, it happened to me. Now, I didn’t necessarily have time to prepare for the tryout as you should (if you want to be on the team, you have to train at the place they train, dance at the place they dance, get your eyelashes done by the person they get them done by, tan the place they tan, etc), but I just wanted to go, see if it is something I might be interested in doing in the future.

And what I got out of it? I DO NOT fit in that venue whatsoever anymore.

Now, I should preface this with–at one time in my life, I DID live that lifestyle. I LOVED parading around in my half top, flexing my abs, having people stare at me. My friends and I would spend countless hours, trying new makeup and hair techniques, having her mom take pictures of us so we could post for the world to see “how hot we were”. I practiced my hair flip and hip rolls and slide-up-the-leg move until perfection. But, as it turns out, not really my cup of tea anymore.

First of all, it hurts your body. I will probably already have arthritis by 30, need hip replacements by 40 (I am saving my HSA money). I wake up on random mornings and can’t move my left knee and have to hobble into school. Sometimes, I have to turn the foot-heaters on in my car on my way home from school because my joints have locked up. When I woke up the next morning from auditions, I had whiplash for sure that took at least three days to dissipate and for me to move my head normally again. I can’t imagine what anymore wear-and-tear on my body would do.

Second of all, looks are the most important part of the package. You slap a bunch of make up on, some extensions and a keratin treatment for your hair, and get a spray tan, and you can make anyone look pretty (by the way, I witnessed my spray tan most definitely rolling down my legs in hot yoga). I got my head shot printed, and my eyes immediately went to admiring my calf muscles. Because you are on show all the time, and you become the face of the institution, much of your identity is wrapped up in, “that’s the girl with the curly hair”, “that’s the girl who can do like ten turns”, “that’s the girl who got in trouble for fraternizing with athletes”, “the girl who speaks another language”. And, that is kind of how you are known: “the girl who has been on the team forever”, “the girl who just almost slipped and fell on her face”, or, “the girl who made that really conceited comment that was actually meant to be funny, but now is forever known as conceited” (I was always “the girl who could jump really high”). And, as we all know, there is so much more to people than just these ‘labels’ they get. We say, “I love doing the team for the community service and volunteer opportunities it allows me”, but really, it has more to do with the professional photographers you now have access to (Because, if my passion was really to just help out with SpecialOlympics, I could easily just sign up for the Polar Plunge…)

Third of all, you set yourself up for criticism. Because, as a dancer, you are expected to be cream-of-the-crop, people inevitably judge you when you do anything less than perfect. Like, say you had a really stressful week, and didn’t have time to get your nails re-done. Oh well, someone notices that. Say, you were really nervous and forgot a dance move, or got distracted by someone else’s rhinestone that fell off and now you might step on it. Oh well, now you will forever be known as “the girl who messed up”. Or, perhaps a teammate forgot their pants at home, so you lent them yours, and you are wearing your old pair that look slightly different. Someone notices. It’s really a ‘no mercy’ environment. As I look at the pictures these professional teams are posting, I am appalled at some of the comments people are making: “That girl is FUGLY”, “Woof, woof”, “#3 looks like she got hit by a train”…I can’t imagine what that does to one’s self image, and as a raging feminist, we are SO much more than our bodies. But, this is what dance team perpetuates.

At the end of the day, no one cares about you. YOU might think you are the perfect candidate for their “tall girl position”, but, they will take any “tall girl”; it doesn’t really matter which one, as long as they have someone to fill the slot, and they don’t care if you were “better than that other girl”, because they will never know. It’s customary to clap after each small group has auditioned, but secretly inside your head, you are hoping one of the girls messes up big time and falls. When one of your teammates gets cut, you try to console her, but then again, you are also SO EXCITED that you just made the team, and you might give her a quick hug, but then run over and start jumping up and down with everyone else (and start posting pictures ASAP for everyone else to know you were pretty…aka padded your bra…enough to make it).

Now, I can’t discredit the fact that dancers work way harder than the public sees; work outs are brutal to obtain those perfect bodies, and they are constantly watching their diets. They subject themselves to public criticism, and have to sacrifice their hidden identities to become ambassadors (going out in public will never be the same again–I once went to the grocery store and got tracked down by an old guy who recognized me as ‘the girl who ran just as fast as Ralphie”). It takes time, commitment, dedication, motivation; something that not everyone can say they have achieved.

I suppose, at the end of the day, if you make a dance team, that is great. If you don’t make it, that is just fine too.

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